Charles Samuel is, by his own admission, a good swimmer.
But there he was Saturday, at Kalapaki Beach, one of about 85 middle and high school students in a water safety clinic.
“I’m learning how to save people, so that’s really important, just in case I need it,” Samuel said.
Besides, he knows Kate Machorek, organizer of what was billed as “Kauai Splash 2014.”
“She’s really just trying to help the island,” he said.
Machorek, a 16-year-old senior at Kauai High School, is an accomplished swimmer. She has been swimming competitively since she was 4 years old and is a member of the Kauai Lifeguard Association. She accepted a full-ride scholarship to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where she will focus on the 200 backstroke.
She proposed the free event for her senior project. Lifeguards, swim instructors, coaches and other aquatic experts volunteered to share their knowledge and skills during the four-hour program to keep the island’s youth safe in and around the ocean.
“I really just wanted to combine my two passions,” Machorek said.
Students received verbal guidance and rules for the water and basic swimming skills, heard stories of tragedy and life-saving steps, and went through trials in the water, being rescued and being the rescuer. They learned how to spot rip currents, use rescue tubes and recognize hazardous conditions. They also received T-shirts, lunch, prizes and qualified for community service hours.
Machorek targeted Kauai’s youth because they’re often in the ocean, swimming, surfing, paddleboarding or just having fun, and they aren’t always careful.
“Teens, we’re the ones going out to Queen’s Bath or Lumahai when there’s a huge north swell,” she said.
A clinic on water safety and some rules about what to do if you get in trouble — don’t panic, stay calm — and trying to rescue someone in trouble in the ocean may save lives. Lifeguard Kaimi Kaneholani told the students before they set out to help a person in trouble, they need to let someone else know about the situation, “just in case something happens out there.”
“The first thing you do is call 911 before you get in the water,” he said.
According to the Kauai Splash website, there have been more than 300 drownings on Kauai over the past four decades, 100 in the past decade alone, with 27 percent of the deaths being Kauai residents.
Machorek said the number of Kauai residents who do not know how to swim, or how to use common ocean-safety sense, is too high.
The island has many dangerous beaches where there are no lifeguards, so residents and visitors alike must know how to avoid putting themselves in danger, and what to do if they find themselves floundering, she said.
“I believe if all of us teenagers know what to do, we’ll be able to impact other lives, save our families, save tourists,” she said. “That will make a huge impact.”
Asha McGinnis, a surfer, said the clinic could prepare her and others to save a life.
“People who want to be in the water more, maybe they’re not really comfortable, it will help them,” she said.
Bryson Baligad, a teammate of Machorek’s on Swim Kauai Aquatics, offered his help Saturday.
“I think it was a great idea that Kate had,” he said. “She definitely knows what she’s doing.”
Dr. Monty Downs, president of the Kauai Lifeguard Association, was pleased Machorek focused on local youth with the safety clinic. He told the story of a teenager who was swimming at a local beach eight years ago, got pulled out by the current, and drowned.
Downs and others want to do all they can to prevent future tragedies, and clinics like the one organized by Machorek could do just that.
“She’s training the young people,” Downs said. “Hopefully, the word will multiply from this group to other kids on the island, what they can do to be a little safer for themselves and watch out for others.”