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Winter Waves Taking Their Toll

High Wind and Surf Advisories

While most of the country, with the exception of Alaska, is experiencing a fairly mild winter, Hawaii seems to be seeing a lot of wind and rain, as well as a lot of rough ocean conditions this year.  Note the number of high wind and surf advisories that the NOAA has issued this year.  It seems that not a week has gone by that someone has not drowned or been swept out to sea and required rescue.

Visitors and residents alike should be cautious of surf conditions and use caution, especially when in unfamiliar areas.   Tourists are simply not aware that Hawaii’s beautiful beaches can be deceiving.  Respect must be given to the ocean and the power of waves and current or the consequences can be severe.

Safety Tips

Locals grow up in and around the ocean and constant reminders to watch out.  Here are a few pointers that newbies should be mindful of when venturing near or in the waters of Hawaii (or anywhere else, for that matter):

  • NEVER turn your back to the ocean!  You can’t take protective measures if you don’t see the wave that’s about to hit you.
  • IF you are going to be hit by a large wave, your best bet is to lay flat and grab hold!  Running when a wave hits is about the worse thing that you can do as you have no way to stop being knocked down and sucked out.  Lying down maximizes the surface area between you and solid ground.
  • This tip has no scientific support nor is it 100% accurate, but we were always told when you’re hit by one large wave, be especially cautious because they often come in SETS OF THREE!  In other words, don’t let you guard down too soon.
  • If you are caught in a rip-tide or out-going current while snorkeling or swimming, DO NOT PANIC!  Do NOT try to fight the current and swim back to shore!  Go with the flow until you feel it lessen…swim diagonally back towards shore.

When I was in my teens, a couple friends and I had gone snorkeling just north of Diamond Head and while I was intent on following a school of fish, I got caught in an outgoing flow, running about 3-4 mph.  That doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, you can’t swim against that!

For about 5 seconds…I tried to do just that, as I panicked!  (Yes, I violated two of my own rules stated above.)  Then, I just relaxed and floated as I watched the bottom slide by below me (that’s when I estimated the speed)…and by now, I was in water over 40′ deep.  I looked up, sized up my situation, then cut a course of about a 30 degree angle toward shore.   Once I was clear of the out-going flow, progress became much easier and I headed straight for shore, but I still ended up about 50 yards down from where I started my swim in.

I can tell you that I was one tired puppy when I finally dragged myself up on the rocks and sprawled out exhausted!  However, the alternatives were that I would a) continued to fight the current and probably drowned from exhaustion, or b) been swept out and hopefully come near shore somewhere around Sand Island (about 5 miles down the coast for those not familiar with Oahu), thru some very shark infested waters I might add.

Likewise, there have been a few times where I have thrown myself down to get a hold when I’ve been caught unawares by a rogue wave.  More than a few locals have drowned while picking opihi (limpets) and got caught while there heads were down and picking.  So, not only was I brought up hearing these warnings, I have been the beneficiary of having heeded them.

Let Common Sense Rule!

I wish each and everyone a safe and happy outing each time you venture to the coast, whether you’re swimming, snorkeling, fishing or whatever your pursuit of happiness involves.  I hope you never have need of any of these warnings, but should the need arise, I hope that they will serve you well, as they have me.  Remember, your first course of action is to observe the ocean and allow your common sense to dictate whether its safe to walk out, swim out, or simply stay away.




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