LIHUE —The Hawaii Tourism Authority is shifting from strictly marketing to sustainable tourism.
And that could mean more saved lives.
“Part of sustainable tourism is how do we work with the community to meet their needs and one of them was ocean safety,” HTA board member Fred Atkins said Friday.
HTA recently offered to match up to $125,000 toward ocean safety on Kauai — and the Kauai Lifeguard Association rose to that challenge.
Friday, KLA and HTA presented the Kauai Fire Department’s Ocean Safety Bureau with two new 2019 Ford F150 trucks and two Jet Skis at Kuhio Ford.
“To see these type of projects come to reality is very encouraging,” Atkins said.
Dr. Monty Downs, KLA president, said with over two million beachgoers each year, HTA’s support has been a lifesaver in many ways.
“KLA has been able to take some of the pressure off the county by having these incredible donors that pass money to us and we can, in turn, buy equipment for the county,” he said. “That’s been a real simpatico relationship, public and private sector working together to make our lifeguards better and stronger.”
The bright red Ford trucks with yellow OSB decals are outfitted with lights and sirens.
Aaris Berry, general sales manager at Kuhio Auto Group, said they provided additional service in rust proofing, undercoating and bed liners to extend the life of the trucks.
The frame is steel while the body panels are aluminum, which means they won’t rust.
“Ultimately, it also makes the vehicles lighter, which means it’s more capable off-road, in the sand than a lot of other full-size trucks,” Berry said. “They’re perfect trucks for Kauai, it’s a perfect truck for the lifeguards.”
Jim Ingham, OSB North District captain, said the trucks and Jet Skis will have a big impact on water safety.
“The Jet Ski operation, our mobile teams, spearhead reaching people that are in trouble around our island,” he said. “Lifeguard towers can only be in so many places and Kauai is blessed with so many beautiful beaches people are going to those beaches and they’re getting in trouble.
“This is our quickest, fastest, most effective response to meet those safety needs,” he said.
One Jet Ski has already been deployed and the other one and the trucks will be called into duty soon, as well.
“We feel very thankful to have these tools to do our job,” Ingham said.
Kalani Vierra, OSB chief, agreed. He said the trucks and Jet Skis will be “utilized in areas that will help us with life-saving efforts.”
“Sometimes the secluded beaches are the most beautiful but also the most dangerous,” he said. “So hopefully with this equipment, we can get there in time to educate our visitors and send them to the right places and the safer places for them to enjoy.”
It was last fall when Atkins recommended to HTA’s board a program that would focus on each island’s ocean safety.
“Because more than 85% of rescues and drownings involve our state’s visitors I felt that if we could instill safety programs with every island by offering a matching fund opportunity, we would help save to lives from Hilo to Kekaha,” he said.
HTA set aside $500,000 and Atkins approached Andy Melamed, KLA board member, to see if KLA could take advantage of its share of up to $125,000.
“Fred’s call was one of the best I’ve ever received,” Melamed said. “Hawaii Tourism Authority’s interest in providing visitors with a safe and fulfilling experience makes a lot of sense because if you serve a customer right, they will return again and again.”
Kauai was the first island to take full advantage of the $125,000 matching fund offer.
“KLA’s history in providing opportunities to join in the cause of helping to save lives is something we are proud of,” Melamed said. “None of it happens however without concern from individuals, businesses, and government. That’s our secret to success.”
KLA’s Beach Bash fundraiser will be June 1 at the luau grounds at the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club. Some sponsored tables are still available for the Beach Bash that includes music, food, and entertainment, as well as spotlighting lifeguards.
Chantel Zarbaugh, KLA marketing director, said Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami and some council members are expected to participate in lifeguard challenges that are a highlight of the event.
Lifeguards, Zarbaugh said, must always be ready to respond to challenges and demands of their job, which requires they daily face the ocean’s powerful waves and currents.
“It’s very important we showcase them and what they do so people can see it’s not all glitz and glamour. They have to be fit, ready to rock and roll at any time,” she said.
Ingham said lifeguards on the North Shore “have risen to every occasion. They’ve made some incredible rescues and saves and I know they’ll continue to do that going forward with these new tools that we have.”