Sandy Beach features risks, dangers for the inexperienced

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Joe Wakazuru

Sandy Beach's shore break and rip current present a lot of hidden dangers for unsuspecting swimmers.


Chase Kodama was athletic and agile enough to earn a scholarship to play soccer at Chaminade University. But he fell victim to the powerful waves at Sandy Beach – treacherous even for the athletic and capable – four years ago.

Kodama, 22, suffered a broken left ankle that ended his freshman year and served as a painful yet powerful reminder of the beach’s danger there.

“I definitely underestimated the power of the ocean and the actual shore breaks themselves,” said Kodama, a Chaminade graduate from California who recovered and was named the soccer captain his junior and senior year. “I’m not used to water crashing on shore like there. That was definitely new.”

Sandy Beach, however beautiful and inviting it may be, is not a recreational beach. Experience and knowledge of the ocean proves to be key. But even still, its beautiful allure attracts a multitude of college students who are unaware of the serious threats that exist just below the surface.

The size of the waves at Sandy Beach isn’t as punishing as its power. Unlike many beaches, the waves there come from deep water where the ocean floor rises quickly to shallow water. This gives the waves little time to dissipate and lose their power, causing a dangerous shore break.

“You’d think bigger days but smaller days we have most of our injuries, because the tourists they see all these other little kids out here having fun that grew up here and they blow off all our warnings and our signs,” said Harold Teshima, 24, a lifeguard at Sandy Beach from Kailua-Kona. “They just go in the water, disregard us and they end up getting slammed.”

Injuries at Sandy beach range from minor sprains to broken backs, which often result in permanent paralysis. Anyone that enters the water is at risk there, and yes that includes the lifeguards as well.

Over the five years that Teshima has worked at Sandy Beach, he has broken bones, torn ligaments, suffered concussions and the list goes on.

When the waves are in the 1-3 foot range, tourists and inexperienced beach goers venture out into the shore break. Unaware that even though the waves lack in size, they still are capable of throwing someone head first into the sand.

“It’s lack of experience to people that don’t know how to properly ride the wave will go straight, and the wave picks them up and head first right into the sand bar,” Teshima said. “And then that’s where they run into their broken neck, broken back and compressed disc.”

The strong rip currents often put people in harms way as well and without surf fins getting out of trouble can be difficult.

During Kodama’s freshman year at Chaminade, he fractured his left ankle at Sandy Beach after returning from a soccer trip. Without fins and experience, Kodama said he was sent “spinning” and landed on his ankle.

Kodama said that his foot immediately began to swell and that the rip current made it difficult to get out of the water.

Kodama was aware of the dangers and saw the signs posted by the lifeguards but felt “comfortable” going in the water after seeing little kids playing in the waves.

Lifeguards at Sandy Beach and similar dangerous shore breaks are proactive and do their best to talk to tourists, make announcements over the PA system, provide information about safer beaches and warn people of the dangers but for a number of reasons people still go into the water and put themselves at risk.

“To avoid injury is to not go in the water here,” Teshima said with a chuckle.

For more information about Sandy Beach and ocean safety in Hawaii visit the website http://oceansafety.ancl.hawaii.edu.