The story of the Hawaiian Water Patrol

May 31, 2019 | Surfing
Hawaiian Water Patrol: saving the lives of surfers in extreme ocean conditions | Photo: Xcel

The Hawaiian Water Patrol (HWP) was founded in 1985 on the North Shore of Oahu by Brian Keaulana and Terry Ahue.

The premier water safety team in Hawaii features a crew of professional and high-trained watermen. HWP provides water patrol for surf contests and water-based events like the Triple Crown of Surfing and commercial film productions.

"We saw Herbie Fletcher riding his jet ski at Pipe. I used to be a lifeguard at Ehukai [Beach Park], and he was helping pull guys out of the critical areas not even lifeguards and surfboards could be," explains Ahue.

"At that time, when we were doing rescues, we were out there by ourselves with surfboards."

Ahue and Keaulana worked alongside legendary surfer-lifeguard Eddie Aikau. Back in the day, they used rescue tubes, swim fins, and their personal watercraft to get people out of the water.

"When the jet ski came out in 1972, that was the answer. You could jet around and fly like you're surfing or riding a motorcycle," adds Herbie Fletcher.

"I made it to Hawaii with mine in 1981. Terry, Brian, and all the guys saw me riding and told me: 'Herbie, the cops are coming. Get out of the water.'"

Hawaiian Water Patrol: founded in 1985 by Brian Keaulana and Terry Ahue | Photo: Xcel

A Second Chance in Life

But the lifeguards were interested in the new motor-powered toy because of the lifesaving factor. And when Terry and Brian saw Herbie using the jet ski, they decided to try it out.

A few years later, the Hawaiian Water Patrol was already formed and sharing the advantages of using a jet ski in high surf.

"At the beginning, it was more trial and error. The sleds were made by boogie boards attached to the back. Then, we had a Morey-Doyle [softboard] with ropes and hoses to make handles," says Terry Ahue.

"As time went on, we ended up talking to some of the boogie board makers. They helped us perfect those sleds to what you see right now."

The successful HWP formula was passed on the new generation of water patrol specialists.

"As the danger builds, you can feel the camaraderie within the crew starts to tighten up. There's a sense of extra loyalty to, not only your friends but also the partners you're working with," stresses Pomai Hoapili, a member of the HWP.

"The feeling of giving somebody a second chance in life, or preventing a harsh situation, if you can do that just once, it's worth it."

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