Lifeguards perform dramatic rescue in pounding surf

Editor’s note: This report is part of a series of Ocean Rescue Watch columns about the people on Kaua‘i who rescue others and work to keep our beaches and waters safe.

Large winter surf pounded the north and west shores of Kaua‘i in January, and the high waves kept lifeguards busy. At Ha‘ena Beach Park, fronting Maniniholo Bay, the shoreline receives direct north swells and presents a shallow, hazardous shore break. The surge often runs up to the vegetation line, and this can be dangerous, as the following rescue demonstrates.

The morning of Jan. 30 saw massive waves along the Ha‘ena coastline. Outer reefs were topping 35 feet, and a high surf warning was in effect. Guards Tyrus Siale and Greg Stutzer immediately posted signs at the rights-of-way leading to the beach, along the high water line and in front of the park. Big swells often have long periods between sets, and this day was no exception. Every hour, a surge would wash to the naupaka and coconuts fronting shoreline homes.

A beach can be alluring on a sunny day with no footprints in the sand. For a Mainland couple enjoying the island, it was irresistible.  Bypassing freshly posted signs, they made their way down the trail and started walking along the shore.

Guards had been warning people to stay back and were doing so when they noticed the pair strolling far down the beach. At that moment a huge wave rushed in, knocking them over. As the wave receded, the woman found herself tumbling head over heels into the shorebreak while the man stopped just short.

Instantly, Siale and Stutzer jumped on the ATV and quickly raced to the scene.  Upon arriving, Siale leaped into a full run from the moving four-wheeler and dashed for the woman, who at any moment would be going under in the high surf. Stutzer pulled up the beach and made for the man, who clung to a rock, having slipped farther down.  

Siale reached the victim just in time, but struggled to maintain his footing in the chest high churning water.  When a large wave rushed in, he used it to push them closer to the shore.

Meanwhile, Stutzer assisted the man to higher ground, got him situated and returned to help Siale with the woman. Once ashore, they assessed the couple.  Very frightened, but none the worse for wear, they were released on their own accord.    

This dramatic rescue had a happy ending, and showed how you need not start in the water to get into trouble.

There were 20 other rescues for January island-wide, including four at Anini in which the jet ski responded. Guards also conducted 7,214 preventions and monitored 103,497 beachgoers. There were no fatalities.

Please heed the warning signs posted by lifeguards. Listen to the radio for high surf advisories and warnings. There’s a good reason the sand is free of footprints; dangerous waves are washing up the beach.

Follow these tips, and you’ll have a safe and beautiful day in Ha‘ena. Aloha!  

Contributing writer Jim Ingham is the Kaua‘i County North District supervisor for ocean safety.

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