Daily Challenges For Lifeguards

Big waves are a big challenge for lifeguards. Terry Reis photo

The annual Duke’s Oceanfest concluded the last week of August, as we honored Duke Kahanamoku, Hawaii’s most famous waterman and Olympic medalist, and acknowledged his timeless contributions to ocean sports here and throughout the world.

Among the activities was the induction into the Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame of Peter Cole, Ethel Kukea, Aileen Soule and Nainoa Thompson, an event organized by the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation and Hilton Hotels. The foundation provides more than $150,000 a year in scholarships to ocean athletes, and the ceremony and Oceanfest are the premiere events used to help raise money. (See dukefoundation.org for more information.)

Duke Kahanamoku represented Hawaii in the Olympics over a 20-year span and earned five swimming medals during this time. He was a legendary surfer and canoe paddler, as well as a lifeguard, sheriff for the City and County of Honolulu, and Hawaii’s Ambassador of Aloha. Duke’s singlehanded rescue of a dozen fishermen off the California coast when their boat capsized is the stuff of history.

Hawaii’s ocean heritage and traditions, the accomplishments of Duke Kahanamoku, and our love for the sea that surrounds us bring to mind the feats of our modern watermen and women, the employees of the County of Kaua’i’s Ocean Safety Bureau.

Ashley Sugahara

The Garden Isle has some of the most beautiful and spectacular beaches in all the Hawaiian Islands, among them Hanalei Bay, Kee Beach and Tunnels, Lydgate, Kealia, Kalapaki, Poipu and Polihale. According to Kaua’i’s Ocean Safety Bureau, there were more than 1.6 million beachgoers at guarded beaches, with 325 documented rescues by Kaua’i lifeguards. Although there were 10 fatalities from drowning last year at Kaua’i beaches, none occurred at a beach where county lifeguards were present.

All of the drownings involved visitors, a fact emphasized by Ocean Safety supervisor Kalani Vierra, the man who oversees the Ocean Safety Bureau. Although his staff is not as large as the City and County of Honolulu’s Ocean Safety Division, Kalani has done a remarkable job in upgrading the level of training and the provision of professional lifeguard services. The bureau falls under the administration of Kaua’i Fire Department, and Fire Chief Robert Westerman is the first to recognize Kalani’s accomplishments, saying, “Kalani has taken on the challenge of molding the Ocean Safety Bureau into a truly professional operation and has my total support in his efforts.”

Kaua’i has developed its own beach safety website, kauaiexplorer.com, similar to the Hawaii Beach Safety website on Oahu, to apprise beachgoers of conditions.

The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) is the national organization of professional open-water lifeguard and rescue agencies. Like the City and County of Honolulu’s Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division, Kaua’i’s Ocean Safety Bureau is USLA-certified, meeting the training and equipment standards set by the national body. Kalani is one of two national certification officers in the entire state and a delegate from the Pacific Islands Region on the USLA National Board of Directors.

Kaua’i’s Junior Lifeguards have dominated the state championships for eight consecutive years; their last successful campaign was at Hapuna Beach on Hawaii Island. Kalani plans to take a team to California next year to compete in the USLA Junior Lifeguard National Championships.

Although constantly challenged with budget constraints, manpower issues and unwary visitors, Kaua’i’s lifeguards do a remarkable job of preventing and responding to emergencies that occur all too often at Garden Island beaches. They have been assisted over the years by Dr. Monty Downs, an emergency room physician at Wilcox Hospital and chairman of the Kaua’i Water Safety Task Force. Downs has been a tireless advocate for improved water safety initiatives for the past 20 years, and has been responsible for raising funds and awareness for the lifeguards’ efforts to reduce the number of drownings that occur at Kaua’i beaches.

Our visitors and residents can safely enjoy the beaches of our island paradise because of the dedication and watchful eyes of the men and women of the County of Kaua’i’s Ocean Safety Bureau. Never intrusive, always vigilant, the men and women who protect and save lives throughout the year follow in the tradition of selfless service, sacrifice and courage inspired by Duke Kahanamoku throughout his life.


Position: Reception Agent
Location: Saint Regis Princeville Resort

One Saint Regis Princeville Resort guest described reception agent Ashley Sugahara as “one of the most pleasant persons I have ever met … anywhere!” Another frequent visitor said Ashley “continues to be wonderful and the perfect personification of the aloha spirit.” And the kudos keep coming from the hotel’s guests, who no doubt have traveled to many places around the world.

Ashley, who’s been with the Saint Regis for more than five years, has been lauded for her exceptional service by the hotel’s managers and staff. She makes people feel at home, once helping a terminally ill guest enjoy her last trip to Hawaii in a gesture that touched the guest and her traveling companion.

She brings this same aloha to her personal endeavors, actively supporting Kaua’i United Way, Visitor Industry Charity Walk and Kaua’i Independent Food Bank.