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Unrelenting Beauty and Danger

Lifeguards Dononvan Lewis and Jerome Kamai pose for a picture from their tower at Sandy Beach.

Ieva Bytautaite
Ka La Editor

It’s 9:30 on a sunny Thursday morning at what looks like a beach from a Hawaiian post card. A white van pulls into the parking lot, and a family of five drags a load of beach chairs, umbrellas and coolers toward the surf.

Within minutes, a tan, athletic man in a yellow lifeguard shirt approaches them. Behind the beauty of the beach, he says, danger lurks.  This is Sandy Beach. The most dangerous beach on the island.

Hawaii’s Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division ranks Sandy Beach as the most dangerous on O`ahu, followed by Makapu`u, and Waimea.

Last year, lifeguards had to rescue more than 100 beach-goers at Sandy’s for every 100,000 visitors.To some lifeguards the dangers of the beach bring a feeling of greatness and prestige, but not to Sandy’s lifeguard Donovan Lewis, who has been protecting beach-goers from Sandy’s power and wrath for over nine years.“This is Mr. Sandy Beach” chuckled Gerome Kamai, a lifeguard from Waimanalo.

Lifeguards in O`ahu’s less dangerous but more crowded beaches deserve as much respect as those at Sandy’s or Makapu`u, Lewis said. “We all respect each other. Even though the surf is not big and rough like here, they have crazy surf accidents, and to me that is scarier than big surf,” Lewis said.

Sandy Beach is known for its dangerously shallow shore break and gory neck injuries —  an ambulance is seen there almost as often as a surfboard. But despite the dangers, the beauty and power of the surf steals the hearts of many.

To Nick Simone, a regular at Sandy’s, surfing there is like a religious ritual. “I love it here,” Simone said. “The surf is so consistent. And that’s where physics comes in. The wave will always break when the depth of the water is half of the wave’s height,” he said as he demonstrated this in the sand.

Although statistically Sandy’s is ranked as the most dangerous beach, Makapu`u comes in second only because less people frequent this beach, said Kawika Eckart, a Makapu`u beach lifeguard. Eckhart has been watching over Makapu`u for over 25 years. “You have found the king,” he said with a wink and smile.

Sandy and Makapu`u beaches have very different dangers, according to Eckart. “They have neck and back injuries. We get more rescues because people get in trouble in the current,” Eckhart explained.

When asked what he loves most about Makapu`u, Eckart pointed to the white stretch of sand below the lifeguard tower, the mountains and Manana island in the background, “What’s not to love?” he smiled.

His 28-year long lifeguarding career has taken Eckart all over the island, but Makapu`u will always he his “baby, the love of my life.” And that is why his left bicep bears the name of his lover.

Being responsible for the lives of people is not an easy task, and these lifeguards don’t take their job for granted. They educate, advice and look out for visitors, and they love their jobs.

“Everyday I come to work like this,” Eckart said as he pointed to his boardshorts, bare chest and feet. “Where in the world can you go to work in shorts, no shirt, no slippers and get paid for it? No place.”