Legendary waterman teaches ocean safety class at PARC
September 29, 2009
WAIANAE, Hawaii - When it comes to water safety risk management, nobody's advice carries more weight than that of legendary waterman Brian Keaulana.
Over the years, people from around the world have sought his counsel on ocean-related activities - particularly his revolutionary techniques in rescuing surfers from big-wave competitions.
Even Hollywood has tapped into his expertise on occasion, using his talents as an instructor and stuntman in such films as "Waterworld," "In God's Hands" and "Blue Crush."
Now, the Hawaii Military Surfing Organization (HMSO) is following suit, asking Keaulana to help lead an upcoming ocean safety class for service members and their families.
Billed as HMSO Ocean Safety Day, the inaugural event will take place, Oct. 4, from 9 a.m.-noon, at the Pililaau Army Recreation Center (PARC) at Pokai Bay. Aside from gleaning pearls of wisdom from Keaulana, those who register will also have an opportunity to try their feet at stand-up paddle surfing, with the aid of instructors from C4 Waterman. All paddling equipment will be offered free of charge, with a valid driver's license or military ID.
According to Keaulana, the class is a great way for fledgling surfers to get their feet wet in the sport, as well as learn about the dangers that exist in Hawaii's coastal waters. A former lifeguard for the City and County of Honolulu, Keaulana has personally witnessed many tourists, even newly arrived military families to the islands, get into trouble at beaches around Oahu.
It's one of the main reasons he routinely gives classes on water safety.
"The ocean is not a swimming pool. It does have hazards," said Keaulana, who introduced the practice of big-wave rescues by using a personal watercraft such as a Jet Ski and a modified bodyboard for towing purposes, nearly two decades ago. "But you can reduce the risks through education."
His advice' For the novice, don't be so eager to try your luck at such famous surf spots as Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, Kaiser Bowls or Waimea Bay. Instead, he encourages beginners to match their abilities to a location. Beginning surfers often find ideal wave conditions at Barbers Point, inside Haleiwa, Waikiki Beach, Chun's Reef and Puena Point.
Once a spot has been found, Keaulana encourages beginners to learn about the dos and don'ts of the sport before sharing the surf with others. Often, the novice will accidentally get caught paddling in a take-off zone, or, unknowingly, cut in front of another surfer for the next wave, and thus break the "right of way" rule. Such etiquette violations often lead to physical confrontations, Keaulana explained.
"In surfing, it's not like skiing, where everyone is on a lift and they take turns," he said. "Surfing is a lot more complex. Everyone is sitting in different lineups, and if you're drifting around, you can actually get in someone else's way.
"Reading the surf spot is one of the best things they can learn," Keaulana continued. "That's why, when we're teaching people about water safety, we tell them to find places where there aren't too many people. Or if there is a lot of people, then stick more to the shoulder of the wave, and avoid the impact zones."
One such spot that is conducive to surf instruction is at PARC's Pokai Bay.
"We chose Pokai Bay because it is an area with a protective groin, and that gives us controllability," Keaulana explained. "There are no currents there, so it's a classroom where we can teach people and provide baby steps for them to experience and learn more about surfing."
Above all, Keaulana wants his students to enjoy one of Hawaii's favorite outdoor activities.
"The main thing is, just have fun," he said. "And when you're having fun, you'll actually want to learn more."
Learning to enjoy surfing, of course, is one of the chief aims of event sponsor, HMSO. The club, which was originally formed in the 1960s, has been making somewhat of a comeback in recent months, following a period of dormancy earlier this decade.
Made up of service members from all branches of the military, HMSO is a rather unique brotherhood between those who surf and those who serve their country, said Lt. Col. Dan Wilson, commander, Detachment 4, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), and board member with the club.
And because of the members' unique ties, he added, there's a sense of obligation in tutoring novice military surfers about the sport and local etiquette.
"One of the reasons we formed this club with a new group of guys was to increase the cooperation and the sense of ohana between Hawaiian surfers and military surfers," Wilson explained.
And while the club is helping to educate fledgling surfers with its upcoming ocean safety class, it's also reaching out to veterans through its Wounded Warrior Surf Program. The course allows returning service members the opportunity to, through small-group sessions, experience what program organizers call "the healing power of the ocean through surfing and being immersed in the water."
"For us, surfing is our therapy, our stress relief," Wilson said, "so we want to share that with other people who need help more than we do."