High surf shuts down Hanauma Bay

High surf shuts down Hanauma Bay

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - High and dangerous surf prompted officials to close Hanauma Bay Saturday.

The larger than normal waves spread whitewater on the usually placid surface of the popular nature preserve.

"We surfers, we call it 'a beast from the east,'" said Acting Lt. Rod Alderton of the city Ocean Safety Division. "We usually get one a year, when the surf is, we call it Hawaiian scale, eight to ten feet."

Having the beast in the bay forced lifeguards to check things out Saturday morning, and quickly decide to close it to the public.

The big waves smashed against the rocks, sending spray more than a hundred feet into the air. The waves also reduced visibility in the water, and produced dangerous currents. The current was strong enough to rip a pair of buoys that usually mark an area known as "the slot" in the reef in the middle of the bay.

Conditions were not the best for a popular attraction that draws 3,000 people a day, most of them visitors who are unfamiliar with the water. "People come here from all over the world," said Alderton. "And a lot of people don't know how to swim, but they want to try snorkeling anyway."

Christina Watterson of Kansas was one of the visitors who couldn't get into the water. "We wanted to snorkel today, most definitely," she said. "It's a sad day."

Another visitor was disappointed that she wasn't able to snorkel. However, "We get to see something beautiful instead," said Stephanie Pearce of Missouri. "Same sight, just not underwater."

Ocean Safety officials also cautioned visitors, surfers and swimmers at other nearby beaches, including Sandy Beach and Makapuu, as well as areas affected by the swell, such as China Walls, that don't have lifeguards. Alderton also cautioned people hiking on the Makapuu Lighthouse trail to avoid the tidepool areas because of the high surf.

The swell was also dangerous because the sets were about 15 to 20 minutes apart. "So in between the sets it will be calm, and then the big waves will come in. And then people think its safe during those lulls, and that's when they get themselves in a serious predicament," said Alderton.

While there was no snorkeling, the big waves wowed some visitors. "Oh the surf is amazing," said Pearce. "I'll be okay. I'll make it just with the surf. It's amazing."

Ocean Safety officials will reassess conditions Sunday morning to determine whether to reopen the bay.

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