Sesily Criado and Michelle Saul of Hawaii Kai launch into the surging sea at China Walls in Portlock. This area has claimed three lives this year, with the most recent being Emerald Abing of Colorado Springs, Colo.

Portlock spots’ lure
can be deadly

Officials warn visitors to be aware
of danger at the jagged cliffs

The jagged cliffs that fall into the sea off the affluent Portlock neighborhood in Hawaii Kai are not easy to find.

And yet, with names like Spitting Cave and China Walls, they have proved to be an irresistible magnet for visitors and residents who risk their lives jumping -- sometimes from as high as 40 to 50 feet -- into the tricky waters.


This year, rough ocean conditions around these cliffs have killed three people: two who were visiting from the mainland and a fisherman from Kailua.

China Walls and Spitting Cave are not heavily frequented by visitors and have no lifeguards.

"We're surprised that these visitors are getting there. We don't believe they're getting there without assistance," said Jim Howe, operations chief of the city Ocean Safety Division.

Howe said residents owe it to visitors to educate them about Hawaii's ocean conditions, especially when they take them to places like Portlock.

"We as a community need to recognize that we need to educate our visitors and need to watch after them because they don't understand the ocean like we do," Howe said.

On Saturday, Emerald Abing, 17, of Colorado Springs, Colo., went to an area near the China Walls surfing spot with a young man to watch the sunset. She jumped into the water when a large wave rolled in, and did not surface.

Her body was found about five feet deep in the water.

Last Tuesday, Stephen J. LeBlanc, 29, of Westwego, La., drowned while swimming at Spitting Cave, an even tougher spot to reach on Portlock Point.

On April 25, Owen K. Fujihara, 45, of Kailua drowned near China Walls. Fujihara was swept into the ocean by a large wave while he was attempting to help a female friend out of the water.

Large signs warning people of the strong current and waves crashing on the ledge are posted in the area. Yet, on a typical sunny weekend, the rocks are covered with sunbathers and swimmers jumping into the water.

But while jumping is easy, getting out is not. Swimmers have to know how to find the foot and hand holds and time their exit with the waves that roll across the rock.

"Any person who frequents that area knows that before you get in, you have to know how to get out," Howe said.

Surfers, swimmers, bodyboarders and fishermen looking for ulua, papio and uku are frequent visitors.

A fisherman who did not want to give his name questioned why people want to jump off the rock wall because of the danger. "The current will pull you toward the cliff," he said.

The fisherman said he would fish there only during the day.

Howe recommended visitors to go to beaches where lifeguards are available who are able to point out what areas are safe and what areas to avoid.

Hawaii Kai resident Beau Hodge, who spent the afternoon surfing at China Walls yesterday, described the area as dangerous.

"At any second the ocean can turn on you there," said Hodge, a former 13-year Honolulu city lifeguard who has rescued six people at this spot. "You have to know your limits," he said.

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