Tuesday, July 20, 1999


By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Ralph Goto, head of Honolulu's lifeguards, at his headquarters.

TV show has
top Hawaii lifeguard
on a crest

Ralph Goto says the
increase in ocean safety will
benefit everyone

L.A. lifeguards tell of life with show

By Tim Ryan


Ralph Goto smiles like a Cheshire cat at the mention of the word "Baywatch."

Then, just as quickly, Goto, director of Honolulu's Ocean Safety Division, goes governmental, discussing the benefits -- real and imagined -- of the hourlong lifeguard drama relocating to Hawaii for 44 episodes over the next two years.

"Having the show here is great for everyone," Goto says from his modest office near Kapiolani Park. " 'Baywatch' will be good for tourism, for the image of our lifeguards, for residents and visitors."

Goto, who's in charge of some 100 fulltime and 50 seasonal city lifeguards, said a major benefit of having "Baywatch" here is "increased awareness on ocean safety."

"We've been working for years to get educational prevention messages to the public," Goto said. "We've convinced airlines and hotels to show in-flight and in-room videos about ocean safety.

"But if 'Baywatch' does just one episode on Sandy Beach it'll show that it's a great beach but also a place where you can get hurt. Think how many people the show reaches?"

You get the feeling Goto doesn't think Hawaii lifeguards here get the respect they deserve. But with "Baywatch Hawaii" their image is certain to change as it did for Los Angeles County lifeguards where the show filmed for some nine years.

"There's still that stereotype of the bronze guy in the tower ogling chicks and going surfing on his break," Goto said. "We've worked very hard to reverse that image."

Goto also understands that film productions cause logistical problems especially those filming in or around water. He knows about some "rough spots" early on in "Baywatch" in Southern California, including production trucks blocking lifeguard vehicles, and "Baywatch" lifeguard trucks, uniforms and actors being mistaken for the real thing.

Goto has spoken with L.A. County officials, including its former lifeguard chief Don Rohr, as well as Greg Bonann, "Baywatch" creator and executive producer, about past and possible future problems.

"Baywatch Hawaii's" lifeguard trucks are red or yellow while the real Honolulu lifeguard vehicles are white. The light bars above these trucks' cabs will be covered when not being used, and the side doors carrying the "Baywatch Hawaii" lifeguard logo will be covered with a sign reading "Studio Vehicle" when not in use.

The "Baywatch Hawaii" lifeguard patch -- designed by the artist Wyland -- is completely different from those worn by Honolulu lifeguards.

The occasional parking disruption that occurred at "Baywatch" lifeguard headquarters in Santa Monica -- an actual L.A. County lifeguard headquarters -- is not expected here because the location being used in Haleiwa is basically for storing lifeguard equipment, Goto said.

But while L.A. County required a lifeguard paid by the municipality to be present when any water filming was done at a county beach, Honolulu is not requiring that -- except under special circumstances -- to help save the production money, Goto said. Instead, respected waterman and seasonal Honolulu lifeguard Brian Keaulana has been hired by "Baywatch" as the water safety and stunt adviser.

"We know he always makes the right call regarding safety; if he thinks a stunt is too dangerous he'll say no," Goto said.

Certainly, a major perk of the show being here for Honolulu's lifeguards is new equipment -- trucks and personal watercraft and other products -- from businesses wanting to be associated with a high-profile television show.

"Maybe down the road there'll be some equipment, but right now our objective is to help the production to get going," Goto said. "As the show goes along Honolulu lifeguards will play a larger role in terms of our identity. It'll come back to us."

L.A. Angeles County received for its lifeguards dozens of new trucks, racks, tires and uniforms. Oahu lifeguards now used 16 trucks of various age.

Some equipment has already come in because of "Baywatch Hawaii."

Kawasaki is giving Honolulu three jet skis because of "Baywatch" and there have been preliminary talks with Nissan which provides lifeguard trucks for the show, Goto said.

L.A. County lifeguards agreed that "Baywatch" was mostly accurate in its depiction of rescues and emergency procedures, something Goto said producer Bonann and "Baywatch" writers are working to continue here. On Goto's desk are three "Baywatch" scripts -- "Aloha Baywatch," "Mahalo Hawaii," and "Banzai" -- which he's been asked to check for accuracy.

"The story line allows our guys to show what they really do," Goto said. "The world will see that there's an incredible lifeguard system already here and that nobody does what our guys do. 'Baywatch Hawaii' gives us that visibility."

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