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New limits proposed for Big Isle surf spot


The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has proposed establishing new rules to address user conflicts at Kahaluu Bay in Kailua-Kona.

The proposal would limit the number of schools permitted to use a popular surf instruction spot at Alii Drive to four, West Hawaii Today reported. No more than eight students per school would be allowed in the water at any time.

The department has also proposed dividing the bay into two zones: Swimming and snorkeling would be allowed south of Pyramid Rock and the lifeguard station, while surfing would be limited to areas north of those points.

The proposal would require surf instructors to obtain an advanced life-saving certificate.

Complaints about illegal surf schools using the waves and parking areas at Kaha­luu Bay have simmered for a long time.

Ed Underwood, administrator of the department’s Division of Boat and Ocean Recreation, said the proposal and the four-school limit follows the recommendations of a working group comprising state and county officials and ocean users.

Surf instructor Ben Callaghan has watched the waves become overcrowded as eight or more surf schools bring their customers.

"It’s a safety issue," said Callaghan, co-owner of Kahaluu Bay Surf and Sea. "There’s a lot of people out here."

Rick Green, owner of Hawaii Lifeguard Surf Instructors, said he’s fought for years to try to get the county and state to do something. He applauded the rules package but expressed skepticism.

"I’ll listen to any process," he said. "But if you don’t enforce the rules that are already there, how are you going to enforce these new ones?"

A public hearing on the proposals is scheduled at Kealakehe High School on April 29.

Next up for regulatory scrutiny are Kona’s popular manta ray night dive operations. In coming months, the department will bring stakeholders together to discuss safety, business concerns and conservation of the species, Underwood said.

"It’s going to be a tough one, because it’s such a huge business," he said.

Maria Robben, a boating legal fellow with the boating division, said the industry has self-regulated well. But she said manta rays are a protected species and the sites are small and overcrowded.

She said the division is mandated to address those issues as well as safety concerns.

Work is just beginning on the regulatory process, Robben said.

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