Paddlers vs. swimmers


POSTED: Monday, April 27, 2009

During Janelle Urbano's first stand-up paddling session at Ala Moana Beach Park, she weighed her rookie maneuvers with the warning from the man who rented her the board—give swimmers the right of way.





        The state Department of Land and Natural Resources will conduct a discussion about stand-up paddle boards at Ala Moana Beach Park, 10 a.m. to noon May 2 at McCoy Pavilion.



Not knowing how to stop, she leaped from the board more than once as she got close to swimmers.

“;There were a couple times I jumped off and swam away,”; she said.

At the end of the session, she credited the owner's warning for keeping swimmers safe.

Like Urbano, a growing number of residents are discovering the excitement of stand-up paddling and are finding the calm waters at Ala Moana the ideal place to learn.

But the sport's increasing popularity worries the state, which has received complaints from swimmers about the paddlers getting in the way and becoming a danger for them.

The state will hold a public hearing Saturday at Ala Moana to discuss the issue.

Meghan Statts, Oahu District manager in the state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, said complaints started coming in last summer, peaking at about 20 calls a month in the fall. Lifeguards have said they are concerned about swimmer-versus-paddler accidents, and calls are expected to rise again in the summer, Statts said.

In addition to the complaints, a swimmer was recently injured by a paddler. The paddler was moving backward and hit the swimmer, opening a gash on the swimmer's head that required staples, she said.

On a recent weekend, about 10 stand-up paddlers cruised in the deeper water, sometimes paddling through the crowd to get back to land.

Keawe Bray, who was walking on the beach recently, said he stopped swimming at Ala Moana because of the number of paddlers. “;They're all over,”; he said. “;You're swimming, looking to the side, then all of a sudden there's a paddle-board dude.”;

“;It's quite bothersome,”; he added.

Manuel Jara, 34, swims at the beach park about once a week. When swimming, he stops every five to 10 minutes to look ahead for paddlers in the water, “;just for safety.”;

Once he was swimming and looked up to find a paddler in his path about three feet away.

“;I almost hit them,”; he said. “;I just went down and tried to avoid it.”;

While the state considers the issue, some paddlers and businesses have taken steps to increase safety, such as telling other paddlers to stay near the reef and allow swimmers to have the inner lagoon.

John Enomoto, owner of Go Bananas Watersport, said he tells renters who go to Ala Moana to pay attention to swimmers. He suggests the state create rules giving swimmers the right of way so all rental companies will notify customers when they rent paddle boards.

“;That way, swimmers can have peace of mind,”; he said.

Experienced paddler China Uemura, 54, said the problem stems from novice paddlers who do not know how to maneuver.

Uemura monitors paddlers in the area from under his canopy on the beach on sunny days and shares advice with beginners.

When he sees a paddler struggling, he heads out and explains how to maneuver.

“;Don't ever think about getting in their way,”; he tells them. “;Swimmers get 100 percent right of way.”;

“;We've got to share the ocean,”; he said. “;Get along.”;