Beach Safety Tips for Hawaii
Hawaii’s beaches offer a full spectrum of conditions that can range from extremely safe to extremely dangerous. Here are a few beach safety tips to remember when planning your beach activities in these lovely islands!
First and foremost is to know your limits and, in many cases, your equipment. As in any ocean activity, what is suitable for one can be deadly to another. Understanding the conditions you’re up against in different beach conditions can help you a lot in determining what activities you might want to pursue and where you enjoy them!Wind Conditions
– Hawaii is blessed with predominantly northeasterly tradewinds which we enjoy almost year-round. Unlike coastal areas where the winds in the day and evening change due to thermal conditions on the land mass, wind directions in Hawaii are pretty consistent. For any ocean activity, it’s important to distinguish between onshore, offshore, and sideshore winds.Onshore winds (blowing toward the shore)
create more choppy conditions but are safer for learning things like sailing, windsurfing, and kayaking since you’d get blown back to shore in the event you ran into trouble.
Areas exposed to strong onshore winds get their share of Portugese Men ‘O War, a jellyfish-like creature with a clear bubble top which hangs long blue strands of stinging tentacles. With “bubbles” ranging anywhere from a half-inch to two-inches and tentacles running from three inches to just over a foot, these little suckers put out a mean sting that feels like a bee sting or worse, depending upon how much contact you’ve had with the tentacles. Meat tenderizer helps to ease the pain, but severe stings should be given medical attention as a precautionary measureOffshore winds(blowing away from shore)
make for great conditions near shore as the waters are typically calmer being more sheltered by the land. However, getting beyond the protective shadow of the land mass puts you on a windblown path straight out to sea!
In addition to wind direction, it’s also a good idea to check the variance in wind strength between the morning and afternoon hours as certain areas in the islands like the channels between them experience a significant increase in wind strength as the day progresses.
Sideshore winds (blowing parallel to the shore) offer the best conditions for sports like windsurfing and kitesurfing as these wind-powered craft perform best on reaches--traveling perpendicular to the wind source. These conditions make it easiest to sail straight out from the shore and back again. For folks who provide their own power, like kayakers, it's always advisable to head against the wind at the start of your trip so that the return trip (the leg during which you'll be more fatigued) has you paddling with the wind.
Beach Conditions – It’s easy enough to be careful when you’re on the beach. But step into the water and that’s where a bit of knowledge comes in very handy. Hawaii is pretty unique with its coral reefs and coral formations. Coral reefs in Hawaii can do some great damage to your unprotected feet should you happen to step on sharp coral or even worse, the spines of a black sea urchin known to local folk as “vana.” When you see a bottom that doesn’t look like sand, swim over it. You’ll be doing your feet and the coral reef a favor at the same time.
While surfers are pretty attuned to wave conditions and tend to seek out the appropriate surf for their abilities (at least most of the time!), all beach-goers are exposed to shorebreaks (waves that break on the shore). One of the most popular bodysurfing beaches in Hawaii, Sandy Beach on Oahu, is also the beach with the highest incidence of injuries in the state. Here the waves are popular for bodysurfers and waders alike and the impact at which the waves crash on to the sand has put numerous individuals into the hospital with broken bones and other bodily injuries. In addition to the danger of the impact is the rip-tide or outgoing current caused by water receding back to sea from a steep beach. Bodysurfing a strong shorebreak takes as much technique and local knowledge as it requires strong swimming ability. Don’t jump in without surveying the conditions and understanding how to keep from getting a head plant into solid sand!
Surf Conditions - Hawaii’s surf is known throughout the world due to the many spots that offer fast, steep, and hollow waves, the kinds of waves in which a barrel is formed and into which the surfer is able to get “tubed.” These sought-after waves are produced by long traveling ocean swells packing a lot of momentum suddenly hitting the shallow waters of the reefs that surround the islands. When these deep water swells hit the shallow water, they increase dramatically in height and break with much more intensity than surf spots with gradual bottom contours as most places on the east and west coast of the mainland.
Here in the islands, the very reefs that make for great waves also presents considerable risks when surfers wipe out over shallow areas. The famous Pipeline, on Oahu’s north shore, has claimed its share of surfers and, recently, a photographer who was dashed against the coral bottom of the impact zone--the area in which the waves break. Hawaii offers a plethora of surf spots for all abilities. Pick the ones that suit you, not the ones that are necessarily those you’ve read about in Surfer Magazine!
Without a doubt, Hawaii is paradise for just about any beach activity or water sport you can think of. Take some time to familiarize yourself with Hawaii’s wind and sea conditions and you’ll find Hawaii beaches are awfully hard to beat!