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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, January 28, 2005

Surfers join lawsuit to stop school at popular Hilo break

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — A group of surfers is mobilizing to bar a surfing school from operating in Honoli'i, a small and increasingly crowded bay widely regarded as the sweetest surfing spot in the Hilo area.

Adam Escobar, 38, is suing to stop a surf school from using the break at Honoli'i.

Kevin Dayton • The Honolulu Advertiser

The surfers contend the narrow, stream-fed bay is too crowded to ever accommodate a commercial surfing instruction program.

Adam Escobar, a Waiakea High School teacher and surfer who joined in a lawsuit over the issue, said the commercial operator, Big Island Girl Surf, is "prostituting our break."

"The problem is, in Hilo we've got one surf spot, basically," Escobar said. "You've got to protect your beach."

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources today will consider a request by the surfers to adopt a new administrative rule banning commercial surf instruction from operating at the bay.

Wilkie McClaren, who, according to court documents, operated the Big Island Girl Surf school there for two to three years, was unavailable for comment. According to court records, McClaren agreed in November to discontinue her operation at Honoli'i until the DLNR decides what to do about the surfers' request.

Board staff have recommended against a new rule explicitly banning surf instruction at Ho-noli'i, arguing the board should wait and consider the issue as part of a larger, systematic review of coastal recreation issues.

Richard Rice, administrator of the department's Boating and Ocean Recreation Division, said the DLNR does not at this time intend to issue a permit for a commercial surf school at Honoli'i, but does not want to make policy on a piecemeal basis.

Escobar said he believes that the state is "dragging its feet" in dealing with the issue. "It's just a bad situation waiting to get worse," he said.

Nolan Agliam, a county water safety officer who has worked at Honoli'i for three years, said the population of surfers vying for waves has soared since 2000 because of a growing number of University of Hawai'i at Hilo students and cruise ship passengers who want to learn to surf.

The prime surfing area at Honoli'i is about 250 yards wide and stretches out about 150 yards, Agliam said, and 90 people on boards are routinely packed into that space.

He said he has no strong views on the surf school itself, but the crowding is "just too much."

"It's getting way worse. This is the worst I've ever seen it," he said.

Escobar and the other surfers are represented by prominent Hilo lawyers Stanley Roehrig, Thomas Yeh and Michael Moore, who are all surfers and frequent the Honoli'i breaks. The lawyers are handling the case on a pro bono basis, Moore said.

The legal team sought a temporary restraining order barring the DLNR from issuing surf instructor permits for Honoli'i, but that request was denied by Hilo Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura in December.

Nakamura said he wanted to give the state an opportunity to deal with the issue.

According to court records, the surf school would need an instructor's permit to legally operate at the bay, but does not have one. McClaren applied for an instructor's permit, but has not completed the application process, said Nancy Murphy, Big Island district manager of the Boating and Ocean Recreation Division.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 935-3916.