Saturday, October 19, 2002

Maui County

2 Maui surfers make
big-wave rescue

They save 2 women from drowning
in dangerous 12-foot surf

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> A pair of Maui surfers saved two women from Arizona who had been swept into the ocean by high surf at the Keanae Peninsula in east Maui -- a place where four visitors died in big waves nearly five years ago.

Jesse Nakooka and Keli Everett used their surfboards to rescue the women about noon yesterday.

Police said the women, both 24 years old, suffered only minor injuries and were treated and released at the scene.

Police Sgt. Anthony Poplardo said the women had been taking pictures of the high surf when a rogue wave swept them into the ocean.

Nakooka said he and Everett, who planned to surf in waters off Keanae, had arrived at the beach about noon when they noticed a crowd of about 20 people screaming and shouting for someone to help the two women.

Nakooka, 27, said the surf was about 12 feet high and the women were about 50 feet offshore and swimming between the waves and the backwash.

He said the area near a former wharf landing has a rocky shoreline and rising reefs offshore that produce strong currents and make swimming difficult.

"They were trying to climb up to a pinnacle on the outer reef and the waves were pounding them down. I just never like them get hurt. I never like them die," Nakooka said. "I grabbed my surfboard and said, 'Eh brah, we better save the girls.' "

The women were swept out in the same area where four men died in high surf on Jan. 30, 1997.

The families of the four men have sued the county for allegedly failing to inform them about the dangerous high surf conditions.

Nakooka said he has lived in Keanae and was familiar with the surf conditions but saving the women took about 30 minutes and required a lot of energy and planning.

He said after he and Everett reached the women, they put them on their surfboards.

Nakooka said body surfing, he caught a wave into shore, then got a 50-foot rope and swam out a way and threw it to Everett.

He said he pulled Everett who accompanied the women on the surfboard one at a time into shore.

Nakooka said he felt good about helping to save the two women, because it was a way to show his gratitude after being given a chance to reform for his past misdeeds.

He said while he was a drug addict, he was caught breaking into a tourist car and faced the likelihood of going to prison for a probation violation.

He said he got a break from the court.

"I told them I needed help. I was a heavy drug addict," he said. "They said they going help me with this Maui Drug Court program."

Nakooka said he's reformed and is scheduled to graduate from the Maui Drug Court program next week Thursday.

"So this was a good deed for me to pay back to the community," he said.

County of Maui

E-mail to City Desk


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