In the Lineup: Big-wave surfers training to be big-time rescuers
On Monday morning, as an epic early winter swell struck the islands’ north and west shores, Brian Keaulana, the Makaha-born big-wave surfer and former City and County of Honolulu lifeguard captain, called back for an interview and apologized for being slightly late.
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On Monday morning, as an epic early winter swell struck the islands’ north and west shores, Brian Keaulana, the Makaha-born big-wave surfer and former City and County of Honolulu lifeguard captain, called back for an interview and apologized for being slightly late. “The waves are big here at Makaha so I was surfing,” he said, “and right when you called we (were rescuing) two girls and two guys.” In addition to Makaha lifeguards, he said, rescuers included surfers from the crowd tackling the 20- to 25-foot, Hawaiian, point break.
“I’m still in the water, on a ski,” said the co-founder of Hawaiian Water Patrol, which provides personal watercraft rescue teams for most of the islands’ major surf contests. Whenever he can, as he was that day, he also conducts ocean-safety training, with the goal of building a global community of surfers who look out for each other, as did his father, Buffalo Keaulana, and close friends George Downing and Greg Noll when surfing big, dangerous waves. “My father taught me how to create safety where safety doesn’t exist,” Keaulana said. “We want to create more places like Makaha.”
Every year, he teaches ocean risk management classes at the annual Big Wave Risk Assessment Group Hawaii Summit, which was held Friday and yesterday at Turtle Bay Resort and Pupukea Boys’ Camp. BWRAG comprises two days of training in water safety, breath holding, lifesaving (including personal watercraft and surfboard rescues), medical intervention, new technology and wave forecasting. Today, for the first time, the summit is holding a third, optional day, led by Ian Akahi Masterson of the Hawaii Ocean Education Academy at Windward Community College, in which students can earn state certifications for operating personal watercraft in high-surf-warning conditions.
Maui big-wave surfer and paramedic Andrea Moller, who on Monday took second place behind winner Keala Kennelly in the 2018 Women’s Jaws Challenge at Peahi, Maui, conducted the medical-interventions training this weekend. Last month, she and others also taught a BWRAG session before the opening ceremony for the Mavericks big-wave contest in Northern California.
“BWRAG has united the surfers, made us a family,” Moller said. “You’re learning you’re not out there by and just for yourself. Before you go you watch (the surfer ahead) and see, hey, did he make the wave, did he pop out?”
Because lifeguards are generally on duty from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and big-wave surfers surf from dawn to dusk and often at outer reefs invisible from shore, the need for cohort knowledge and communications is great, Keaulana said. For instance, he said, a group of outer reef surfers should determine who has a waterproof Apple Watch that can dial 911; they can also tread water and wave their boards to signal for help.
The risk-assessment classes, Keaulana and Moller said, encourage sharing of knowledge and experience by participants.
Seeing people get hurt in the water and “wanting to learn how to help” motivated Moller to enter emergency services training after she lost her job teaching diving in the wake of 9/11, during a tourism-industry downturn. Similarly, she said, surfers in her classes want to learn how to recognize risks and what kind of treatment an injured person needs.
The Big Wave Risk Assessment Group was founded in 2011 by North Shore surfers Kohl Christensen and Danilo Couto after watching an injured friend die in big surf and feeling helpless without knowing what to do.
“You want to surf with people like Andrea: She can deal with trauma, with your heart stopping,” Keaulana said. “We want to create more Andrea Mollers.”
Ocean Safety lifeguards performed a combined total of 102 rescues and took 2,610 preventive actions Monday on Oahu’s north and west shores. That’s not counting any off-the-record saves by surfers and others in the water and in the know.
For more information, go to bwrag.com/hawaii-2018. To find a CPR class, go to redcross.org.