“Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean.”
That’s a very common saying here in Hawaii. Locals learn it early because their parents preach it constantly when they’re at the beach. They know that they can be happily body surfing on three-foot waves, but every 10 or 15 minutes a big six-footer will come along and they had better let it slide under them and crash harmlessly on the beach.
The trouble is, visitors from the mainland don’t know about that. They show up here on vacation and everything is beautiful and they’re so relaxed that their guard is down. And sometimes, because they don’t know any better, they get into trouble.
Take this lady, for example. She’s 65-years-old, she’s from Alaska, and she doesn’t swim very well. But she came all this way and spent a lot of money to get here and, by golly, she’s going to have a swim even if the ocean does look a trifle unsettled. So she wades out into those three-foot waves and manages to keep her feet for a few minutes. Then comes a six-footer and down she goes. Somehow she gets to her feet and heads for shore in a near-panic, only to be knocked flat again by a second big one just a few seconds after this photo was taken.
She was lucky. There were some local folks on the beach who could see she was going to be in trouble and were keeping an eye on her. When she went down the second time, they went into the water, hauled her to her feet, and helped her out onto the beach.
Visitors to Hawaii love the ocean, of course, because the water is warm and it’s usually calm. But some of them turn their backs to the ocean and some choose to swim alone in the early morning or at the end of the day in fading light, perhaps in murky water near the mouth of a stream. Bad idea. That’s when and where sharks are likely to be hanging out.
Everything seems so benign. Hikers, even experienced ones, leave the marked trails and head off into the thick tropical forests. A day later the fire department has to send a rescue team out to find them. Sometimes they never do.
Flash floods are a big problem. Visitors pick a dry stream bed because it’s easier than pushing through thick foliage. But ten or twelve miles farther up the steep slope it could be pouring rain, generating a foaming torrent that overwhelms the hikers before they can clamber over boulders and get out of the way.
The topography of these islands, especially here on Maui, results in little micro-climates all over the island. It can be raining like hell where I live at a thousand feet in Ha’iku, but sunny and warm a few miles away at a beach park. We do our best to inform mainland visitors about where to go and what to watch out for.
But some people just don’t have the instincts to stay out of trouble. Case in point: that lady from Alaska. At least she can say she vacationed on Maui and even got her picture in the paper.