Foil surfing: not compatible with ocean swimming and classic surfing | Photo: Shutterstock

Recently a local hero and firefighter, Fire Rescue Capt. Makalii Andrade nearly died, except as he states in this interview, "by the grace of God," a trauma medic was on the beach with his bag.

My husband and I live in Kauai. This occurred in Hanalei - just a ten-minute drive from our home.

We are well aware of the dangers of foil boarding (surf, kite, and wing foiling) to the rest of the community, including children playing in the water, grandparents out snorkeling, swimmers, turtles, sharks, and more.

We take great care to avoid swimming near them and often miss out because of their presence in crowded areas.

We read an insightful and balanced article discussing the need to ban hydrofoils from crowded water areas.

And the author mentions how Japanese surfer Yu Tonbi Sumitomo sliced his face open, nearly decapitating himself riding a hydrofoil board.

I was hoping SurferToday could bring greater attention and action to this issue, so I decided to write.

I hear Laird Hamilton spends part of the year on Kauai in his home in Hanalei, and Oahu paddleboard champion Jamie Mitchel has openly called for greater care and regulations.

I hope we don't need a real tragedy like a loved one getting sliced in half and dying to make the necessary changes to keep everyone reasonably safe.

I wonder if it's time for the hydrofoil community and the general community to come together to think of the best ways to manage the risks.

If a child, tourist, or grandparent gets sliced in half, I fear the general response might be to make them illegal all over the island.

Do Beachgoers Need Orange Buoys to Swim?

Hydrofoils do look like a lot of fun and a great workout, and my husband has been yearning to take some lessons for quite some time.

But they don't look compatible with family-friendly beaches, high-traffic beaches, and crowded surf spots.

It really seems like there should be some designated spots, days, or hours to ensure everyone's safety.

And probably some resources like a trauma kit at every beach where hydrofoiling is permitted.

We live near Anini Beach on Kauai, and it's a family beach with a reef and generally one of the safest beaches current/swell-wise.

On a nice day, the parking areas are overflowing, and there are swimmers, snorkelers, scuba divers, children lining the shore frolicking, and such beautiful energy.

Not to mention that there are dozens and dozens of sea turtles eating and sleeping and living their best turtle lives.

Anini is a beloved beach and is usually the first place parents take their infants.

There's also are kite foilboarders, including beginner kite foilboarders.

They often lose control, and I have even had one kiteboarding gentleman comment, "Oh, it's good you have that bright orange buoy attached to you while you swim! I nearly didn't see you and just missed you, even with your buoy on! These boards are super dangerous - I wish all swimmers wore a buoy. There have been a lot of close calls with swimmers out here."

While I think it's wise for all swimmers to wear a buoy for visibility, safety in the event of being carried away by a current, and something to grab onto in the event of a muscle cramp or inhaling water, swimmers in a popular swimming area and family-friendly beach should not have to worry about being sliced in two - with or without a buoy.

Foil kiteboarding: one of the safety regulations could be the designated days' formula | Photo: Sawicki/Creative Commons

Rules Benefit Everyone

Anini is one of the safest swim areas on Kauai, which is renowned for its dangerous currents - 12 people have died this year alone.

I have also noticed that kiteboarding doesn't pose a substantial risk on very windy days when Anini is essentially empty of beachgoers and most swimmers.

We are guardians of two dogs, and I have often been frustrated by the system of banning all dogs from trails or parks, or open spaces just because of a handful of bad actors.

I have often wished that a more nuanced and fair system would be developed, like a licensing system for well-behaved dogs or making it illegal for any dogs with a history of serious aggression to roam free in open spaces.

When my husband and I lived in the densely populated heart of Madrid with our small dog, we were impressed with how dogs could ride the subway and other modes of transport (even large dogs).

But there were very clear rules - every dog required a leash and muzzle while on any form of transport.

So I think it's worth brainstorming and discussing how to keep hydrofoil practitioners doing what they love while protecting other people and marine life.

It would be a little silly to ban kiteboarding on a windy day when no one else is in the water.

And I am hopeful that the spirit of Aloha and the strength of the community here could create a system that is workable for hydrofoils while prioritizing safety.

Wing foiling: a new water sports activity that needs to be regulated to keep beachgoers and marine life safe | Photo: uniqsurface/Creative Commons

The Designated Days Formula

Another idea is designated days.

My husband and I love the Flume Trail in Lake Tahoe. We have hiked and mountain biked it many times.

Because mountain bikers can make hiking very stressful for some hikers, they have developed a mixed-use system for this beautiful and popular trail with A and B days (even and odd days).

So mountain biking is only permitted on odds day, say.

Perhaps only permitting kiteboarding and foil surfing on non-holidays and during certain weekdays could help, at least with human safety.

The problem is turtle safety - and every day is turtle day at Anini.

I am not a marine expert, but there seems to be a section from the boat ramp to the left (assuming you are looking out at the water) where the turtles don't tend to hang out.

Perhaps having buoys set up to designate this zone would make sense.

In either case, perhaps experimenting with one of these intermediate solutions before an outright ban might be worth considering.

I hope we can bring greater attention and focus to this challenge to find an amicable solution.

I definitely agree with Jamie Mitchel that these hydrofoils should stay away from popular areas like Anini and other high-use areas.

And we need further steps and regulations to keep everyone safe.


Words by a Kauai Resident

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