LIHUE — A beach wedding under a secluded Kauai sunset is a dream for many brides.
But there are more things to navigate for a Hawaii wedding than just how to keep the sand from infiltrating everything. The biggest obstacle may be realizing there are state rules mandating what you can and can’t do.
Chairs, archways and more than 30 people celebrating are all banned on the beach, according to state law.
But those celebrations happen, and photos of those illegal activities are having an impact on the wedding industry on the island.
“The thing I like is that everybody’s doing it the right way and it’s when someone randomly does this (violates the law) that we have to remind people that it’s better to follow the rules,” said Sue Kanoho, executive director of Kauai Visitor’s Bureau, which markets to the romance industry.
In early October, Kauai resident Maka’ala Kaaumoana saw some people setting up chairs and an archway for a wedding on a North Shore beach. She took the time to inform them of the rules.
“I have seen weddings in Haena, Lumahai, Wainiha, Hanalei, Wanini, Kalihikai and Kalihiwai. Some follow the rules, (some) do not,” Kaaumoana said. “A permit is required at all times.”
There is a trend, often among the Millennial generation, to skip hiring professionals and do the wedding with family and friends. Many times, the organizers neglect looking up the rules.
“There’s a large following now on the Internet where these people are coming in on their own and it’s cheaper and they don’t know the rules,” said Jill Kosen, a wedding licensing agent who is also with Wedding in Paradise Kauai.
“They do the weddings on their own, bring in friends and their own ministers and they go off and do their own thing. They aren’t as rule savvy.”
In 2008, a permitting system to regulate commercial activities on beaches was implemented under existing law, and state law bans arches, alters, chairs, tents, cake stands and podiums.
Beaches are considered to be the area fronting the ocean up to the highest point the tide reaches.
State law also bans any kind of amplification, for the music or the officiator.
“The rules exist for all unencumbered public lands,” said Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. “A permitting system was implemented in 2008 to regulate commercial activities on beaches, which are highly valued public recreational resources.”
Commercial wedding professionals — officiators, photographers, caterers and the like — have to be permitted. The fine is $5,000 for each commercial vendor that’s caught breaking the law.
“It has never happened; it’s more of a precaution for if someone oversteps the rules,” Kosen said. “If they call DLNR, they are obligated to come out and pursue it and the beach permits are the passageway to deal with someone if they have to.”
The permit also comes with insurance, which covers the state during the event.
DLNR has received zero reports on the issue in the past two years, according to Ward, but its enforcement agency is currently investigating the issue.
Breaking the rules and posting it online poses problems for Kauai’s wedding industry because it sets unrealistic standards and can send brides into the arms of another island if their hearts are set on sand under an altar.
“It makes people say ‘If they got to, how come we can’t?’ and ‘I’ll find a place that allows me to do that,’” said Dale Rosenfeld, treasurer of Kauai Wedding Professionals Association. “And that may mean they go to Jamaica or other places that don’t have the rules we have.”
Rosenfeld, who officiates weddings, said she and the other 70 members of KWPA follow the rules, talk with DLNR about their events and keep up to speed with the changes in the law.
“I just did a wedding down at Anini and there was nobody on the beach. We could have brought chairs and it wouldn’t have hurt anybody, but I followed the rules,” Rosenfeld said.
Those who don’t follow the rules can charge less to accommodate a couple’s most detailed dream ceremony — chairs and all.
“It affects every single one of us, but it’s a minor problem in the grand scheme of things and we, as an association, our goal is to be an educational organization,” Rosenfeld said. “These people are an exception to the rule.”
Rosenfeld said she talks with brides daily and emphasizes that the use of private property — oftentimes very close to the beach — is a way to use chairs and archways in a Kauai wedding.
“The Hyatt, Courtyard Marriott, National Tropical Botanical Garden — there’s plenty of places that are private,” Rosenfeld said. “It’s the beaches that become an issue because they’re public land.”
Illegal beach wedding activities can be reported to DLNR at 643-3567.