Do We Need Rules For Our Waterways?

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - June 09, 2010
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On his first day attempting stand-up paddling, Eddie Obert navigates the buoys at Ala Moana Beach Park

It was Rodney King who, after he was beaten up, asked the infamous question in 1997: “Can’t we all get along?” Truth is, sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

For more than a year, Ala Moana Beach regulars have watched tempers flare, confrontations erupt and even a few shoving matches ignite, all because of a little turf war.

No, it isn’t gang-related. The battle brewing is between swimmers and stand-up paddlers, and the simmering pot is at a boil.

Swimmers have long used the calm waters of Ala Moana to enjoy their sport. Except for an occasional surfer heading out to the outer reefs, there were few problems when it came to sharing the area. It was a swimmer’s safe haven.

Several years ago stand-up paddling arrived at Ala Moana. The bulky boards can be difficult to maneuver for novice paddlers, so the lagoon-like setting was the perfect site for beginners and those who didn’t want to paddle out in the open ocean. Businesses recognized this as well and soon even more newcomers were joining in on the fun.


And that’s when the problems started.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources hosted public meetings concerning the growing issue. As the numbers of stand-up paddlers increased, the “near misses” became “frequent collisions.” The two groups weren’t getting along and the ticking time bomb was about to explode.

The last thing we need is more rules and regulations, but in this case the state had no choice but to get involved. If it didn’t and someone got hurt, critics would have shouted, “Where’s the state?”

Officials responded by installing seven buoys to separate the groups. The DLNR is asking stand-up paddlers to use the area closest to the reef while swimmers and other ocean users are asked to stay inside the buoys and closer to shore.

So far the pilot project is receiving mixed reviews. Swimmers say stand-up paddlers are still crossing their paths to “get to their lane,” while paddlers believe their area is too small and it’s just a matter of time before someone gets hurt on the reef.

Too bad we couldn’t all just get along in the first place.

The head of the DLNR reminds us this is not a set rule.

“The last thing we want to do is create a set of rules for this waterway that will shut the door on a user group,” says director Laura Thielen.

The buoys cost $1,400 and are similar to the ones at Kailua Beach. But Kailua is a different animal. Besides swimmers and stand-up paddlers, there are kite and windsurfers, kayakers and canoe paddlers, along with waders, bodysurfers, surfers and boaters. It’s not perfect out there, but it works because it has to.

One would hope cooler heads would prevail at the much calmer Ala Moana, but it hasn’t happened. Sad, especially since the $1,400 could have gone elsewhere.

The good news is there’s still time for the adults to get this right and prove they can enjoy the same playground without Big Brother watching over them.

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