The Tropical Storm watch and flood advisory has been lifted, but a high surf warning remains in effect along east-facing shores of Hawai'i Island until 6 a.m. Thursday. That didn't keep thrill-seekers from hitting the waves though, and that meant ocean safety officials were on high alert all day.
Honoli'i lifeguards spotted a surfer in distress after losing his board around 3 p.m. Wednesday -- but given the large sets and powerful surge, they called in a helicopter to make the rescue. The 17-year-old was brought to shore quickly without any injuries.
"It's definitely been something to watch. A lot of good-sized surf is coming in and a lot of guys are testing their limits, but fortunately no big injuries," said Jonathon Ucker, one of the lifeguards who helped make a water rescue earlier in the day.
Lifeguards also treated a few people for reef rash.
Several surfers broke their boards in the pounding surf.
"I got held down pretty long, but I managed to surface," Chase Castillo described with a smile after being forced to leave when his board snapped into two pieces.
Surfers say the waves were consistently around 6 feet with some sets around 8 to 10 feet.
"The storm -- it brought in some size here and there," said Brett Harrington.
It was breaking even bigger in Puna at Pohoiki where lifeguards reported some sets reaching 20 feet, which is why officials dispatched a jet ski to patrol the area and be on stand-by.
"It's definitely a game changer. Prior to this, we could only go out with our rescue boards and rescue tube with find which would take us a while to get out there and then to get the person and get them back in takes awhile. With the jet ski, they can go in and out of the impact zone within a matter of minutes or seconds," explained Gerald Kosaki, the Hawai'i Fire Dept. Battalion Chief who oversees the ocean safety division.
Hawai'i County was the last in the state to get a rescue water craft program, which started in July of this year after Mayor Bikly Kenoi set aside $320,000 in the budget to launch it. There are two jet skis -- one in east Hawai'i and one in west Hawai'i and seven total certified operators.
"When things are really big and dangerous - that's such a perfect equipment to use. It changed a lot and I feel a lot more confident rescuing and with safety down here in Puna," said lifeguard Campbell Causey.
Hawai‘i Fire Department officials closed Richardson's, Onekahakaha, Leleiwi and Kealoha beach parks Wednesday as a result of the high surf and surge. They will reassess first thing Thursday morning.