A large winter swell hit the North Shore of Oahu last week. A state beach task force plans to discuss how wave heights are reported and other beach safety issues.

Task force to
tackle surf heights

Conflicting methods
of measuring the size
of waves sows confusion

By Helen Altonn

The controversial issue of surf heights may be taken up Friday at the first meeting of the Governor's Beach and Water Safety Task Force in three years.

Rick Grigg, University of Hawaii oceanographer and task force member, said he will suggest that the method of reporting surf heights be put on the agenda and "how the habit of lifeguards to use the local system is endangering public life and safety."

The surf reporting issue arose last week when predictions by oceanographer Patrick Caldwell were removed from a National Coastal Data Development Center Web page. Caldwell is Hawaii liaison for the NCDDC.

His popular surf tables included traditional or local heights measured from the back of a wave, and heights estimated from the front or face of the waves.

The National Weather Service's policy is to calculate waves from the front rather than the back to avoid underestimating the heights.

Grigg, a surfer, said, "You can't see the back of a wave and in lots of places the back of the wave has no height. The bottom sucks out and it's all face, with no back."

The weather service trained about 150 lifeguards to report face values to standardize the method but they prefer local value schemes, Grigg said.

Jim Weyman, director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center and meteorologist-in-charge of the Honolulu Forecast Office, said Caldwell was one of the first to fully support full face values but began going back to different methods to report wave heights in the past six months.

The information was conflicting and confusing, he said.

The Governor's Beach and Water Safety Task Force met every other month for three years after it was created in 1996, Grigg said. The group stopped meeting when a $90,000 budget request wasn't granted by the Legislature, he said.

State Land Board Chairman Gilbert Coloma-Agaran feels it's important to continue efforts in that area "so we're going back to work anyway," Grigg said.

He said the task force plans to develop a comprehensive plan for all beach parks in the state according to specific dangers associated with each one, "whether it be current, shorebreak, or sharks or jellyfish, or what have you."

Members include the head of lifeguard services for each county and a representative of the attorney general's office, the land chairman and Grigg from the UH Department of Oceanography.

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