Tropical Storm Lane might have resulted in the closures of six out of seven Duke’s OceanFest events this weekend, but it didn’t stop hundreds of beachgoers from enjoying Waikiki’s surf on the birthday of legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku.
By late Friday afternoon the storm had shifted southwest and hadn’t produced the heavy rainfall, flash flooding, storm surge and hazardous surf conditions that many emergency planners, government officials and visitor industry members had feared.
Kuhio Beach, where the famous bronze Duke Kahanamoku statue stands, was technically closed Friday due to weather concerns. However, many surfers, boogie-boarders, stand-up paddlers and shoreline gawkers ignored the ban.
Reef Stone, a 10-year-old from Kaaawa, enjoyed bodysurfing in Friday’s slightly larger than normal waves at the Waikiki pier.
“It’s not super big, but there are more sets and these waves are good for him to practice,” said his dad’s girlfriend, Summer Cazimero. “We boarded up our house and it was boring. Everything was closed nearby, so we came into Waikiki to surf for a few hours.”
Detroit visitor Rebecca Neill-Totsuka said she and her family had been on Hawaii island for a wedding where then-Hurricane Lane caused heavy rain. On Thursday they arrived on Oahu, where the state’s largest concentration of visitors and residents was bracing for more serious storm impacts.
“We’ll take shelter in our apartment after lunch. For now we want to enjoy this beautiful day,” Neill-Totsuka said.
Shayne Enright said Kuhio Beach and all the beach parks on Oahu were closed Friday and that lifeguards had been pulled from towers to serve in mobile units.
“Lifeguards have been going out with megaphones telling people that the beach parks are closed, but they don’t have enforcement powers. Some people are choosing to go in at their own risk. Luckily, the surf hasn’t been as big as anticipated, and there haven’t been any major rescues reported,” Enright said.
Not all visitors and residents seemed to be following city recommendations, such as sheltering in place and making sure that they bought enough food and water to supplement hotel supplies, either.
Several homeless individuals shunned safe shelters and chose to remain at the city’s beach pavilions or on city benches. Other residents and visitors appeared to be taking a laissez-faire approach to the impending storm. Liquor was the most popular item at a few open ABC Stores on Friday, and alcohol was flowing freely at the few open Waikiki restaurants.
Mufi Hannemann, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Lodging &Tourism Association, noted Friday evening that Tropical Storm Lane resulted in lower wind speeds and less surf action than expected.
“There’s no water inundation yet at hotels. Still, we need to keep a watchful eye on what’s going on with the Ala Wai Canal. If there are heavy rains, the canal could really start to overflow and could be a problem,” Hannemann said.
A strong downpour could cause major sewage spills that pollute the Ala Wai Canal and temporarily shut down Waikiki beaches, as happened in 2006 and 2015. Water surging from three mountain streams that feed into the Ala Wai Canal and debris that makes it harder for the water to flow could lead to flooding.
“We are working hard to make sure that the visitors that are here are taken care of,” Mayor Kirk Caldwell said during a Friday press conference at Kuhio Beach. “We want to thank all of our visitors, and we want to show them aloha but we want them to show aloha to Mother Nature and heed the warnings.”
Caldwell also made a plea for coming travelers to monitor the storm situation before prematurely canceling their trips. Since Tuesday the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau call center has fielded 36 storm-related calls. Pleasant Holidays, a major Hawaii wholesale travel seller, also said it has taken many calls and processed a few cancellations.
“Hoteliers are taking cancellations daily,” said Keith Vieira, principal of KV &Associates, Hospitality Consulting LLC. “Once the airlines started offering waivers, it provided an impetus. Hopefully, this will just be a short-term effect.”