We’ve been lucky enough to spend the last week on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. It’s been a welcome change from the frigid winter the midwest has experienced this year. The reality of returning will hit us soon enough. It’s been a wonderful vacation, full of fun, great scenery, even greater food, and an opportunity to create some memories, as well.
We’ve noticed that there are hazards on a Hawaiian vacation, however. We’ve always been aware of these, carefully selecting the beaches on which we stay and activities in which we choose to participate.
Hawaii can be dangerous. The water demands respect, and careful, conservative decision-making. Last weekend there were high surf warnings. My husband got them on his phone and knew as soon as he woke up that we would not be going far from shore. We’ve stayed in West Maui for all of our visits here, and all three visits have been during the winter months, December and January to be specific. After the first year on Kaanapali, we moved to Kapalua for the majority of our beach time. This year we have split our beach time between Napili Bay Beach and Kapalua Bay Beach. Both are within walking distance and gorgeous. Although, we know that if you arrive before 9 a.m., you can find parking at Kapalua. Our rented condo sits on Honokeana Bay, next to Napili Bay, which has been filled with sea turtles during our visit. Sometimes you can see ten or more at a time as we gaze at the cove! The location has been unbeatable, as has been the vistas.
But, underlying all this natural beauty, there is danger. Saturday, we went to Napili Bay Beach. We stayed up near the back of the beach where the sand meets the resort properties. My husband did some fast-paced body surfing as did my son. As I am not a strong swimmer, I stayed out of the surf. I prefer to sunbathe, read a book, and people watch on the beach anyway. Just about noon, my husband and I took a walk down the beach towards the Seahorse Restaurant that is part of the Napili Kai Beach Resort. As turned to head back to our “spot”, we noticed a commotion on the walkway, just beyond the beach. We had noticed a police officer walking the beach and two wet suit-clad Hawaiian gentlemen running a short time earlier. Neither of us noticed both of these events, I noted the police officer and my husband had seen the running men. So, we did not connect anything and had not spoken of them earlier. Once we saw the commotion during our walk, we knew something must have happened. There were more emergency personnel onshore and as I scanned the sidewalk saw one of them doing CPR on a middle-aged gentleman. He was unresponsive and apparently had drowned in the high surf, necessitating a rescue from the water. Our assumption was later confirmed in reports we saw online. We do not know if he was revived or not. We do know the emergency personnel worked on him for quite a while.
My heart sank. Can you imagine waking up, on vacation, thinking you’ll have a great day in the ocean and on the beach but lose your life?!
I know accidents happen. But, the surf was high. There were fewer people in the water on Saturday. A red warning flag flew at the entrance to the beach. Be careful. Be cautious. Its color tells us all. The water was powerful enough to make me feel like a speck of dust that could be washed away in a wink. It was angry and confused appearing, with high breaking waves and a strong undertow – all the things that come with high surf.
When we went to Kauai, in the summer of 2013, we went to a walk-in-only beach, reachable only by a hike on a narrow trail through the jungle. There was a sign that told people not to swim on that beach, where the “water was confused.” I’ve always remembered that phrase because it held true. The water did look confused and that’s how it looked Saturday, too. Maybe it’s thinking – should I take a life today or not? In any case, we heeded the warning and just walked through the surf near the shore. No swimming for us – the sign told us – and we obeyed.
Hawaii is beautiful. But, people die here. The ocean deserves our respect. If warnings aren’t heeded terrible things can happen. It’s been hard for me to not think of this man and his family, especially when we’ve been back to the beach.
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