Hawai‘i’s world-renowned beaches can be an idyllic paradise or a beachgoer’s worst nightmare. Visitors are advised to be increasingly mindful of ocean and weather conditions, which can change on a dime. “The biggest thing to remember in the ocean is to stay calm,” says lifeguard Kyle Foyle, who patrols three of Hawai‘i’s most dangerous beaches, Pipeline, Waimea Bay, and Sunset. Foyle, who is certified to teach community members what to do if caught in life-threatening ocean situations, provides some advice on what to do if caught in four such situations. And of course, if there are hurricane or tropical storm conditions, waves will be large and unpredictable, nothing to mess with or come close to. Stay safe out there!
Situation: Caught in a riptide
Solution: Stay calm. Do not swim against the rip. Instead, look which way it is taking you, and swim perpendicular to that direction (cut a 90-degree angle toward shore if possible) until you no longer feel the pull of the rip. Keep swimming in that direction and breathing calmly until you feel the pull lessen. If too tired to swim, stay afloat by calmly treading water and wave to a lifeguard for help.
Situation: Caught in wind line (getting blown out to sea) while stand-up paddling
Solution: Stay calm. Your body is acting as a sail in the wrong direction, so lie down to a prone position, placing the paddle under your chest and stomach along the line of your SUP board. Angle the board and paddle straight towards shore. Don’t paddle upwind.
Situation: Caught in large shore break
Solution: Stay calm. If a large shore break wave is coming at you, take a deep breath, and just as the wave breaks in front of you, dive under the white water with your eyes open so you can swim underneath it. You will be able to see underwater once it passes over you and come up for air. Either let the waves push you to shore or swim out a little beyond the waves until the set stops, then swim in when a lull occurs (which, it will, you just have to relax and wait for the right moment). If the sets do not stop, get the attention (waving and screaming) of the lifeguards.
Situation: Sucked into a blowhole
Solution: Stay calm. If there’s something to grab on to, like a ledge or rock, grab it to prevent from going deeper into the hole. Tread water with relaxed breathing, and wait for the water to fill back up as high as possible on the next surge before you try to climb up and out.
Text by Kyle Foyle, image by John Hook