Kua Bay lifeguards top priority for Hawaii County

  • Hapuna Beach is the largest white sand beach on Hawaii Island. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Hawaii County Lifeguards stay vigilant at Hapuna Beach. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — Every year, representatives of the state’s four county councils get together to draft a wish list of priorities for the upcoming session of the state Legislature. This year, Honolulu has two proposals, Kauai has five, but Hawaii County has just one request — lifeguards for Kua Bay.

The popular Kua Bay is part of Kekaha Kai State Park and under the state’s jurisdiction. As it has for the past two years, the county is again asking the state Legislature, when it convenes in January, to provide funding for a lifeguard stand and four lifeguards.

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“Public health is our top priority and having lifeguards at this heavily visited location will be essential to save lives and prevent injuries,” said Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha, the county’s representative in the Hawaii State Association of Counties.

In an unrelated action, the county administration is also asking the County Council to add three new lifeguard positions for Hapuna Beach State Park, using money provided by the state. There are currently six state-funded positions at the park, county Finance Director Deanna Sako said.

“Positions are needed to ensure adequate coverage,” Sako said. “There’s an increased use at the park, and we want to be sure there’s adequate coverage. We’re grateful to the state for providing funding.”

Hapuna Beach lifeguards say they’ve been especially short-staffed since the erection of a third lifeguard stand at the beach. With winter coming, along with more dangerous swells and more beachgoers, they’d especially like to strengthen their ranks.

The council Finance Committee will take up Resolution 739 for the additional Hapuna Beach lifeguards at 1:15 p.m. Thursday in council chambers in Hilo.

It’s been more difficult to get funding for Kua Bay, which needs a lifeguard tower and startup equipment in addition to lifeguard positions. The council will take up Resolution 733, approving the HSAC list of eight proposals, including Kua Bay lifeguards, when it meets at 9 a.m. Friday.

In the past decade, there have been at least three fatal drownings, three near drownings and 10 spinal cord injuries, as well as cardiac arrests, shark sightings, other serious and minor injuries, and numerous distressed swimmers at Kua Bay, according to a resolution sponsored by HSAC on behalf of Hawaii County.

The Hawaii Fire Department’s Ocean Safety Division estimates annual operational costs at $321,696 to staff a two-person tower seven days a week, a total of four lifeguards with annual salaries and benefits of $80,424 each. Startup costs for equipment is estimated at $60,000 for a lifeguard tower, $8,000 for an all-terrain vehicle, $8,000 for radios, $3,000 for rescue equipment and $1,000 for personal protective equipment.

That totals $401,696 the first year, with an annual budgeted amount of $325,696.

Other proposals on the counties’ HSAC wish list:

A bill consolidating application forms for motor vehicle driver’s licenses and civil identification cards and a bill allowing counties to enact their own local laws regulating sale of cigarettes, tobacco products and electronic smoking devices as long as the local laws are “at least as protective of the rights of nonsmokers” as current state law, both proposed by the City and County of Honolulu.

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Kauai’s five proposals include protection for lifeguards from lawsuit liability as long as they weren’t negligent in their duties, an income tax credit for employers hiring a disabled or elderly worker, allow the phasing out of nonconforming single-family transient vacation rental units in counties with a population of less than 100,000 and a bill transferring fines and forfeitures collected for uncontested traffic infractions to the counties.

Photojournalist Laura Ruminski contributed to this report.

  1. metalman808 October 28, 2018 9:04 am

    $401,696 a year to get life gaurds at Kua bay to save lives and do what’s right for the people. Well I don’t know, maybe this year, but it’s so expensive. Good to know Harry $kim and his buddies get $1.5 million a year with their raise money. I’d rather have my tax dollar save lives. Rather than fill GREEDY POCKETS.


    1. railfailis yourfault October 28, 2018 10:17 am

      I respectfully disagree. Kua bay goes from flat lake-like days to huge and dangerous. Putting life guards there will create a false sense of security and more people will go in the water when they are not qualified. People don’t listen to the lifeguards and they think that because kids are making it look easy that they can do the same. Magics has lifeguards, the beach is small, and yet people are breaking bones there regularly. Almost every day you see EMS at magics. People need to use personal caution and good judgment. Don’t put the burden on someone else for your own safety. The worse part is that the beach will be closed down more to save the foolish from themselves.


      1. joedriver October 28, 2018 3:53 pm

        Disagree, people listen to lifeguards, maybe locals less. Surfing at magic breaks bones of inexperienced there’s little if any at Kua. Lifeguards can close beach if needed saves lives of those who think they are immortal.


        1. railfailis yourfault October 29, 2018 9:20 pm

          You didn’t read the article closely, misunderstood my points, didn’t support your counterargument, and managed to disrespect locals all at the same time.

          1)The article cites the injuries at Kua as a reason there should be lifeguards there. If your saying “there’s little if any at kua”, then your proving my argument that there shouldn’t be lifeguards there.”

          2)The locals listen, know them personally, and have respect for the lifeguards, and locals know the dangers and have experience to navigate the water. Lifeguards aren’t the only ones saving people in the water. We’ve been saving people in the water all our lives, I saved several myself.

          Even the most experienced can find themselves in a tough situation, it’s all part of ocean life. The difference is, that the experienced go in the ocean with full respect for it, and knowledge of its dangers.

          The beach will be closed. It will be a limitation to those who have respect for the ocean. It will be costly to me as a tax payer. Most of all, it will NOT stop the injuries form occurring. That’s why I brought up Magics


          1. joedriver October 31, 2018 8:36 am

            I read both. Most people don’t surf at Kua, no broken bones like magic. It’s a beautiful beach will attract visitors more and more Life guards are needed to prevent deaths and to educate on the dangers when escalated. Respect all respectful locals unfortunately I’ve seen many non respective locals laugh at life guards at hapuna and ali’i drive beaches, usually under 25 year olds. End point is if guards say no swimming it’s no swimming . Kind of like don’t drive in flash flood waters and who does?


      2. metalman808 October 28, 2018 6:23 pm

        A beach like Kua bay needs lifeguards. No if and or buts. It’s about doing what’s right. Safety should always be first. When the state builds a road to a dangerous beach. They need to protect the swimmers. They can’t always do thIngs half ass.


        1. railfailis yourfault October 29, 2018 9:42 pm

          Winter swell Kua bay is a beast that cannot be tamed. Putting a life guard there does not make it safer. It’s like I said in my other post below, I would like to see the statistics of injuries from Magics Sands. The only way to make it safe, is to keep people out, thereby defeating the purpose of surflife. My thought is that people are more reckless when they see a safety net, then when they don’t.


  2. railfailis yourfault October 28, 2018 10:30 am

    When in doubt, DON’T GO OUT!!! Stop putting the burden on someone else for your own safety. Kua bay is NOT for everyone. It is flat and family friendly some of the year, and ferocious, vicious and unforgiving on other days. Martin Luther King day 2011 had 20 foot plus bombers. The beach with perfect sands you see in photos was gone and turned into cliffs. At the time I went out around noon, only 3 other brave souls were in the water, all experienced and very familiar with Kua Bay. Everyone exercising caution and praying. LIfeguards will guarantee shut the beach down on a day like that. This will limit access to the experienced and be very costly. Even if you put lifeguards there, it will not save people from themselves. Where are the statistics of injuries for Magic Sands? Magic Sands has lifeguards and EMS is there almost every day.


  3. Carl Dirkers October 28, 2018 8:50 pm

    There’s a reason..think about it look around..yup that’s it


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