LIHUE — From 1993 to 2008, Kauai had 12 of the state’s 20 “rescuer drownings,” where the person trying to save another ended up drowning.
From 2009 to 2017, that number dropped to one of eight.
The reduction was credited to efforts of the Kauai Lifeguard Association, the Rescue Tube Foundation, the County of Kauai and others to improve ocean safety and help people understand that while the ocean is beautiful, it can be deadly.
“Our job is to keep the residents and visitors as protected as possible,” said Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro at Thursday night’s Kauai Chamber of Commerce general membership meeting attended by about 400 people at the Kauai Marriott Resort &Beach Club.
The theme was “Help Save Lives — Ocean Minded Community Campaign.” An ocean-safety forum included KLA President Dr. Monty Downs; Kauai Fire Department Ocean Safety Bureau Chief Kalani Vierra; Kauai Visitors Bureau Executive Director Sue Kanoho; shark attack survivor and professional photographer Mike Coots; and Kauai Marriott Resort &Beach Club General Manager Paul Toner.
Kaneshiro said KLA is constantly coming to the county to donate trucks, trailers and Jet Skis for lifeguards.
“It makes our job easy,” he said.
Part of that job — everyone’s job, officials emphasized — is stressing messages like swim at lifeguarded beaches, be aware of rip currents, pay attention to ocean conditions and steer clear of Queen’s Bath on the North Shore, where rogue waves have swept people to their deaths.
“Our visitors have been visiting places that don’t have lifeguards,” Vierra said.
People were discouraged from posting pictures of themselves on social media, doing dangerous stunts like jumping from cliffs or standing on rocks with waves crashing in the background.
“It’s a never-ending education that we do,” Kanoho said. “And it takes everybody in this room.”
That point was also made by Mark Perriello, chamber president.
“We hope that each of you attending together will consider ways that you and your businesses can partner with and support the Kauai Lifeguard Association and their critical work to keep our residents and visitors informed and safe,” he wrote in the program.
People, however, don’t always heed warnings. They’ll go snorkeling or swimming in rough waters. Despite high-surf warnings and warning signs in general, people still go to Queen’s Bath.
“It shouldn’t be happening,” Kanoho said.
The crowd quieted when it was said that someone had died earlier that day on Kauai in an accident that involved jumping from rocks into water.
Efforts continue to improve safety.
Last year, the county dedicated its 11th and newest lifeguard tower at Nukumoi Point at Poipu Beach Park.
In January the council approved funding for three new lifeguard positions at Anini Beach to address safety concerns at North Shore beaches crowded with visitors during the winter season.
A few years ago, the county began roving Jet Ski patrols so lifeguards could perform daily periodic checks on unguarded beaches with relatively high rates of incidents.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority on Thursday presented a $125,000 check to KLA for OSB equipment.
Downs said KLA has received $850,000 in donations since 2012, all of which have gone toward giving lifeguard the tools they need to keep people safe.
Chantal Zarbaugh, KLA marketing and event director, said there are many ways KLA makes a difference.
“So it’s important to reiterate that your support truly saves lives,” she told the crowd.
KLA’s Beach Bash fundraiser is set for June 1 at the Kauai Marriott Resort &Beach Club. It will put a spotlight on lifeguards who will demonstrate some rescue techniques.
Three lifeguards received a standing ovation when they were introduced.
Lifeguards, Zarbaugh said, must be in top condition because they face demanding ocean challenges every day.
“I believe in our lifeguards,” Zarbaugh said. “I believe in our community and I believe what we do is very important.”
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or email@example.com.