Amid liability concerns, state wants to drop licensing program for Waikiki Beach Boys

From the beach at Waikiki, you can watch tanned surf instructors in chest-deep water shove the back of large surfboards at just the right second.
Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 4:05 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 17, 2022 at 8:51 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - From the beach at Waikiki, you can watch tanned surf instructors in chest-deep water shove the back of large surfboards at just the right second, sending tourists toward the shore.

To know how to make that push that can make an entire vacation, the instructor must know the waters, know surfing and how to keep his students safe. Most also carry a Waikiki Operator Permit issued by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Those who have had the cards for decades, like Willy Grace of Star Beachboys, support the idea of the licensing.

“It’s actually for the tourists, for their safety,” Grace said.

The permit is called a blue card.

Requirements include first aid and CPR certification, a physical, water skills, a written test and panel interview.

Grace says the system developed out of the old Beach Boy tradition of handing down the skills from veterans to those who they saw as worthy of the work.

“You gotta know the water, you gotta know the people you have to have respect for the guys that started this ― that’s why you needed them to sign your card,” Grace said.

But Dave Carvalho, owner of Pacific Island Beach Boys, has three city shoreline concessions that require full certification for his instructors and canoe and catamaran captains.

And many are waiting in the line up, he said.

“All of their applications have been in with the state in some cases for years,” Carvalho said, adding his wife has been waiting for almost seven years. He said the DLNR just isn’t processing applications nearly fast enough.

“They are undermanned. They have nobody to even do the tests in the first place.” he said

The state has been discussing getting rid of the blue card program for years.

Officials said they don’t have the expertise or the resources needed to do the testing and enforcement that is necessary. The result is a program that everyone agrees doesn’t really doesn’t work anyway.

Grace said unlicensed instructors are putting visitors at risk. “There’s guys taking out more than they are supposed to and they can’t even handle themselves so when the surf is big, it’s dangerous.”

That leads to perhaps the biggest issue: Liability.

The state attorney general recommended dropping the program because the state could get sued over an instructor’s negligence. The Land Department staff is asking the Land Board to do away with the program while a new system for overseeing the ocean operators is developed.

Carvalho agreed.

“Allow us to come up with our own protocols and how we go ahead and we get people ready to do this we are not just going to send anybody in the water,” he said.

But having no regulation at all worries other beach operators, who say the ocean is always more dangerous than it looks.

“I think the tourists would get hurt out there you know,” Grace said. “Right now it’s pretty bad these guys that are teaching it are not certified or qualified.”

Repeal of the regulations was scheduled for last week’s Land Board meeting, but the meeting was cancelled due to Sunshine Law concerns. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 27.