On The Waterfront Protecting Obama

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - January 06, 2010
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In addition to a presence on Kailua Bay, two security vessels were posted in Kawainui Canal, including a gunboat under the North Kalaheo Avenue bridge

Despite concerns and cries of “setting inappropriate precedence” during President Barack Obama’s trip home for the holidays, life in the ocean at Kailua Bay was pretty much status quo during the First Family’s stay.

Make no mistake, the presence of force was clearly evident. Seriously, how can you miss gunboats patrolling an area that is usually calm and serene? But at the end of the day, the “safety zone restriction” really wasn’t a big deal for most ocean users.

“It wasn’t a humbug at all,” says canoe paddler Wendell Balai, who trains four to five days a week at Kailua. “I was hoping I would see him so I could ask if he wanted to jump on my one-man. That would have been an awesome picture!”

The U.S. Coast Guard gave ample warning to ocean users of the restrictions prior to the Obama’s arrival, and once they touched down, it was obvious what area was off-limits.

“The area will be marked off by yellow buoys, which will allow mariners and recreational users to know what portion of Kailua Bay is off limits,” said Chad Saylor of the USCG. “So we just ask that recreational users of that water know what area is enforced by the zone and to avoid those if at all possible.”

This photo of a member of President Obama’s security detail was shot from the Pali Palms parking lot

The restriction area stretched from Kapoho Point down to Namala Place, which included the popular Castle’s surf break. It also included a large portion of nearby Kawainui Canal, which borders Kailuana Loop where the Obamas stayed in a five-bedroom home. The canal is often used by paddlers and is popular with youngsters fishing for tilapia.

“Only thing, we couldn’t paddle up to Pinky’s for pupus,” says Balai with a laugh.

I too paddle at Kailua Bay and even ventured near the boundary just to get a closer look. I admit it was uncomfortable and intimidating seeing “guns” out in the ocean and the Coast Guard cruising on the horizon, but it wasn’t a problem. No one came up on us and demanded we leave. It was understood - and that’s what officials were counting on.

“We’re trying to limit the amount of time that we have this restriction in place, however, it’s for the best interest for safety and security that everyone understands the zone and avoids it during this time period,” said Saylor.

Those entering the zone without permission faced a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment for up to 10 years.

“Not worth it,” says Balai. “There’s plenty of ocean out there.” “I never vote for him, but I don’t have a problem with the restrictions,” adds Billy Keahiolalo. “For crying out loud, he’s the president of the United States. Cut him some slack!”

I have to agree.

Yes, the area blocked off was also off-limits to foot traffic, but Kailua Beach was still open for business. People were still walking their dogs (some even on leashes), kayaks were still leaving for the Mokulua Islands, surfers and stand-up paddlers were still out at Flat Island and couples were still allowed to watch the sunrise.

There were no Secret Service agents combing the boat ramp, and no one stopping the kite surfers and windsurfers from enjoying their ocean time. Except for dozens of curious “stargazers” equipped with cameras, Kailua Bay was still Kailua.

“We’re trying not to hamper folks the use of that area,” said Saylor. “We just need to enforce that zone for the safety of everybody working in that zone.”

Protecting the safety of the president of the United States and his family comes with costs, and if that means being inconvenienced for 10 days out in the ocean, so be it.

It’s no big deal - even for those who didn’t vote for him.

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