Be vigiliant about North Shore water safety

I’ve been reading letters of praise for the state’s handling of the Haena/Wainiha/Ke‘e area after the road re-opening. And, yes, many things have gone well, first and foremost being a now very well-controlled Haena State Park Ke‘e area, replete with a delightful boardwalk route from the parking area to the beach.

There is no doubt that B.F. (before the flood) this area had reached an insanity-level of overcrowding and side-of-the-road parking problems, and the attractiveness and very health of the site was being severely threatened.

The April 2018 flood was certainly a disaster on some levels, and somewhat of a godsend on others. However, the restricted parking at Ke‘e has led to unintended and very dangerous consequences.

Cars that drive out to Haena and find they can’t park instead divert to spots along the way where you can park. The two such spots that stand out are Lumahai River mouth, and a beach called Kepuhi (just before you get to the Hanalei Colony Resort). These beaches are suddenly packed, and the problem is that these two beaches are (A) extremely dangerous and (B) unguarded.

And although there’s a good aspect to Ke‘e itself being less crowded than it was B.F., the fact is that there are times (namely mid- to late-afternoon) where I’m told that it is actually too uncrowded, with the people already having diverted to the two mentioned sites.

We’ve been blessed to have unusually calm ocean conditions in the Haena area this summer. But, this is about to change dramatically. Some of us have contacted our state legislators about this diverting that’s taking place, and the attendant dangers. We have urged them to please not regard the Haena plan as a done deal, and rather to regard it as work in progress and one that needs tweaks, e.g., less restrictive parking at Ke‘e in the afternoons? Possible use of a portion of the just-announced disaster funds for some safety measures at Lumahai and Kepuhi?

Switching to another topic, somewhat related: There has also been a diverting of beachgoers to Anini Beach Park, where two families’ hearts were broken just this last week. This is a whole other story which involves county legislators and administrators, as opposed to the state personnel in charge of Ke‘e.

The very dangerous mix of boating and swimming near the boat ramp area is just one of the tough issues being studied, in addition to the influx of people that we’ve described. Our county leaders have been working diligently on the Anini situation, including funding a roving lifeguard unit to keep an eye on the area as best as possible. This area, too, is very much a work in progress.

All in all our water-safety advocates and professionals are reeling after last week’s Anini deaths, as are many of Kauai’s citizens — not to mention the destroyed families. I don’t have any words of wisdom other than we’ll keep trying. And for our own mental health, let’s not let ourselves forget the three saved men at Kealia Beach three weeks ago. We could very easily have had three more heart-broken families if not for all the work that is being done by our professionals and by our lay supporters.


Monty Downs, M.D., is president of the Kauai Lifeguard Association.

  1. Rev Dr. Malama September 2, 2019 9:46 am Reply

    Dr. Downs, the headline needs to read “All Kauai Waters” as drowning occurs on every shore and inland as well.
    I was rescued from the offshore waters west of Port Allen yesterday after the kayak I was paddling swamped. The 3 people I could see on shore eventually heard and saw my dog and I in distress and apparently called 911. I am very grateful for that call as my age and ability is not what I used to be but my mind and experience of the Ocean took control to remain calm, stay floating, kayak paddle in the air, try to keep off the rocks etc.
    What almost took me down was that neither of the young men on shore swam out to assist me… when I was finally back on land from the team effort of our proffessional water saving men that did pull me in only moments before I was doomed to be engulfed on a boiling reef, I told the Fire Dept First responder officer of my disappointment that the people on shore did not appear to know how to help my dog up the rocks nor I in the water. The conversation with the Fireman was truefully revealing that he said “but when it happens to them, they expect us (sic) to be there for them”…..
    Shame on us all for not educating each other in the general public to know lifesaving skills and respond to emergency situations…. Apparently the education is not a priority in our schools or community organizations.
    Buddy swimming and diving could have saved the last 2 victims and was drilled into me during many classes I took decades ago. Personal safety devices are available and affordable here on Kauai and are also a lucrative business opportunity for saving lives.
    I am grateful for all you do but realize that I am responsible for my own personal safety first and to share my knowledge to those around me.

  2. ruthann jones September 10, 2019 12:13 pm Reply

    Am I to understand you were NOT wearing a life vest?

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