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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 30, 2007

Dream job: Staff surfer for Hawaii

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Josh Marvit, the environmental health specialist for the state Department of Health, examined the sampling equipment on his surfboard yesterday at Naish Hawaii in Kailua.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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To find out about water quality, find Department of Health news releases and warning messages at emdweb.doh.hawaii.gov.

You also can check on the status of water at Hawai'i's beaches any time by phoning the DOH Clean Water Branch Hotline and get a recorded message at 586-5826. This 24-hour number provides a daily report on contamination warnings and advisories.

The public also can check on safety-hazard issues of beaches in Hawai'i by going to: www.hawaiibeachsafety.org..

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State environmental health specialist Josh Marvit just picked up a title that many of us can envy: staff surfer.

In his latest assignment, the Clean Water Branch employee will use a new tool an 11-foot custom surfboard outfitted to monitor water safety and provide information about the water quality at surf spots starting in Waikiki, a favorite ocean playground for visitors and residents.

"Waikiki Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the entire world," Marvit said. "It's the most economically important area in the state."

He's been working to sample water quality around the island for three years with the state Health Department, gathering those samples from the shoreline. He and some colleagues came up with the idea of sampling from a surfboard.

He acknowledges it's a dream job.

"I'm just a hard-core town surfer," Marvit said, "I've been surfing in town for the past 30 years." Before that, he worked as a chemist at the University of Hawai'i.

Marvit, 35, said the surfboard sampling data will be gathered to help protect Hawai'i's surfers and ocean swimmers. Health Department spokeswoman Janet Smith said the new tool was being announced yesterday at the start of National Clean Beaches Week, June 29-July 5.

She said it will be used to monitor bacteria levels at selected surf sites on O'ahu. Marvit, and the surfboard tricked out with sampling bottle and water quality monitoring equipment holders will start at surf sites in Waikiki in time to catch some of the summer's south swell.

"While we have done some surf-site sampling before by boat, this new surfboard will let us get samples in the surf zone," said Watson Okubo, Monitoring & Analysis section chief, DOH Clean Water Branch.

"Hawai'i's ocean water quality is usually good, and this new tool will help us learn more about the quality of water people play in."

Okubo said ongoing testing and water-quality monitoring is essential because the ocean can become polluted by runoff from streams, storm drains and sewage spills.

The biggest in recent memory was the city's 48 million-gallon spill of raw sewage in the Ala Wai Canal on March 24 last year, an event that made national news. That spill fouled beaches and kept tourists, surfers, paddlers and others out of some nearby waters for weeks.

Marvit will use the surfboard to collect water samples at two surf sites three times a week, as part of an ongoing special study being done in cooperation with the University of Hawai'i Medical School and the Surfrider Foundation O'ahu Chapter.

Tommy Asing surfs all over the island but has a fondness for Waikiki and the south shore.

As Local Motion Surf Team manager, he's happy to hear about efforts to monitor the water quality on a beach loved by tourists and residents.

"That's the most-used beach in the whole state of Hawai'i," he said.

Asing said the surf sampling is a good idea. "The effort put out to protect our environment is all a plus," he said. "The ocean is for our children to have for their future."

Like any good surfer, Marvit credits the people who are outfitting the special board: Rich Naish of Naish Hawaii; Keoni Downing of Downing Hawaii; and Jim Richardson of Surflight. When it's done, he estimates the high-end long board will cost $1,000 to $1,800.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.