During the past 15 years of owning a home in Kawaihae, my wife and I go to Hapuna Beach on a daily basis, to walk, swim, boogie board and bodysurf. Numerous changes and events have transpired, of which, is a good friendship and understanding how vital a role these lifeguards employ daily. It goes from a simple “hello,” to answering questions on tide conditions, current and rip tide awareness, posting warning signs, giving children bandages, swimming out to help inexperienced swimmers, to life-saving CPR. At times, this requires as many as four lifeguards to help get a hurt or unresponsive person, who may weigh over 300 pounds, out of the water. Doing this during the holidays is remarkable — especially when there are some 3,000 or more people at Hapuna, only having four lifeguards, and at times as few as two, because of sickness, vacations or injures of their staff.
Hapuna Beach is approximately 750 yards long, with two primary lifeguard towers and four lifeguards assigned typically. Four or five months ago, a third tower was added toward the north end by the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. This beach is by far the most used by the majority of visitors and residents, and at times dangerous, as noted by the additional third tower.
We are concerned for the safety of the general public, notwithstanding the lifeguards. It appears to us, that insufficient staffing occurs at Hapuna Beach — we’ve yet to see all three towers with six lifeguards. This insufficient staffing appears to have the lifeguards work overtime and forego lunch breaks in order to provide the best possible safety precautions for the public.
Here is a very interesting set of facts we recently learned. In Kailua-Kona, there are eight full-time and three part-time lifeguards, at three life towers — two at Kahaluu Beach Park and one at Laaloa Beach Park. While at South Kohala, there are six full-time and two part-time life guards at four towers — three at Hapuna Beach State Park and one at Spencer Beach.
One only needs to check with the hospital in Waimea, at their emergency room, or with the aid car from the South Kohala fire station, and you can understand just how often they treat and transport injured visitors that the lifeguards had a major role in the assistance of aiding with various injuries.
When the surf gets larger — advisory level or above, we would like to have either the fire department chief, mayor or even some of the County Council staff come to Hapuna Beach and observe the dedication of these lifeguards. This is especially noticeable on weekends and holidays — sit in the towers with them, walk in their footsteps, spend two hours, say from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
If staffing and costs are constraints, remember about six months ago Hapuna Beach State Park began a $5 fee per car, per nonresident, that goes to the state general fund. In December, approximately 150 to more than 200 cars paid that fee daily for the entire month.
I’m sure public safety and the extent that Hawaii is advertised as a “major destination” vacation spot influences many “business” decisions. We hope the mayor and County Council look into this, allocate the funds, and direct the necessary actions.
I’m also quite sure that on Oahu issues such as staffing for water safety is a nonissue.
Thanks to the mayor and County Council for looking into this issue of water safety and hopefully a correction to this “oversight.”
Doug Gouge and Nancy Leidholm are Big Island residents.
Viewpoint articles are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily the opinion of West Hawaii Today.