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
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:
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
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
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.