Of Swimmers And Paddleboarders

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - April 29, 2009
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It can get crowded at Ala Moana beach park - in the water

City lifeguards may soon provide daily traffic updates from Ala Moana Beach Park but they won’t have anything to do with vehicles on the road. Of course that’s an exaggeration but the growing number of stand-up paddlers has created a stir at the popular beach park. Traffic in the ocean has increased significantly.

“In the past year the popularity of stand-up paddle boarding in Hawai’i has grown dramatically,” says state Department of Land and Natural Resources director Laura H. Thielen. “This is very apparent in the calm waters inside the reef at Ala Moana Beach Park.”

The area is ideal for beginners to the sport but it’s also ideal for swimmers.

“I’ve had a couple of close calls,” says swimmer Virginia Depicolzuane, a regular at Ala Moana Beach Park. “I guess it’s like everything else, you have to use common sense and be courteous to others, be careful and be aware.”

And it’s because of those “close calls” that the DLNR will host an informal discussion regarding the use of stand-up paddle boards at Ala Moana Beach Park. The meeting is scheduled for Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at McCoy Pavilion.

“The department is seeking public input on solutions to this potential problem before user conflicts become serious,” says Thielen.


 

On one particular busy morning, a state official visited the park to see the issue first hand.

“There are rules in place. It’s basically a swim zone, but the rules actually allow for surfboards,” says Meghan Statts of the DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation. “Surfboards are allowed to be in here, so you can do stand-up paddle boarding.”

Stand-up paddlers understand the concerns of swimmers but they also believe they have a right to be there.

“For me to have started this journey a year and four months ago and to be where I am, and as far as I am, and healthy as I am, you know I wouldn’t have done it if weren’t for this water,” says Bridget Nishimura.

“Sometimes, weekdays it’s usually not too bad. But weekends it’s busy. I’ve never seen an incident between them, but it could happen,” says stand-up paddler Maggie Songtag.

Some have suggested creating lanes for stand-up paddlers, one going in the ewa direction, the other towards Diamond Head. But stand-up paddlers say that wouldn’t work because everyone paddles at a different speed. Lanes in the ocean could actually bring traffic to a standstill, especially when people fall.

“If it’s people who live here, I think that is great, but if it’s visitors they’re not going to know unless you post a sign that says swimmer keep that way,” says Songtag

“Maybe it would be OK if the paddle boarders were to stay from the white markers to the reef, and maybe the swimmers from the white markers to the beach, maybe that would keep it clear,” adds Nishimura.


State officials say this is the kind of dialogue they hope to hear at the meeting. The DLNR wants to take a pro-active approach with the issue especially with summer just around the corner.

“Kids are going to be out of school, it’s going to be beautiful days and everybody is going to want to come out and enjoy the ocean,” says Statts. “We want to be able to say, ‘Hey look, let’s work together and come to a solution so that everybody is happy,’ and get everybody to realize that it is a beautiful body of ocean, and we want to have everybody use it safely.”

Besides, our city lifeguards have enough on their hands already. Leave the traffic updates to KSSK’s Jason Yotsuda.

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