Watermen say beach boys in jeopardy after new management shakes things up

Watermen say beach boys in jeopardy after new management shakes things up

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The city's recent decision to award two lucrative beach boy concessions on Kuhio Beach to a diving company is getting a lot of push back from longtime watermen.

Dive Oahu will take over the concessions on Tuesday, replacing longtime concession runners Star Beachboys Inc. and Hawaiian Oceans.

Tom Copp, of Palekaiko Beachboys Club Inc., is an advocate for the watermen. He said the new company is proposing to cut the beach boys' pay by more than half, which will drive many to leave the trade.

"The wages these guys are proposing to pay is equivalent to 1960 working in the Dole Plantation," said Copp. "This is all going away. This is the trail of tears for the beach boys. This is it."

Many longtime beach boys shared that sentiment.

"I feel hurt. I feel embarrassed. I feel insulted for all the beach boys," said "Aki," who has worked as a beach boy for more than 50 years.

"We will not work under this new regime or this new company guy. He has no idea what he's doing," said Alika Willis.

Brian Benton, president of Dive Oahu, said those pay rates doesn't include salaries and other benefits. Right now, beach boys work as independent contractors.

With his company, they'll be company employees and their total compensation will be as much as $40 to $50 an hour, he said.

"This is good for the beach boys. This is good for the beach. We do it right," he said.

The beach boys have been a tradition at Waikiki since the early 1900s when the Moana Hotel was built, offering canoe rides, surf instruction, board rentals and other services.

For the past few decades, Star Beachboys and Hawaiian Ocean have handled the Kuhio Beach concessions, until recently, when the city awarded both concessions to Dive Oahu — the highest bidder.

Aaron Rutledge, president of Star Beachboys, is seeking a restraining order from a state judge to halt Tuesday's transfer.

Last year, the city initially renewed his company's concession for another five years and awarded the second Kuhio Beach concession to Dive Oahu, Rutledge said. But both awards were canceled after a bid protest was filed.

Rutledge said the city then re-issued the bid but not before publicly releasing the details of Star Beachboys' bid, giving its competitors an unfair advantage.

"Now everybody knows what we bid and that's the starting point," he said.

Rutledge believes the city steered the bidding process to Dive Oahu's benefit.

In the past, dive companies weren't allowed to bid for the concession but the city recently changed the specifications to allow all "ocean recreation" companies to bid, he said,

He added that he believes the city favors Dive Oahu, which also won the city's Hanauma Bay concession in 2014, because it's taking a corporate approach to the traditional beach boy trade.

"They're going to turn them into pool attendants. You have to have a collared shirt. You have to have khaki shorts. You gotta have shoes. You gotta walk around with an I-Pad," he said.

"If this goes through, the tradition of the beach boys will end on Tuesday," Rutledge said.

Clay Goheir, who has worked as a beach boy since 1952, agreed.

"It's going to hurt a lot of people. We're used to a certain lifestyle," Goheir said."This not commercial. This is a lifestyle."

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