State taking over Kahaluu surf school setup

  • Visitors learn to surf at Kahaluu Beach. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — The state is now taking the lead on permitting commercial surf schools at Kahaluu Bay, a recently filed report to the state Legislature shows.

The agreement for the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation to take charge followed a meeting between state and county officials in June 2019 held at the request of last year’s legislative body.


“As a result of the meeting, DLNR and Hawaii County agreed that DOBOR would now take the lead on drafting and implementing administrative rules regarding commercial surfing instruction at Kahaluu Bay,” DLNR Chairperson Suzanne Case wrote in the report dated November 2019.

The DLNR, Hawaii County and other stakeholders have been discussing since at least 2015 the issue of regulating commercial surf instruction at Kahaluu Bay, though the issue comes up in West Hawaii Today archives as early as 2004-05.

The area is under dual government oversight with the DLNR’s DOBOR jurisdiction ending at the high-water mark and the county’s jurisdiction covering land.

Initially, Hawaii County was to take the lead in limiting access to Kahaluu Bay ocean waters and enforcing those limitations. The county proposed — and the DLNR accepted — a limit of four permits for commercial surf schools for the beach park and bay.

Amendments to Hawaii Administrative Rules were drafted and adopted in 2016 to allow for four commercial surf instruction operators to receive permits for activities at Kahaluu.

Moving forward with its Kahaluu Beach Park Commercial Surfing Instruction Program, the county selected nonprofit The Kohala Center in 2017 to manage the program. In spring 2018, bids were solicited, however, no permits were awarded and operators were left in the dark until last spring when the county said it was not the permitting authority and the state confirmed it was handling permitting.

According to testimony Case presented to the 2019 Legislature, the county on March 8, 2019, notified the state it intended to authorize all surf schools that meet minimum requirements to conduct surf instruction from county property. That conflicted with the state rules updated in 2016 allowing for only four surf schools.

The same day the county notified the state of its change in plans, state Sen. Dru Kanuha (D-Kona, Ka‘u) offered a resolution calling for the state and county to meet and work together to address the issue. The concurrent resolution, which requests action on behalf of both the Senate and House, also required both entities to submit reports outlining progress and recommendations to the 2020 Legislature.

According to the report, submitted on Jan. 3, the June 2019 meeting was attended by Case, DLNR First Deputy Robert Masuda, DOBOR Hawaii District Manager Stephen Schmelz, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim and Department of Parks and Recreation staff.

Per the agreement, after the DOBOR drafts and implements rules to “issue a limited number of commercial surfing instruction permits,” Hawaii County will develop its own administrative rules to ensure that rules for both jurisdictions are in alignment, Case stated.

Commercial surf instruction permittees approved by DOBOR will receive accompanying permits from the county to operate on land at Kahaluu. Case noted that the division believes auctioning of commercial use permits is a “fair method of issuance” that may need statutory authorization.

“DOBOR is in the process of determining a fair and equitable method to issue the limited number of commercial surfing instruction permits for Kahaluu ocean waters,” Case wrote.

Amended rules are anticipated to be implemented by year’s end, “barring any unforeseen delays,” Case’s report states.

The Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation stated Wednesday that rules have already been drafted based on agreements made with the county following a June meeting. The draft will be forwarded to the County of Hawaii and Deputy Attorney General for review and comment with final implementation expected by the end of this year.

“The State fulfilled its obligation but the County ran into difficulty with selecting which four commercial surf school companies would receive permits. The State was asked to take the lead and is working closely with the County of Hawaii to amend the current Hawaii Administrative Rules to determine the appropriate number of commercial surf school permits that should be issued for Kahaluu Bay,” the division stated, but did not provide the number of permits being considered.

Ossian Farmer, sole proprietor of FBI Surf School, said the surf schools operating at Kahaluu remain in the dark on the issue as they haven’t been kept in the loop unless speaking with one another or pressing the DLNR. He thinks the previous determination of four schools with eight students each was correct.

“That’s 32 people in the water — not including instructors — already that’s pretty crowded,” said Farmer. “Right now, there’s probably 10 surf schools taking out as many people as they want. We just need to do something.

“What the DLNR and county came up with, I agree with that. Really, honestly, the bay can’t handle more than four surf schools because it’s just too crowded,” he continued.

Kanuha, reached Tuesday, said he was glad the state and county are moving forward together to address permitting commercial activities at Kahaluu.


“I’m really happy about that it’s a long time coming and hopefully we can figure out a great solution for that area,” he said.

Attempts to reach Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation Director Roxcie Waltjen over a two-day period for comment and an update on the development of rules to ensure both jurisdictions are in alignment were unsuccessful as of presstime on Wednesday.

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