At least 20 million people visit
the shores of O‘ahu every year, and beach and ocean recreation
play a major role in the lives of both visitors and residents
On O‘ahu, however, ocean beaches can often be dangerous
due to weather-generated surf, currents, and wind. Over the past
10 years, statistics show three or more drownings and 200 or
more accidents requiring ambulance assistance each year.
According to lifeguards, many of these accidents are neck,
back, and spine injuries experienced by body surfers and
in the shore break.
Amazingly, about 90 percent of these injuries occur when the
surf is three feet or less. The common assumption, that small
waves are too weak to be harmful, is wrong. These waves can toss
one “over the falls” and head first into hard-packed
sand, causing severe injury and sometimes even death.
Surfing accidents also claim lives in Hawai‘i,
even though surfers generally are better trained than body
boarders and more
knowledgeable of ocean dangers. The shore break is not an issue
for surfers because they generally ride waves in deeper water
further from shore. Nonetheless, there are also great dangers,
especially in large surf.
Surfers should be aware of location and direction of swells
and ocean currents. “The bigger and more frequent the waves,
the stronger the currents” is a very important rule to
remember. Surfers should be exceptionally strong swimmers and
capable of taking care of themselves if they are carried seaward
by ocean currents.
Every individual who enters the ocean in Hawai‘i or anywhere
else should be aware of the ocean’s unpredictability and
Things to do before you go into the water
Check with lifeguards about the specific beach and dangers.
Pay attention to signs. These convey warnings of risks and how
to avoid them.
Do not enter closed beaches during high-surf advisories.
Pay attention to weather news bulletins and warnings of hazards.
Always swim with a partner.
• “When in doubt, don’t go out.”
Don’t exhaust yourself.
Never turn your back on the surf.
Go with someone who knows CPR.
Don’t fight a current. Swim with it and diagonally
across it until it releases you.
Keep this handy and review it with your friends before you go to the beach.