Saturday, February 24, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, February 24, 2001

Book Review
Beach heroes

By Katherine Nichols
Advertiser Staff Writer

"Rescue in Paradise: Oahu’s Beaches & Their Guardians," by David W. Doyle, Island Heritage, 2001

It was 1960 when he was on vacation with his wife and children that David Doyle was rescued off Waikiki Beach.

Their commercial outrigger canoe capsized after the steersman positioned the ama toward a breaking wave. The tumbling boat knocked the wind out of Doyle. He struggled to hold onto his 18-month-old son, who wriggled out of his hands and climbed on top of Doyle’s head, soon joined by Doyle’s 3-year-old son.

"The next few seconds were the longest of my life," he wrote. "With empty lungs and two frantic little kids on my head and shoulders, I was definitely about to drown."

Lifeguards and nearby surfers saved the Doyles.

A Hawaii resident for the past 20 years, Doyle’s admiration grew when he watched lifeguards and firefighters rescuing people on a regular basis near his Koko Head home. "There would be one panic per month," Doyle, 76, said in a phone interview. After seeing them in action, he decided to tell their stories and share their knowledge in an effort to help prevent further incidents.

A year and roughly 100 interviews later, he has written "Rescue in Paradise: Oahu’s Beaches & Their Guardians" (Island Heritage, 2001). Not only did Doyle record interviews with 80 lifeguards and 20 firefighters, he cited two books that provided inspiration and local insight: Deputy Fire Chief John Clark’s "The Beaches of Oahu" and surf legend Rell Sunn’s "A Guide to Beach Survival."

Doyle undoubtedly heard more stories than he could use in the book, which explains his desire to write a sequel. And he is someone who should be able to detect a harrowing tale when he hears it.

He attended Cambridge and Princeton, and served as an operations officer in the CIA for 26 years, during which time he recruited and managed agents and lived all over the world. He speaks five languages and is the author of three previous books. In a blended family with his wife, Hope, of 20 years, he has seven children and 13 grandchildren.

While the book does share plenty of historic detail and helpful information about Oahu’s beaches, sea animals, waves and rip currents, the most entertaining sections are the anecdotes.

One engaging passage focuses on the way legendary waterman Brian Keaulana and his friends invented the concept of the Jet Ski towing a sea sled, and the ways they tried (and failed) to attach an old body board to their own recreational vehicle with a garden hose.The book comes to life when Doyle describes Keaulana performing a life-threatening rescue from the Moi Hole.

This is just one example of the many heroic and tragic stories and near misses the lifeguards and fire fighters shared with the author.

One of the close calls involved the rescue of a boy who didn’t know how to swim, but was allowed in the ocean on a body board by his mother, who proceeded to chat with a friend just after lifeguards had packed up and left for the day.

Nobody noticed when the boy fell off the board and sank to the bottom in murky water — until somebody stepped on him. He was dragged to shore, where the off-duty guards noticed the ruckus and ran back to open his airway. They called an ambulance, and saved his life.

For every courageous rescue, however, there is also a tragedy. Doyle wrote about a woman who visited Hawaii on her honeymoon. An inexperienced instructor led the novice scuba diver through the narrow slot in Hanauma Bay. The woman panicked. Her mask became dislodged and she ingested water. The instructor called for help. Lifeguards tried to give the victim mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the ocean’s surface. But it was too late.

Some stories are even more macabre. Lifeguard lieutenant and star bodysurfer Mark Cunningham told Doyle of the time he found a surfer whose throat had been cut by the surfer’s own surfboard skeg.

A similarly gruesome anecdote describes a girl who was skim-boarding at Sandy Beach and ran into a military man who was bodysurfing. The impact broke his neck. "The guards had repeatedly told her to learn how to swim, but she wouldn’t," Doyle wrote. "She paid no attention and continued to skim board into the bodysurfing area. Now she has to live with the memory of the unnecessary death her obstinacy caused."

Doyle indicated that the book was published almost exactly as he wrote it. However, passages like the preceding one, where the reader isn’t sure how the girl’s inability to swim affected the skim boarding accident, would have benefited from an editor’s critical hand for tightening, and in some cases, clarifying what is meant. Also, while a few stories included the date of the occurrence, most did not; dates would have added credibility and interest to the anecdotes.

Besides the riveting tales, other highlights are the photos, which could graduate the slim, trade paper volume to coffee-table status.

In addition, some little-known facts make the book more appealing to local residents. "A significant percentage (some lifeguards say more than half) of those who surf Oahu’s waters today are not good swimmers; some can barely swim," Doyle wrote. "Some who try the big waves depend entirely on their boards to keep them from drowning."

Other tidbits that locals should — but often don’t — realize: Surf can go from 2 feet to10 in an hour or less, and the rip currents at Makapuu are so powerful that even Olympic champ Mark Spitz needed assistance one day.

Although he included a myriad of stories to make the book more compelling, Doyle accomplished his primary purpose, which was to raise awareness of ocean safety.

"All of these dangers can be avoided with an understanding of the ocean and respect for its unpredictability," he wrote.

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