Staying Safe on Beaches in Hawaii

The Beach at Waikiki–and Other Hawaiian Beaches

Staying safe on beaches in Hawaii is important. The beach at Waikiki is the most famous of our beaches, but we have beaches on all eight major islands. When you see photos of Hawaii, you’ll usually see a sandy beach, a turquoise ocean, and a wave or two. The photos are not doctored.

Where is Waikiki Beach?

Honolulu, the destination of many tourists, is a large city on the island of Oahu. Waikiki is an enclave of Honolulu, and the so-called Waikiki Beach (actually Kuhio Beach) is part of it. Often it’s packed with tourists.

If the beach in Waikiki is too crowded, go to the Ala Moana Beach Park, across the street from the Ala Moana shopping center. It’s where the locals go and may be crowded on weekends, but not during the week.

Actually, Oahu’s beach goes all the way around the island and it’s all free to the public except for Hanauma Bay. In fact, each of the eight major islands of Hawaii have multiple enjoyable beaches.

Make use of lifeguards.

Go where there’s a lifeguard. He can inform you of any unusual conditions, undertows, etc. and he can probably save you if you get in trouble. Unfortunately, tourists think because they’re in paradise, nothing bad will happen, but many people drown here every year. The ocean is beautiful but wild, and if you’re not used to ocean vagaries, stay where your toes can touch bottom.

A few years ago, a honeymooning Japanese couple floated out on an inflatable raft, got caught in a current, and couldn’t make their way back to shore. They drowned by the time the lifeguards realized they were in trouble. It happens. Often.

Watch your kids.

Don’t depend on the arm “floaties” or inner tubes to keep kids safe. Those devices can deflate. Kids can slip through them. Older kids are not reliable about watching little guys. We have too many toddlers losing their lives.

Most kids love the ocean. They’re not interested in the expensive sightseeing trips or luaus. They delight in the waves and digging in the sand. Best of all for you, it’s free! But monitor their ocean play.

What about sharks?

We do have them. All the time. If you fly over in a helicopter, you will see them down in the crystal clear water swimming, circling, marauding. Usually they’re harmless. The big ones tend to be far offshore and are not interested in people food.

Some precautions:

  • If the water is muddy from runoff after a rain, avoid swimming. Sharks are always hungry. If water is too murky for them to see well, they may bite at anything moving in the water just to test how it tastes.
  • Don’t swim near sunrise or sunset. Sharks are crepuscular–that is, they feed when many fish are changing places in the coral reefs. A whole buffet of fish is swishing before them, and you may be mistaken for a tasty morsel.
  • Don’t wear shiny jewelry, not even a watch. It attracts sharks.

Why is the beach deserted?

Each beach has a reputation: great for surfing, sheltered for keiki (kids), or dangerous undertow. A visiting friend was delighted to discover Sandy Beach, on the eastern shore of Oahu. Not crowded at all! Then she heard that it has a dangerous shore break with waves slamming unwary swimmers onto the sand, causing many serious injuries to the unwary.

So ask around. If there’s no lifeguard, go to a different beach. If there is a lifeguard, chat with him to find out the swimming conditions that day. Then, if all’s clear, dive in.

So why go in the water at all?

Swimming in the ocean is exhilarating. The salt water is healing, and the waves are invigorating. You’ll have a wonderful time, letting the waves lift you up and toss you around. But take care. Respect the ocean.

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