From 100 or so yards away, the two paddleboarders looked to be in trouble.
One was in the rough, choppy water at Kalapaki Bay, near the harbor’s mouth, holding onto his upside-down board. The other was on sitting on his board, holding the leash to the other board and trying to tow it in.
Steve Soltysik and friends in their outrigger canoe decided they better check things out.
In doing so, they likely saved a life.
“We pulled a guy out of the drink that was going down,” Soltysik said. “We just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
The foursome in the canoe, Soltysik, Meph Wyeth, Andy Bushnell and his daughter, Kehau Pascual, were on their usual Thursday morning outing and had been in the water about an hour, paddling mostly in the small boat harbor, when Wyeth, in the No. 1 seat, sighted the struggling men on the eastern side of the bay, close to the open water. A rip current had pulled the men out.
Wyeth could tell they were out too far, were new to paddleboarding and had placed themselves in a dangerous situation.
“I’d been watching them for a while,” she said.
As the canoe pulled alongside, Wyeth said the men were glad to see them, but it was clear the man clinging to his paddleboard was exhausted and unable to flip it over and climb back on. Then, he lost his grip on the board, so Soltysik knew he needed to act quickly.
“Just as we got there, he was going under, “ he said.
Soltysik, who teaches water safety, jumped in the water, held onto the paddleboard and just managed to grab the sinking man as he slipped under water.
“I just reached him as he was going down,” he said.
Together, using a rope ladder, the foursome got the man named Terry into the canoe, where he collapsed and recovered.
“He was OK once we got him in the canoe,” Wyeth said. “He was worn out and scared.”
As Bushnell, Pascual and Wyeth paddled toward shore, Soltysik climbed onto the paddleboard and, joined by the other man, Bill, paddled it in. It was a slow journey due to the swells and currents.
On shore, Terry’s wife was crying and repeatedly thanked his rescuers. Terry, whose last name wasn’t known to his rescuers, had regained some strength but was still too weak to carry his board from the water. Both men hugged their wives.
“It was really quite touching,” Wyeth said.
They offered to buy Soltysik a drink but he declined. As the four prepared to remove their canoe from the water, the visitors returned to their cruise ship.
Soltysik, who lives in Puhi, said the water was too rough, with strong rip currents, for novice paddleboarders to be out there. He described the men as in their late 50s or early 60s and not in the best of shape.
“It was one of those days you had to watch the surf very carefully,” he said.
The current can be deceptive.
“You don’t really notice it. It’s very hard to swim against it,” he said.
Soltysik said he and his friends have been launching their canoe at Kalapaki for 20 years. They’ve helped people in the water before, “but not so close to the edge where they’re going down.”
Wyeth said Kalapaki Bay isn’t always calm and peaceful and those heading out to swim or board need to be aware of conditions.
“The east swell really churns things up in the bay,” she said.
Bushnell said with the rough conditions on Thursday, it was a good day for experienced surfers to be out there, he said, but not inexperienced paddleboarders. He downplayed his role in the rescue.
There weren’t others in the vicinity of the floundering men, who were in danger of being swept beyond the harbor entrance and out to sea.
“I’d say Steve was the hero,” he said. “I just maneuvered the canoe and got us into the right positions.”
Wyeth, too, credited Soltysik for his heroic actions.
“He was the guy who knew what to do,” she said.