Safer days at Kua Bay: Lifeguards begin manning popular North Kona beach

Hawaii Fire Department Ocean Safety Division Capt. Chris Stelfox, right, unties the maile lei with the four lifeguards that are now stationed at Kua Bay at Monday's blessing. (Courtesy Photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Lifeguards are now patrolling the water at the popular, yet perilous Kua Bay.

“We are thankful for all the people in the community who have worked so long and hard … so many people recognized the need,” said Garrett Kim, Hawaii Fire Department battalion chief specialist. “It’s easy to get frustrated and give up, but this finally came to fruition.”


On Monday morning, Hawaii County lifeguards began manning the beach after a blessing ceremony for the crew and tower.

The addition of life-saving personnel comes nearly 15 years after access was improved to the state beach located a few miles north of Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole. Funding for the four full-time lifeguards and equipment was approved during the 2019 Legislature.

The tower that the lifeguards will call home was brought by county crews from Spencer Beach Park and installed at Maniniowali on Friday.

The tower was transported from the South Kohala beach park because Mayor Harry Kim wanted to install the tower as soon as state funding was approved, instead of waiting for a new tower to be fabricated, Garrett Kim said. The Spencer Beach Park tower was selected because the site only has lifeguard coverage on the weekends, and there is plenty of shade at the Kawaihae beach.

Once the new tower is delivered, Garrett Kim said, it will replace a smaller tower at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. The smaller tower will then be installed at Spencer Beach Park.

The Kua Bay tower and lifeguard positions are funded via $480,000 appropriated by the 2019 Legislature. The funding for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources covers acquiring necessary equipment, such as rescue boards and an automated external defibrillator (AED), and contracting with the county for four full-time lifeguards.

Two senior ocean safety officers and two new hires will be stationed at Kua Bay, Garrett Kim said.

Kua Bay once required a lengthy hike in or a four-wheel-drive vehicle to access until 2005 when a nearby developer completed paved access to and amenities at the site as part of a community benefit assessment. The effort to bring full-time life-saving personnel to the beach began in 2013.

The state said 32 people required treatment at Kua Bay from 2013 to 2018 with 30 needing transport to a hospital. All but three of those sent to the hospital suffered traumatic injuries.

“This is the culmination of years and years of a lot of people working for a common goal,” said Garrett Kim. “It’s going to save a lot of lives and help a lot of people.”

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