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Please do NOT swim at Hanakapi‘ai Beach

OC, Ca
Level Contributor
37 posts
Please do NOT swim at Hanakapi‘ai Beach

My wife and I just returned from Kauai last night. On our final full day on this beautiful island, we decided to brave the Kalalau trail to Hanakapi‘ai beach. This was somewhat of a strenuous (and muddy!) hike for us as it was our first real hike. Upon reaching Hanakapi‘ai beach we finally breathed a sigh of relief and though we would take a load off and relax a few minutes before heading back.

Just then we heard loud cries for "Help, Somebody Help Us!" near the water and looked out to find 2 children in the ocean about 50+ feet in that were getting quickly swept not only out but farther west which was particularly treacherous because the beach ends there and all that remains are miles of coastlines and jagged rock.

The water seemed really rough and the waves were huge (at least to me being from CA). These 2 kids were literally just carried Westward and out of view within about 20 seconds. After they could no longer be seen the father raced with lightning speed up the rocks along the beach, grabbed the life preserver that is hanging there on a tree and dove in after them. He ran right past me and I could see the determination in his eyes. Without hesitating a bit he jumped in and swam for his kids. Easy to say "sure any father would do the same", but he was a very brave man to take that coastline with full force and jump into those rocky waters especially not even being able to see those kids around the corner when he went.

This family had passed my wife and I on the trail just about 10 minutes before we arrived at the beach. They were very nice and polite and our hearts immediately went out to them.

After the father went in after them we saw or heard no sign of them for about 30 minutes. From the beach you cant see westward at all, we only knew that they swam in that direction. We feared the worst but hoped for the best. On the beach we all got our cell phones out to try to make an emergency call, but no one had any service to do so. We then tried to flag down tour helicopters that were passing by the area. All of us on that beach (about 30 people) were yelling and waving frantically at them as they passed overhead. We had no idea though if they saw us or realized that anything was wrong. Then we started writing SOS in the sand with our feet hoping that the helicopters would see it, then making bigger letters with rocks to spell them out.

All this time we had no idea if anyone knew that the family was out there, and from the beach we saw no sign of them. Eventually a few of us, my wife and I included decided to head back to try and get cell phone service and call for emergency rescue. About 40 minutes into our hike back we got a good vantage point from the trail and could see what looked like 2 people further west on the coastline that had made it up on some rocks (this inlet couldn't be seen from the beach below). Our hearts felt relieved but still we couldn't see how they could be rescued in such rough waters and with no helicopter access on the side of the cliff.

A few minutes later we saw a sea-doo out in there location then a zodiac and we knew that the tour helicopters must have called for help and seen our signs of distress.

After we reached the beginning of the trail, the rescue effort was still underway. Finally we saw this news story and were overjoyed that all 3 had been safely rescued:


I think it's hard to relay the gravity of the situation as it was amazingly more intense being there at that time than reading about it online.

Moral of the story, if anyone reading this post takes that hike please do not go swimming at this beach, don't even wade in the water here, just enjoy the view from the stones right at the beach. It is very rough and what I saw transpire happened literally in a matter of seconds.

The father of these kids was a very brave man and I have no doubt that he saved both of their lives that day. I think they are all very lucky to be alive based on the conditions they had to endure. That cave/inlet they found was literally the last chance they had to get any relief from those waters, otherwise it was just rocky cliffs straight up for miles westward.

Indeed it is an experience that ourselves and everyone on that beach that day will never forget.

Oxnard, California
Level Contributor
1,949 posts
9 reviews
30 helpful votes
1. Re: Please do NOT swim at Hanakapi‘ai Beach

Definitely a "happy ending' to what could have been a real tragedy. I have always been keenly aware of the dangers of Hanakapi'ai Beach and cannot understand why this still happens. Either people don't do their research beforehand, or they take their chances and believe that they can handle any situation without getting injured. Granted, young children may not know the magnitude of the danger involved, but clearly the parents need to make sure their children don't do things like this. I'm glad everyone was okay. I know I would have been really stressed had I been there to witness it.

Level Contributor
24,104 posts
17 reviews
59 helpful votes
2. Re: Please do NOT swim at Hanakapi‘ai Beach

All I can say is WOW!! What an experience and what a blessed ending!

Level Contributor
45,296 posts
132 reviews
129 helpful votes
3. Re: Please do NOT swim at Hanakapi‘ai Beach

Denny talked about this the other day and indeed it was a scary situation and the father was very brave. There are signs that say be careful swimming aren't there?

Kauai, Hawaii
Level Contributor
2,594 posts
4. Re: Please do NOT swim at Hanakapi‘ai Beach

Not sure if I'm ready to nominate the dad for "Father of the Year", but very fortunate he pulled off a great save!

Kauai, Hawaii
Level Contributor
8,506 posts
7 reviews
14 helpful votes
5. Re: Please do NOT swim at Hanakapi‘ai Beach

parents have huge responsibility for the safety of their families.

A couple of things should have been evident, one is the obvious dangerous conditions that our OP witnessed, and took heed of.

Second, is the Hanakapiai sign that has the score of the win/ lost record, with the loss of life at thirty something for Hanakapiai , is very impactive

There may be other signs.

The guide book " Hankapiai is a beautiful but trecherous beach ". And that the sand beach will be gone in the winter time.

I actually witnessed ( and tho very disturbing to family safety, was not even close as to what the OP experienced).

September: We began our walk along the beach, very near the Hanalei Colony Resort.

We were only a short distance along the beach, and the Longshore Current was racing parrallel to the beach like rapids of a river. This is highly visible, and quite apparent. Very rapidly moving water.

A family passed us, this is mom, dad, and a beautiful little...maybe three or four year old little girl. She was all excited, and happy following in the foot prints of daddy. All decked out in her beach attire....cuter than cute.

Daddy heads toward the water, and says " Come on honey, let's go in and check the water temperature ". I came to a dead stop, and looked at them.

That dad did not pause to look at ocean conditions, not for a nanno second.

A while later almost to Ke'e Beach, that long shore current was still churning and quickly moving past. A couple of visitors were walking along with their snorkel gear.

I said " hi", and politely asked if they were going snorkeling ? Answer was yes, of course. I was telling the hubby and pointing out the long shore current........the wife just snorted some kind of huffing sound, and headed into the water.

I smiled all friendly and said " Be careful ! " and continued on up the beach to relax for a bit, and take some photos from up on land of the beautiful cliffs, and coastline.

Aqua, thank you so much for the eye witness account. superb writing and recall. Excellent.

After reading the web page story in the GIN, before going to work, I talked with a friend at the gym, who works for the DLNR, as a

law enforcement officer.. I asked if he was the person who had allerted the rescue personnel as was stated in the paper. As I was currious due to the lack of cell phone coverage up there.

He said , no, but they did have some crews up in the area that were working on the trails. Perhaps they used radio, or were up high enough that they could get cell reception.


International Distress Signal. Light years back, when I was teaching sailing , navigation, and powerboating , one of the signals , that is internatiional in scope is:

Stand erect.......do not wave.....because another passing vessel will just wave back thinking you are just waving hello. Yep, it is a totally natural reflex, and that is exactly what occurs. They just wave back, and keep on going.

Anyway, this could come in handy sometime, you just never know.

Stand erect, and move your arms, from along your sides, raise the arms up , and touch your hands together , with arms extend over your head, then bring them back down. Continue a constant movement - do not stop.

( Maybe thnk " snow angels motion with just the arms, or jumping jacks with the just the arms......for a more visual idea ). The rest of the body is totally still. It is a deliberate and methodical move.

The SOS in the sand is also a great idea, and piling up rocks, darker than than the sand is also super. Good thinking .

The OP, and the other people there did a great job to help with a very serious situation.

Sorry about the lesson in safety that some do not want to hear, but you never know, when there could be a situation, land or sea, that a glimmer in the ol brain box, will jump out and spark a timely " I am in distress signal ".

Sometimes in works in restauranta to hail down some service. No real distress, but it can get their attention, when eye contact, and subtler signals fail.

Again, thank you so much for your very , very excellent eye witness report.

Suberb !



Edited: 12 years ago
San Diego...
Level Contributor
5,803 posts
50 reviews
59 helpful votes
6. Re: Please do NOT swim at Hanakapi‘ai Beach

Hanakapi-die, Luma-die have these nicknames for a reason. These places are out and out scary in winter and dangerous all the time.

People just don't give the ocean enough respect.

Level Contributor
1,958 posts
1 review
6 helpful votes
7. Re: Please do NOT swim at Hanakapi‘ai Beach

Thanks for the story AquaBliss--the web is great for sharing these first-hand stories and hopefully getting the word out strongly to more visitors.

Denny, the Hanakapi'ai "death toll" sign (it doesn't list successful rescues) shows 82 dead (though I don't know over how many years--still a lot):


I was always taught that the international distress symbol is 3 of anything: 3 fires, 3 crossed skis, 3 flashes, 3 dots 3 dashes 3 dots (SOS), etc. Writing SOS in the sand (with rocks if possible) is however, probably the clearest communication with helos from a beach.

I wonder if anyone followed the children and father by hiking further on the trail towards Kalalau: once you get out of the valley and back on the cliff, you have a good view of the shoreline in places. In this case, it seems they landed in view of the trail in the direction of Ke'e beach, so not really necessary, but following the people swept out to sea from the cliff would've been my first reaction.

Level Contributor
533 posts
2 reviews
1 helpful vote
8. Re: Please do NOT swim at Hanakapi‘ai Beach

Good heavens what a story! The dad and kids must have been in very good physical shape. Lucky they had that rescue device on the beach. Without it rescuing someone in deep water is pretty much impossible.

Don't be too quick to judge. From the GIN article it doesn't sound like there was any intention to swim.

Also an interesting link to drowning stats in that article:


South Pole
Level Contributor
43,797 posts
4 reviews
25 helpful votes
9. Re: Please do NOT swim at Hanakapi‘ai Beach

hey, thanks for sharing your eyewitness account of this frightening event. I'm thankful it ended well.

From what the paper says, if it is accurate, and the one boy just went near the water, the lesson would seem to be not only don't swim but stay well back from the water. Not to beat up on the dad, as I'm sure he's doing that to himself, but parents shouldn't turn their backs on the kids at beaches like this. Kids can't be relied on to understand the potential dangers.

Denny, I understand your frustration that people arrive on your island not understanding that there is no guaranteed safe swimming and snorkeling. Sadly, the islands are marketed as a paradise always ready to welcome you into the idyllic waters, and people forget to LOOK and notice that this is mother ocean who is not necessarily gentle.

British Columbia...
Level Contributor
622 posts
1 review
10. Re: Please do NOT swim at Hanakapi‘ai Beach

We were at Hanakapi'ai one time in November. We sat up on the rocks for quite a while just watching the ocean and looking at people checking out the caves to the left. After a while we decided to take a look at the caves as well. There hadn't been any waves coming up onto the beach area the whole time we were watching. My dh walked a bit ahead of me and I walked behind still uncertain of the waves and continuously watching the water. As I was watching I grabbed my husband's arm and pulled him back just as we were getting nearer to the caves. We ran back right ahead of a wave that washed over right where we were. We felt incredibly foolish. I'll bet the father didn't even realize how far up the waves could come up. I'm so glad they are all okay.

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