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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 24, 2010

Buoyed lane protects swimmers

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Donovan Neves gave his daughter, Dylan, 2, a ride on his paddleboard yesterday at Ala Moana Beach Park.

Photos by KENT NISHIMURA | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Paddleboarders skim the water at Ala Moana Beach Park in a water lane set aside for them with buoys.

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Ocean users had mixed reviews yesterday for a new buoy system at Ala Moana Beach Park that creates a water lane for stand-up paddleboarders. Just about everybody agreed, though, that the buoys were doing their job in protecting swimmers.

The state installed the buoys following discussions with swimmers and paddleboarders on how to resolve conflicts over right-of-way issues at the popular beach park, especially in light of the growing popularity of stand-up paddleboarding.

Of most concern to the state is the safety of swimmers at Ala Moana, who say they've been hit by paddleboarders who aren't paying attention or who are learning.

Some of those incidents have resulted in serious injuries.

The new water lane was put in Wednesday as part of a six-month trial, and lifeguards said yesterday it looked like most people were following the buoy system.

Louis Billaber, 52, of Kāne'ohe, said he liked the water lane for stand-up paddleboarders and hopes it stays. Before the buoys were installed, Billaber said near-shore waters were chaotic, with swimmers and paddleboarders often running into conflict.

"It was like the H-1 Freeway," he joked.

But yesterday, it was much easier: He stayed in his lane and swimmers stayed clear.

But B. Nakamura, a swimmer, said she was not a fan of the new system.

Although she likes the idea of improving safety, Nakamura doesn't see why a designated area for paddlers is needed, especially since that area has long been popular with swimmers. The 38-year-old has been swimming at Ala Moana for eight years.

"You don't see them separating Boogie boarders from surfers," she said.

Ryan Saiki, a stand-up paddleboarder, said the conflicts in the water would have been averted if paddleboarders looked out for where they were going and watched out for swimmers.

"The swimmers have the right-of-way," he said, adding that he has seen paddlers run into swimmers at the beach and heard stories of conflict from friends.

But, he said, "the altercations are pretty rare."

The stand-up paddleboarding corridor runs along the length of the beach in near-shore waters, about 80 feet shoreward of the reef. Seven buoys make up the lane.

The state said the lanes could go if swimmers and paddleboarders can find other solutions to resolve the situation. But state Department of Land and Natural Resources Director Laura H. Thielen also said in a statement that with the growth of stand-up paddling, something needs to be done to "enhance the safety in this waterway."