LIHUE — Warm, gentle waves rolled in at Kalapaki Beach Friday. But the water at the popular beach isn’t always so tranquil, begging the question: Why aren’t there any lifeguard towers?
Turns out, it’s complicated.
Kalapaki Beach is owned by the state to the high-water mark, as are all beaches in Hawaii, but beyond that it is private property.
So if the county wanted to build a lifeguard station, the Kauai Marriot Resort would have to allow the county to do so.
That type of arrangement wouldn’t be unheard of — the lifeguard station at often-dangerous Ke’e Beach is staffed by county lifeguards, despite the fact that the beach is located in Haena State Park and is actually the state’s responsibility. In that case, the county is contracted to provide lifeguard services at Ke’e on behalf of the state, and is granted immunity for anything but gross negligence.
Officials said a similar arrangement could be worked out between the county and the Kauai Marriot Resort, in which the county would take the risk and cost associated with manning a lifeguard station, in exchange for permission to locate the tower on the Marriott property.
Dr. Monty Downs, president of the Kauai Lifeguard Association, said he has urged the Marriott to enter into such an agreement.
“I and others have tried in the past to prod Marriott into putting up a tower, unsuccessfully,” Downs said.
Marriott declined to discuss the issue with The Garden Island.
Stacie Silva of Lihue recently moved back to Kauai after living on the Mainland. She was enjoying the beach while watching her three boys, ages 5 to 12, playing in the ocean.
“I think that for the most part this is calm,” said Silva, who likes the beach because it is conveniently nearby and protected. “I think that just because the hotel is here, it seems that people would think it is safe.”
Kauai County spokeswoman Sarah Blane said the last suspected drowning at Kalapaki Beach was in 2013, although she was not able to say if that was the official cause of death or if it was due to a medical issue.
According to Blane, county lifeguard towers are generally limited to county beach parks.
When it comes to determining where to locate lifeguard stations, “We take into account the most popular beaches, which continue to be Poipu Beach Park and Hanalei Bay — both of which are guarded beaches,” Blane said.
Other factors include ocean hazards and the distance to other lifeguard towners and fire stations, Blane said. “For example, Jet Ski operators from the Hanalei towers respond to distress calls at Anini Beach,” Blane said.
She added that resources to staff additional towers must be taken into consideration, but that as the department grows it would work toward expanding coverage.