Hawaii Launches Beach Safety Campaign

EAST OAHU (KHNL) - With school out, and summer just around the corner, many are heading to the beach. Ocean safety experts are also highlighting some important safety measures.

State officials launched a new web site today to kick off Hawaii Beach Safety Week. It warns beachgoers about ocean hazards. The web site gathers information from several sources to generate the most accurate report.

"It takes wave information from the National Weather Service," said Dr. Charles "Chip" Fletcher, a geology and geophysics professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who spearheaded the web site. "It takes wind information from every airport in the state, and it converts that information to one of three signs that are then applied to all the lifeguarded beaches in the state."

Water safety experts hope beachgoers use the site before they leave their homes.

"So the idea of the web site and the idea of all the prevention efforts is to give people accurate information before they get to the beach," said Ralph Goto, an administrator for Ocean Safety & Lifeguard Services.

"We also have the ability to enter such emergencies shark bites, jellyfish and beach closures which can be loaded immediately," said Dr. Chiyomi Fukino, director of the Hawaii Department of Health.

State officials anticipate the web site helps keep beachgoers informed and reduces the number of drowning accidents.

Beachgoers we spoke with welcome the safety tool. They say it's important to stay up-to-date on ocean conditions, especially at dangerous beaches.

We spoke to folks at Sandy Beach, which has some of the strongest ocean conditions in Oahu. For locals and even tourists, many have stories of close calls and even tragedies.

Sandy Beach: one of Mother Nature's beautiful creations. But beneath the crashing waves lurk dangerous shore breaks.

"Even right over here where the people are surfing, it's dangerous too, because the reef breaks in really shallow waters, and a friend of mine actually broke his neck over here one time," said Cory Dickens, an experienced surfer who lives in Kailua, Oahu.

After almost 30 years of surfing, Dickens has seen it all. A couple of years ago, he came to rescue a tourist in trouble.

"I ran up to him," said Dickens. "I was the first guy to get to him. I pulled him up out of the water and he drowned right in front of my eyes."

That's why it's important to assess surf conditions before jumping in. Some of the best indicators are warning signs and flags. This means beginners should not go out.

This lifeguard keeps an eye out for those who are in over their heads. He spots Nathan Farrugia, snorkeling in the choppy waters.

"It's really rough," said the 10-year-old visitor from Melbourne, Australia. "There's lots of rocks and it's dangerous because if the current pushes you back, you can hit your back against the rocks. So it's pretty scary."

Nathan avoided a close call. He says the lifeguard passed on some sound advice:

"Not to swim here because it's dangerous," said Farrugia. "To keep away from rocks that are close to you, and have a bit of sand around you."

Sound advice on enjoying our beaches in the months and years to come.