Tuesday, April 2, 2013


COME ON IN- THE WATER'S DEADLY: It was a close call but, despite the immediate availability of plenty of virtual lighter fluid, our hair did remain flameless yesterday when Kaua`i lifeguards were apparently at the ready, plucking no less than three tourists from the always dangerous waters of Kalihiwai beach, according to a county press release.

You can almost imagine the scene at the usually un-life-guarded beach: jet-ski-riding rescuers at the ready, 50 yards out, as fun-crazed tourists madly dash into the reported 15-20 foot waves. pushing their children ahead of them, only to be plucked out of the water and returned to the beach for yet another go at it, in some sort of insane merry-go-round of potential death.

But perhaps the closest call came on the North Shore of O`ahu where famed "super-model" Heidi Klum rescued her son and his nanny from the raging ocean waves.

Klum's "heroic" act is national news this morning with CNN picking up the Entertainment Tonight story and dramatic photos of the rescue. But what the heck she was doing in the first place- swimming with her seven-year old son at a secluded beach on a day when some North Shore Beaches were closed due to high surf- is anyone's guess.

According to a Hawai`i News Now report

Lifeguards think the incident happened at Papailoa Beach where there was a high surf advisory yesterday with 10-15 foot waves and a strong north wind.

"It was definitely not a day for surfing. It was very ugly and rough and challenging," said Jim Howe, Operations Chief, Ocean Safety & Lifeguard Services.

Papailoa is a remote area on the North Shore near Haleiwa. It has just one public access, limited parking and is a restricted area surrounded by expensive homes. It has potential for big waves breaking close to shore which causes the riptides.

Forget for a moment the "restricted area surrounded by expensive homes" part even though beaches in Hawai`i are not just public property but are supposed to have open access provided, according to the state constitution.

The bigger question is, "where was the Hawai`i Visitors' Bureau" (HVB), which, along with the Kaua'i VB, has come under increasing criticism for what many call a less-than-effective, "not scarey enough" ocean safety campaign... especially of late when 10 drowning on Kaua`i already this year have spawned new efforts like putting an ocean safety video at the baggage claim area on Kaua`i and trying to get the airlines to show it on incoming flights.

But perhaps the biggest disconnect of all came at the end of the article from the same man who had just described the conditions as being "very ugly and rough and challenging."

As for Klum's lifeguard skills, the pros complimented her and may even give her an award for her actions.

"My North Shore lieutenant suggested we give Ms. Klum one of what we call our Merit Awards for rescuing her loved ones. I think we might find a way to send her one. We'll see if she'll accept it or not," said Howe. "I think what we'd like to say to Ms. Klum and her family is congratulations on being such a good mom and so vigilant, and being Johnny on the spot to stop a situation that could have been much worse."

No- no, no, no, no, no- no award... unless it's a "Doofus of the Year Award" for going to, not just a beach without a lifeguard but, one of the most "private" beaches you can find and letting your seven-year-old go out in monster surf, almost getting your kid, his nanny and yourself killed in the process.

To be fair though it isn't as if the warnings that our visitor industry are putting out are effective. And, as anyone who lives in a tourist destination can tell you, tourists tend to forget to pack their common sense... even famous people.

The "new" video made on Kaua`i- one that is supposed to be the model for a proposed state legislative recommendation for placement on all incoming flights- in fact stresses the "Disneyland" vision of "your sun and surf Hawaiian vacation," where jumping off a cliff into raging surf is okay as long as you're careful and know a few underplayed facts placed somewhere toward the end of a "make sure you have fun but liability- both moral and financial- requires us to warn you" message.

The fact that the head of Honolulu lifeguard services thinks this is the time for an award rather than an admonishment is just more proof that those involved in ocean safety are kow-towing to the visitors' industry.

Rather than put out skull-and-crossbones-type warnings they are allowing the HVB to soft-sell the message even contemplating giving out awards for brainlessness instead of using this teaching moment and grabbing the bully pulpit by the horns, driving home the message that this is real life- not Entertainment Tonight.

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