Do Come Visit Us … But Be Careful!
“Never turn you back on the ocean.”
– Hawaiian Saying
Tourism industry officials in Hawaii have a problem: too many tourists are dying in accidents here. Of course, one death is too many, but one-a-week on average is a problem. Part of it is because the powers-that-be don’t want to issue dire warnings and give potential tourists the idea that this is an inherently dangerous place to visit. God forbid they should go to Puerto Vallarta or Aruba instead!
At least some of the problem is Hawaii’s climate and weather—benign and beautiful almost all the time. People come here to relax. They’re on vacation. It’s beautiful day and their guard is down. More than a few have a what-the-hell-let’s go-for-it attitude.
Visitors get hurt or even killed while hiking here. The challenging trails appeal to young intrepid hikers, but if they leave the established trails, it’s easy to get hopelessly lost or fall down a cliff hidden by thick foliage. The county fire departments have special units to locate and rescue lost hikers, but they don’t always find them.
Of course, as one would expect, most of deaths and injuries occur at the beaches. The state and county governments here spend millions of dollars every year on water safety programs, warning signs, rescue equipment and hundreds of lifeguards who are acknowledged to be among the best in the world at what they do.
Still, rented surfboards and kayaks are paddled out too far from the beach and suddenly they’re caught in an off-shore current that takes them out farther still. Then darkness falls.
Novice snorkelers are the biggest problem: they accidentally inhale water, start to choke, panic and drown—sometimes in waist-deep water. Swimming at dawn or dusk, especially in murky water, can invite shark attacks, which occur perhaps three or four times a year.
And none of this includes the serious injuries—spinal cord damage, for example—that can happen when somebody from the mainland tries bodysurfing alongside the local kids and a big wave slams him onto the hard sand.
The numbers are actually shocking. Over the past five years, visitors have died from these kinds of accidents at the rate of one a week on average. That’s ten times the rate for local people. And there doesn’t seem to be much more that anyone can do about it.