Breaking waves at Kahaluu Bay can get a little crowded and tempers will flare. The proliferation of surf schools here have reached such proportions that the county and state is looking to regulate them. (West Hawaii Today File Photo)
Kahaluu-area residents are concerned that the many surf schools at the popular park are using all the parking and causing hazards in the water.
For years, the county and state have been getting an earful about the user conflicts existing at Kahaluu Bay. (West Hawaii Today File Photo)
Kahaluu Bay has been the scene of an ongoing turf-surf battle.
West Hawaii Today received complaints Monday from residents, self-described as concerned beachgoers and surfers, who said state and county rules regarding commercial activities at the park and in the bay are not being enforced.
In particular, these residents are upset about the surf schools they say are not only dominating the waves, but also setting up business on the makai side of Alii Drive and using all the parking spaces, as well as using the beach for briefings and collecting money. According to West Hawaii Today’s archives, similar complaints arise every June.
The county and state have been discussing regulation for years, but have yet to successfully implement anything, bringing the surf to a simmering tension between area users.
County Department of Parks and Recreation Director Bob Fitzgerald said he is aware of the proliferation of surfing schools, user conflicts, safety concerns and parking issues at Kahaluu Beach Park. Fitzgerald claims he has been trying to arrange a meeting “ASAP” with the various county and state departments, surf instructors and the public to discuss solutions.
The discussions would center on determining what type of permitting system or request-for-proposal bidding process would be appropriate. Fitzgerald said they may also consider standardized certification for all commercial operator and establishing student-to-instructor ratios and number of commercial surf school operations in the bay.
The county is also working to get alternative parking mauka of the popular beach park and eliminate parking along Alii Drive. Since the recent completion of a restriping and realignment project by the Department of Public Works, a handful of parking spots were already eliminated, Fitzgerald said.
With a permitting or bidding system, Fitzgerald said enforcement will become easier and surf schools can self-regulate somewhat. He said the only enforcement the county currently has is the Police Department, which is often occupied with other matters, doesn’t have the jurisdiction in state waters and must see the illegal activity transpire. He said the county also has to clarify the boundaries of property owned by the county, the state and Saint Peter’s Church.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has been trying to create and implement rules that regulate surf schools and other commercial ocean recreation activities without permits or licenses, which are creating user conflicts and impacting resources, said Ed Underwood, DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation administrator.
“A major step forward,” Underwood said, is House Bill 2682, which is awaiting the governor’s signature. The act would authorize DLNR to regulate the commercial activities that operate out of private marinas and use state waters or marine resources. Its intent is not to provide for additional regulation of existing regulated commercial enterprises, but to address unregulated activities, such as surf schools. Presently, DLNR can only regulate the number of permits for commercial activities in state harbors and marinas.
Once the bill is signed, DLNR will have a tool to allow it to manage and protect resources by controlling the number of commercial activities allowed within near-shore waters. The agency may also undertake the standard rule-making process to begin drafting a proposed permitting system with input from the county, stakeholders and the public, Underwood said.
Ocean Eco Tours owner Rob Hemsher said the surf industry is growing and the interest in learning to surf here will always exist because “surfing is synonymous with Hawaii.” He also stressed tourism is how most residents make their living in Hawaii and it’s the No. 1 revenue generator in the state.
Hemsher said there are no conflicts among surf schools, most of which have been operating safely and professionally with self-regulated standards they collaboratively developed and put in place since the 1990s. The surf instructors work together, he said, looking out for each other’s clients and have even performed rescues when other beachgoers get in trouble.
“The issue is not the surf schools, but the influx of people renting surfboards and stand-up paddleboards without instruction prior or guided support. These people are not only overcrowding the bay, but also becoming safety hazards,” he said. “All of us need to share the surf and do everything possible to minimize the impact, which means working together to find positive solutions for all parties involved.”
Since taking ownership of Hawaii Lifeguard Surf Instructors in 2002, Capt. Rick Green has always fulfilled government requirements, as well as helped implement safety standards and good business practices, such as using buoys and implementing class periods starting at 9 a.m., with other surf instructors.
He is frustrated over “the lack of enforcement by the state and county,” as well as the constant excuses of no funding, manpower or jurisdiction. He called the situation at Kahaluu “a jungle.”
Illegal surf instructors have made it difficult for his legitimate business to survive. Green said surf schools should be regulated like a harbor, where there are a limited number of slips and owners are liable for permits, licenses, insurance and employees.
He said surf instructors should be certified, a permitting system put in place and a limit of surf school operations strictly enforced. Like Hemsher, Green said he wants “proactive solutions.”