Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, October 18, 2002

Tow-in surfing draft rules face resistance

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Though safety is the main concern in regulating tow-in surfing in Hawai'i, some North Shore residents worry that rules drafted by the state don't protect everyone who uses the ocean for recreation.

The rules, put together by the state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, are intended to make tow-in surfing safer for both big-wave surfers and other people in the water, in particular the paddling surfers who complain about thrill-craft dangerously maneuvering in their breaks.

But some residents and surfers are concerned that the latest draft of the proposed rules, which allows thrill-craft into surfing-designated areas along the North Shore in emergency and rescue situations, don't clearly define boundaries to keep the personal watercraft out of popular surf breaks.

The state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation will conduct the first public hearing of the draft rules for the sport at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Sunset Beach Elementary School. The rules could be finalized as soon as early next year. The ocean recreation management area, or ORMA, extends from the shoreline to 3,000 feet out, from Ka'ena Point to Kahuku Point. Personal watercraft have never been allowed inside this area. But under the new rules, they can enter the ORMA for rescue, recovery and emergency purposes, except in four designated areas: Kawela Bay, Sunset Beach, Shark's Cove and Hammerheads in Mokule'ia.

"This is opening up absolutely 100 percent of the ORMA," said Michael McNulty, a Waialua surfer and president of the North Shore Ocean Safety Association, a nonprofit group formed two years ago to address safety concerns about thrill-craft operating near paddling surfers, swimmers and divers. "Now they can come to any beach and call it an emergency."

But the state, which spent the last five years researching tow-in surfing and talking to people in the communities affected by the sport, argues that the rules are meant to keep everyone in the water safe.

"(The water) can be shared, but it has to be safe," said Carol She, state boating regulation planner. "It gives priorities to surfers who paddle out there or are already in the wave break. Thrill-craft aren't allowed in there; they have to leave immediately. And they're willing to do that."

The sport involves two people, one on a custom-made surfboard, the other on a jet-propelled personal watercraft. The surfer holds onto the back of the watercraft and is towed into big waves. With the right momentum, the surfer releases the rope and surfs along the breaking wave.

Tow-in surfing started more than a decade ago, and has since gained popularity with high-profile surfers touting the adrenaline rush.

The sport was created to allow surfers to get to waves inaccessible by paddling.

No doubt the sport, which puts surfers on heavier and faster boards in 50-foot sets, is dangerous.

"Like any other sport, there's risk involved if you don't have the knowledge or lack the ability to survive in that kind of environment," said Brian Keaulana, a big-wave surfer and lifeguard who supports regulating the sport.

"In everything you need to have some type of organization and order," he said. "If you let this loose without guidelines, there'll be mayhem. That's when people will get hurt."

In addition to limited tow-ins to certain surf spots, the draft rules also include requiring quick-release lines and other safety equipment such as knives to cut lines and cell phones or radios to call for help. The rules would also require users to register thrill-craft used for tow-ins, to display registration decals, and to have training and liability insurance.

Carol She said there has been some resistance to the draft rules, which regulate O'ahu, Kaua'i and Maui. Some residents don't want thrill-craft in their surf areas at all, she said.