Island Address Book 7-22-2005

Honolulu’s Deputy Fire Chief on Hawaii’s Safest Beaches

By: Michele Kayal

When John R. Kukeakalani Clark isn’t fighting fires, chances are he’s at the beach.

A former lifeguard and an avid waterman, Honolulu’s deputy fire chief literally wrote the book on Hawaiian beaches (actually, he has written six of them), and he has visited every beach in the state at least once.

As a firefighter, Clark considers safety a top priority. Though he warns that bathers are never completely safe in the ocean one should always be on the look out for high surf, steep drops, strong currents and dangerous marine animals certain beaches are more manageable than others. The safest beaches usually have some sort of man-made or natural protection to block or reduce waves and currents, as well as lifeguards in the tower every day.

While Clark was happy to share his picks for Hawaii’s safest beaches, he warned they are not a free pass.

“We need to use common sense every time we go to the beach,” he said. “No matter how safe a beach is accidents and even tragedies can still occur if we aren’t careful. No beach is ever 100 percent safe and we need to be especially vigilant with non-swimming children.”

So tell clients to put on their water wings and get to some of Clark’s favorite spots.

Ala Moana Beach Park in central Honolulu is where you’ll find minivans full of families headed every weekend. A long beach and shallow sandbar that gently slopes makes the park ideal for little kids and older non-swimmers. A deep swimming channel beyond the sandbar gives moms and dads a place to stretch their fins. A shallow reef beyond the swimming channel protects the entire length of the beach from the open ocean (and creates great conditions for body boarders). Lifeguards are stationed here daily.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in East Honolulu is one of the world’s great swimming and snorkeling sites. The fabulous $13 million education center (where visitors are required to watch a short introductory movie), concessions, clean bathrooms and other excellent facilities make it easy to spend an entire day there. Protected sand pockets in the near-shore area create a gentle atmosphere for swimming and snorkeling. Clients might even see baby octopi or the state fish, humuhumunukunukuapuaa. But advise them to get there early when the parking lot fills up, security guards turn cars away. Parking is $1, and non-residents pay a $5 entry fee. Lifeguards watch over the bay every day. The preserve is closed on Tuesdays. Snorkel equipment rentals are available onsite.

(Note: Many beaches on Oahu’s south shore, including the ones mentioned above, experience a monthly invasion of box jellyfish about a week after the full moon, so advise your clients to consult conditions before spreading out their blankets. Try checking: boxjellymainpage.)

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

At Poipu Beach Park, on Kauai’s south shore, a small breakwater provides a protected swimming area that is always filled with kids and sometimes Hawaiian monk seals. Poipu has something for everyone: The shore break is a favorite of body boarders, the offshore reef offers gentle snorkeling, and a surf break on the west side of the park draws in surfers. Lifeguards are on duty daily.

The white-sand beach ringing a secluded bay at one of Maui’s top resorts makes Kapalua Beach Park in West Maui a perennial favorite with visitors. The north point of the bay reaches into the open ocean, protecting the beach from high surf in the winter. Swimmers can practice their strokes off the beach, and snorkelers can tool around the reef that sits in the bay. This beach has no lifeguards.

At Onekahakaha Beach Park, in Hilo, a breakwater made of boulders fronts the park, blocking the high surf and strong currents and creating a popular sand-bottomed pool that’s great for kids. Pavilions onshore offer picnicking and easy access to Hilo’s rejuvenated downtown, which can make for a lovely day at the beach. If your clients go on a Wednesday or Saturday, remind them to pick up tropical fruit and other delicious beach snacks at the local farmers market. Lifeguards are present at this park daily.