Playing wave chicken

LUMAHAI — The game of chicken challenges the nerve of the players involved, generally setting them on a crash course with disaster.

On Kauai, some kids have decided to pick up the age-old game and give it a new twist — playing chicken with big waves.

“It’s either brave or stupid, I don’t know which,” said Nancy Williams, a Hanalei resident who has witnessed the game.

She’s seen it played multiple times at Lumahai Beach. Teenagers climb up onto an outcropping of rocks close to the beach and wait for a wave to come. At the last minute, they all jump off toward the beach, as the wave crashes over the ledge.

“They wait to see who stands up there the longest,” Williams said. “The first one to jump off is obviously the lamest.”

Dr. Monty Downs, president of the Kauai Lifeguard Association, said he’s actually seen kids get behind a big rock ledge that’s in the area and wait for a 30-foot swell to smash over the rock.

“They’re behind the rock and it creates this waterfall kind of thing and they’re out there whooping and hollering,” Downs said. “After the swell passes, they come out.”

Downs said it “looks like fun if you’re 18, and crazy,” but the problem with the activity is that it endangers the lives of other people.

“Yes, I’m worried about it and it’s a disturbing activity. Our lifeguards have to go out there in those conditions (if someone gets swept out),” Downs said. “To me that’s the worse part about it is endangering other people.”

But there isn’t much to be done, he said.

Lifeguards don’t have policing authority. They can only request that people don’t go into the water. And the chances of putting a lifeguard tower at Lumahai are slim.

There are 10 lifeguard towers and 65 beaches on Kauai. Each tower costs $300,000 a year to maintain.

“You see the county budget,” Downs said. “Even going from 10 towers to 12 towers would be really hard.”

Lifeguards do roam the beaches with ATVs, and aren’t tethered to the towers, Downs said.

“That’s our challenge,” Downs said. “What these kids are doing is risky, and I try not to tell kids not to be kids, but doing something that puts other people at risk (is dangerous).”

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