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Surfers and walkers fear disregard of distancing rules will cause harm to all

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                People were still in parks, at the beaches and out walking Monday. Starting Wednesday, tourists will be be informed of quarantine at the airport. But many are here now and apparently heedless of the crisis.

    BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    People were still in parks, at the beaches and out walking Monday. Starting Wednesday, tourists will be be informed of quarantine at the airport. But many are here now and apparently heedless of the crisis.

The surf break known as Suis, off Diamond Head, hosted a dozen happy surfers, catching some long rides on head-high waves Sunday morning.

In a brisk wind and current, the surfers were keeping the 6-feet-apart government mandate against spread of the novel coronavirus, and gone were the handshakes and hugs, sitting knee-to-knee and gossiping between sets that were the norm in pre-pandemic times.

Next day, Suis was battered by ramped-up winds, but Mark Yamanaka chose it over less windy breaks because there were fewer people out. “I wanted to go to Bowls, but it looked too crowded for (social distancing),” he said as he rinsed off at the Makalei Beach Park shower Monday morning.

All City and County of Honolulu parks had been closed to the public since Thursday, but people were allowed to exercise outdoors if they stayed 6 feet apart, and to cross city parks to access the ocean, where the city has no jurisdiction below the high-­water line on the beach, which lies under state control.

While surfers gave each other space — apart from accidental near-collisions — at Suis, social distancing was uneven in the steady stream of walkers, runners, cyclists and Segways on the heavily trampled exercise route stretching between Waikiki and the scenic ocean lookout at Diamond Head Cliffs.

On the steep climb to the lighthouse, where at Beach Road the sidewalk turns into an asphalt pedestrian path and bike lane, many pedestrians forged on, two and three abreast, without stepping aside or going single file to give oncoming walkers some space.

“I think people who live here are more mindful than tourists,” said Fran Katz­man, a visitor from New York City who had been renting her cousins’ condo in Waikiki. “I’ve been laughed at by English-­speaking tourists when I’ve asked them to observe the 6-foot distance.”

At the condo, Katzman added, a large family of Asian tourists, wearing masks, piled into the elevator ahead of her and a friend. “We didn’t get in.”

But there were also many others who took care, such as two fleet, ponytailed local girls who ran up Diamond Head Road, giving a wide berth to a slow-walking man.

“It’s mixed — sometimes it’s crowded, not so much today; some people get masks, some oblivious, right next to others,” said Honolulu resident Lee Chow, who said he’s been walking from Waikiki up Diamond Head every day since his gym closed.

“I don’t like it when they come close,” he said, “but the worst is when people spit on the ground or sneeze and just keep walking.”

When that happens, Chow said, he crosses the street.

Punchbowl resident Anika Keuning, a student at Cornell University in New York, said she and her visiting classmate, Phillip Wideska, tried to avoid getting closer than 2 feet to others, whether walking for exercise or shopping for food.

“But I feel some people are more aware than others (of the need for social distancing),” she said. “It feels like they don’t really care, especially kids our age, in our 20s, because they think it’s not a serious threat to them.”

“It’s serious,” said Wi­deska, a native of Long Island, N.Y.

Farther up the cliff, two local surfers talked story as they packed up their cars by Diamond Head Beach Park.

“I went to Costco to buy rice,” one said, “and they’d just gotten a shipment, but you know, the shelves were already empty and there was this tiny little lady with eight 100-pound bags of rice on her cart!”

The men broke into laughter.

At a news conference Monday about his emergency order, Mayor Kirk Caldwell was asked about people entering closed city beach parks despite the caution tape. He confirmed the city had no jurisdiction over the beach below the high-tide line and would not cite people for crossing city parks to get to the ocean — for now.

“People have a right, particularly Native Hawaiians, to access the ocean and can cross our parks to do so,” he said.

At the same time, “people can get to beaches without traversing city property in many areas,” the mayor — also a surfer — pointed out, asking people to “be very careful so we won’t have to take stronger actions.”

Yamanaka said that might mean “they might close the ocean because people are still coming to the beach,” a fear expressed by other surfers online.

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