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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 24, 2001

Canoe removed in Diamond Head beach dispute

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Bureau

What started out as a favor to a former neighbor has become a nuisance, some residents say.

Jimmy Thurston of Kaimuki refurbished his grandfather's 30-year-old canoe and hopes to return it to the beach fronting Kainalu Cooperative on Coconut Avenue. For decades, the canoe sat at the beach and was used by community members for recreation. Co-op residents said the canoe is a nuisance.

Kyle Sackowski • The Honolulu Advertiser

What they consider a nuisance is a four-man outrigger canoe owned by Jim Thurston and his family, and the people who use it. Until recently, the canoe had been parked on the oceanside property in front of the Kainalu cooperative apartments on Coconut Avenue for at least 20 years.

The cooperative wanted its property free of nonresidents and of the canoe that it says attracts them. The canoe now sits at Thurston's home in Kaimuki.

But he and a number of residents want the canoe back on the property, and Thurston is trying to figure out a legal way to get that done.

"It's a Hawaiian tradition to keep a canoe on the beach," Thurston said. "My dad is heartbroken over this. He doesn't know what to do."

Where private property ends and the public beach begins has been debated time and again in Hawai'i between homeowners who have paid top dollar for beachfront property and the public that has a legal right to access the beaches.

The Hawai'i Supreme Court has declared that the public has access to the shoreline from the water to the boundary, which is measured by the vegetation line or the uppermost wash of the waves.

A homeowner may claim ownership of the shoreline based on a description in a deed, but the boundary changes with the tide and the shifting sands of the shoreline. What once was said to be private property could be state land, and, therefore, public property. It's an enforcement nightmare, state officials say.

Sen. Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo), attributes such problems to the increased demand on natural resources.

"The real issue is neighborliness and common sense," he said.

The solution is to devise a master plan for all activities on and near the shorelines so everyone can use the public beaches, said Hemmings, a former paddler.

The cooperative said it sent many letters to the Thurstons to get them to remove the canoe. Its board felt that Thurston's canoe was illegally parked on its private property and had become a magnet for nonresidents. Thurston maintains that it was on the public right-of-way. Further, he said, it had been a community tradition since he was a young boy.

"We have to look at specific situations," said Harry Yada, acting administrator for the land division of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. "If we get a complaint, we send out enforcement people to determine where the public/private line is and take action accordingly. But we don't have the resources to have investigators at every single beach to watch over."

At high tide recently, the wash of the waves went high enough on the sand to touch the spot where Thurston's 22-foot-long outrigger canoe once sat. At the waves' uppermost wash, much of the property was under water. Visitors to the tiny beach — it's about 250 feet by 20 feet — sit at the vegetation line, which is under the overhanging first-floor lanais and out of the blast of the waves.

"The building claims to own the beach," Thurston said. "Even though we moved out 15 years ago, we kept our boat there. No one ever complained about the boat until now."

Jim Coupland, management executive for the Kainalu, said the boat had become a nuisance, keeping residents from going to the beach. Canoe users sometimes drink on the beach and homeless people sometimes would sleep under the canoe.

"The residents were unable to use the beach," Coupland said.

"The canoe has been there for a long time," said Philip Lahne, a lawyer representing the Kainalu Cooperative. "The people don't live at the project. It was done as a nice thing to do, many, many years ago."

The Thurston family at one time lived next to the cooperative near this waterfront stretch of Diamond Head by Tonggs, a well-known surf spot, and Suicides, another popular surfing spot. The outrigger canoe was always parked on the sand fronting the cooperative.

"Our position is, that under normal weather conditions, the canoe wasn't on the part of the beach considered public property," Lahne said. "What's not clear is where the new boundary might be."

Nearly three weeks ago, the cooperative called in movers to haul away the canoe, but some co-op residents notified neighbor Lou Rosof and moved the canoe to his home. Rosof is fond of the canoe and considers it a big part of the area's Hawaiian heritage.

In this neighborhood of high-rises and old-style bungalows, many of the residents have surfed more than a couple of waves in the canoe, Thurston said.

Many of them knew that all they had to do was ask if they wanted to use the canoe. Some, including Rosof, even have a key.

"Everyone knows whose boat it is," said Rosof, a Kalakaua Avenue resident for 30 years. "People come and tell me when the boat is unlocked or something."

Thurston said the residents who are complaining have never stepped foot in the canoe and don't understand the reverence for the sport.

Canoeing dates to the arrival of the first Polynesians who came upon Hawai'i shores in outrigger canoes more than 1,200 years ago. Today thousands of residents keep the tradition alive by participating in organized canoe clubs.

There should be a greater consciousness of canoeing on everyone's part, Hemmings said.

"Even if the canoe was on private property, it should stay there," he said. "A canoe is part of Hawai'i."

While Thurston is working to get a permit or find some other way to legally get the canoe back on the property, Eric Po'ohina, an advocate for Hawaiian cultural traditions, offered a nontraditional option.

Residents who can prove their ancestors were here before the overthrow of the Hawaiian government in 1893 may have a right to leave their canoe on the beach, Po'ohina said.

"The Thurstons are a family that can prove their ancestry before 1893; they have claims that entitle them to leave the canoe," he said. "It doesn't matter what race you are because you're a subject of the kingdom."