LIHUE — Pat Durkin remembers when he was the only lifeguard on the North Shore.
“There wasn’t a tower, just a high chair,” Durkin said. “And when I was off duty, people would come to my house, knocking on my door because there was something going down at the beaches.”
But as the Ocean Safety Bureau has grown, so too has the resident’s awareness of the dangers of swimming at Kauai’s beaches.
“These guys (lifeguards) are world champs,” he said. “But Kauai is still one of the most dangerous places in the world to swim,” he said.
The Kauai Lifeguard Association donated two pickup trucks and two Jet Skis to the OSB, which will be used for the Roving Patrol Program set to begin this year to patrol unguarded beaches.
Both 2016 Ram Quad Cab four-wheel-drive trucks are equipped with trailers, Jet Skis and rescue equipment.
On Tuesday, Durkin, along with members of KLA, OSB and the Kauai Fire Department, attended an unveiling ceremony, during which the keys were handed over to Kalani Vierra, OSB director.
“The equipment that was donated will allow our lifeguards to be mobile and visit beaches that have no lifeguards,” Vierra said. “As 99.9 percent of drownings on Kauai are happening at unguarded beaches, by being mobile we can prevent possible ocean-related accidents by being proactive with preventative measures.”
The donation was made possible by approximately 250 donors who attended the Fourth Wave Campaign concert and celebration in October.
Already from this year’s campaign, KLA has donated a fully loaded truck, complete with lights and sirens and with advanced 911 audio equipment, a Jet Ski and trailer.
Starting Dec. 1, each of the trucks will be stationed either at north and south shores, Eastside and Westside, patrolling the beaches, said Andy Melamed, KLA marketing and event director.
For Dr. Monty Downs, KLA president, the trucks and equipment were a gift.
“This is really a community donation,” he said.
Jim Jung, vice president of KLA, agreed.
“We have a very generous community, and they have their priorities straight,” he said.
It’s important to help OSB because the majority of Kauai’s beaches are unguarded,” Melamed said.
“A lot of attention needs to be given to the visitors who want to discover Kauai and go to secluded beaches,” he said. “The problem is that conditions change rapidly, and since we’re in the middle of an ocean, we’re exposed to swells and currents from all sides.”
Next year, KLA will roll out its Ocean Minded Community Campaign, which will feature communication, training and other programs centered around ocean safety through the year. The campaign will promote safety and prevention that extends beyond the lifeguard towers and roving patrols to residents and visitors alike, Melamed said.
The campaign also plans to share a new message, called “snorkel with a buddy,” which emphasizes the importance of snorkeling in pairs or a group.
“Every year, we have a couple of drownings involving people who were snorkeling,” he said. “Why? If you look at the demographic, the people are usually a little older who didn’t know how to use the snorkel equipment. They panic because they don’t know what to do.”
To promote “snorkel with a buddy,” KLA is working with businesses who sell and rent snorkel gear and are releasing a PSA which will air at the Lihue Airport, online, and will be available at hotels and resorts.
“It’s about unity in the community and having the entire community looking out for each other,” Melamed said.