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It’s almost summer and that means Waikiki Beach is about to see a big spike in visitors.
At the same time, summer storms will be hitting the south shores.
The combination creates a dangerous situation on Hawaii’s beaches.
Surf may not be raging on the south shore, but don’t let the size of the size fool you.
“Most of the serious trauma injuries, these are the dislocated shoulders, the broken legs. Unfortunately, even the broken necks, most of these injuries happen when the waves are waist-high or smaller, three feet or less,” Ocean Safety Chief of Operations Jim Howe said.
“The Kapahulu wall where the kids love to jump, that’s their right of passage to jump off the wall and unfortunately we have at least one broken neck,” Ocean Safety South Shore Captain Paul Merino said.
In fact, lifeguards say 95 percent of all trauma injuries on Oahu happen in surf three feet and under.
The main reason is volume.
“It’s due to the crowds. The crowding here on the south shore is horrendous because a lot of people can handle it,” Merino said.
It’s because of the high number of users in one area that the criteria for advisories differs from other parts of the island.
“Our high surf advisories, we’re looking at eight feet to 14 feet and warnings are 15 feet or higher, much different criteria than the north shore,” NOAA spokesperson Mike Cantin said.
Lifeguards say the recent explosion of stand-up and one-man paddlers has created new challenges.
Some of their most daring rescues have happened near cliffs and ledges near Makapuu Lighthouse and Hawaii Kai.
“We’re seeing more and more people out there paddling on these coastal runs. They’re fabulous, they’re beautiful, but there are things you need to think about when you head out. You’re a mile or two offshore and you’re going to go six or seven miles down the coast,” Howe said.
“The key to this is having an electric device like a cell phone in a plastic water proof bag. Where if you’re injured, if you’ve lost your craft, you can make a 911 call and we can be there in five minutes,” Merino said.
Education is key.
“Big surf is dangerous, but small surf is also very dangerous,” Howe said.
And preparation could save lives.