Paddlers urge motorboats to show aloha on Wailua

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island file From front to back: junior varsity paddling teams from Kapaa, Kauai and Waimea high schools plant for turns during the KIF paddling championships at the Wailua River, in this Jan. 28 photo.
  • Nick Celario / The Garden Island Rocco April, right, and Tabitha Ross, 16, work on cleaning a canoe Aug. 27 at the Wailua River.

WAILUA — With the Kauai Interscholastic Federation paddling season just weeks away, one of Kauai’s paddling community members has reached out to the state with safety concerns.

During a youth paddling program practice in June hosted by local club Puuwai Outrigger Canoe Club, the paddlers had encounters with oncoming motorboats.

“I was paddling with the older kids. It’s not that big a deal for boats to go by us because I’m used to it with the adults program. But for kids, when they’re paddling themselves, it’s super dangerous. That’s what happened,” said Rocco April, Puuwai coach and paddler. “Especially some of the younger kids, the 10-kids — and some of them are 7- and 8-year-old kids that are paddling out there— within eye-shot but still by themselves. Way too far away from something like that for us to get to in time.

“I was still up the river. But as I hear when they came back, the two boats that were racing together and moving in-and-out and playing, one went into the marina and the other came to the bridge. … A team of coaches went over there and talked with them. They were very understanding. The other coaches went over there (to the other boat). There was so much drama and it was so heated, I’m not exactly sure what went down but the result was that they wouldn’t do it again.”

Brian Curll, president of Puuwai, contacted the state Department of Land and Natural Resources on behalf of his club’s coaches in hopes of making paddling safer at Wailua River.

“This is disregarding the quality of life for the people in this small area, this little residential area, that’s placing our paddlers at risk,” Curll said. “And it places any swimmer in these areas right in front of state parks, where people do take off and swim, they’re out there and these boats are rushing. They don’t always pay attention. They can easily get distracted.”

He added: “There are several points of injury that can take place. One is if you’re sitting in seat two and three or four and five, you can get hit by that yaku as it goes over. (From) personal experience, I’ve seen huge amounts of damage taken place. We don’t see that it’s necessary. We don’t feel like we’re asking people to give up their their happiness, their joy, their excitement, their sport.”

April — who is also one of the paddling coaches at Island School — said that although a similar occurrence has not happened since, he hopes reaching out to DLNR will avoid such instances in the future.

“I don’t want to curtail the activity here. I don’t think we need to because it’s never been a problem,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for five years, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen anybody do that. So, I think just a reminder — that the kids are out there … when you see the kids, slow down, be respectful for them and we’ll try to stay out of your way as well.”

With DLNR’s help, Curll hopes signs will eventually be placed at the marina and at entrances to the state park that state “no wake zone” in the space from the marina behind Smith’s Family Garden Luau to the Wailua Bridge when outrigger canoe programs are present.

In addition, he hopes with the state’s assistance that such rules can be enforced if a similar situation occurs.

Curll spoke to someone within DLNR last week, but declined to say with whom specifically. Curll said the main points that were taken away from his conversations with DLNR are:

w The only applicable rule within the state statutes, in regards to the Wailua River, is that motorboats cannot create a disturbance in the water within 200 feet of a bank or of the shoreline.

w The distance across the Wailua River, from the marina to the bridge, is approximately 100 feet.

w Because there isn’t state legislation specific to the situation, it leaves all parties who use the river for recreation to supervise themselves and act accordingly and responsibly.

So for now, there isn’t much to do. Curll said, however, he’ll have no other choice but to take action if such a problem arises again.

“We can only say that, after (we) consulted the rules, we have very little recourse — except that if the problem cannot be self-monitored by the boating community, we will be forced to begin a petition, a motion, to remove motorboats from the Wailua River,” Curll said on Wednesday. “That’s not something we want to do because … they’re wonderful people. They’re having a great time, but their great time cannot be held in such a manner that jeopardizes or produces a potential risk to vulnerable members of our group.”

He added: “We’re don’t feel like we’re asking a lot, but we’re just not being listened to or heard or noticed, possibly because we’re not talking to the right people. We’re just looking for help talking to the right people. If anybody knows somebody who’s on the Wailua River, bring it up.”

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