Do You Think Hawaii Is Disneyland? (And Other Reasons Why You Get Hurt)


Let’s talk about ocean/reef safety for a second. My friend works as a Reef Teach volunteer at Kahaluu Bay and she saw three women barely able to get out of the water last week. All of them were out of shape. And she saw MANY people ignoring the volunteers telling them how to get in the water and chose to go over the reef/lava rocks to get out to the water, many slipped and fell and needed medical attention, and one woman landed face first because of the algae on the rocks..(OUCH!)

We have a webcam in front of our resort and have a film clip of a dad with his four kids sitting on the rocks that they had to climb over a wall to get to. During a high surf day,  the family sat down before gauging what was going on with the ocean. One wave came up and hit all four of them, and while scrambling to recover, an even larger wave came up and really knocked them all around. They climbed back over the wall cut up and bleeding and thankfully not washed out or knocked out.

Don’t Ignore Good Advice

I can not tell you how many people have said on my 365 Things to Do in Kona Facebook page and in person that they try and warn tourists about these dangers only to be completely ignored. My friends say they are tired of being ignored and send prayers instead of a warning. As locals we have to watch people fall, slip, trip, slide, get knocked down and just like what I saw last week at Magics, get hauled off the beach on a back board and get into an ambulance.

Locals ask, “Do these people think this is Disneyland? Do they not know the dangers of the natural world? Do they think they can sit on a couch and then go and swim in the ocean for 45 minutes and think they can handle it?” Well, I think many of you reading this are nodding your heads.

When I was in Kaanapali in Maui recently, I was looking around. Most of the visitors were on chaise lounges around the pool and on the lawns. Very few people were actually IN the ocean or swimming. Those that were in the water seemed to be heeding the warning signs.

Lava Is Not A Good Cushion

When I think about our island, I see a lot of lava. And not many oceanside lawn areas, to be sure. It seems as if there are plenty of visitors deciding that now is the time to pick up body surfing..near the rocks..or on big wave days. Or going far out in Kahalu’u Bay not realizing that the current is pulling them towards the surf area and then not having the strength to fight the current and get back in. I see people trying to get into the ocean at Honl’s Beach near downtown Kona (because it has an inviting beach and basically no safe way to walk into the ocean) and I cringe as they go in barefoot and try and navigate the lava with the poisonous purple sea urchins, (Wana).

I almost jumped off my towel to save a Japanese woman from hurting herself two weeks ago (too late by the time I could have helped her) when she was walking on slippery lava rocks at Magic Sands. We see this all the time. (Here is a hint, if the rocks are green, that means they are slippery. If the rocks are in the water or near the shoreline, they probably have some algae on them and they are slippery).

Folks, we are called the adventure island for a reason. There are no caution cones and guards to stop you from doing some pretty crazy things. Conversely, common sense has to be on full overload when you are here and some basic knowledge of the ocean and rocks is important. If someone tells you DON’T climb out of the ocean a certain way, (usually on slippery lava rock) or don’t go out past a certain point..they may know something you don’t. (I saved two tourists from drowning after they ignored the warning sign not to go out past a certain point and exhausted, they could not get back into shore).

 Five Tips For Your Safety

I can’t reach everyone with this blog, but hopefully, you can learn from this and share with others to consider the following-

1; take some time to see what everyone else is doing, especially a local, if you are new to a beach.
2; ask the lifeguard about dangers you should be aware of. It’s ok to ask for advice!
3; know your limits..if you feel tired, don’t forget you still have to get back!
4; read some info about what the dangers are before you get on the island. (WANA is a purple sea urchin in the rocks with poisonous barbs that hurt for weeks..don’t walk on lava near the ocean barefoot.)
5; Hawaii Island is NOT a water park and the ocean will hurt/kill you if you are not aware of the dangers. “When in doubt, don’t go out” but listen to your intuition, too.

(This placid pool in the photo was great on THIS day, but we were there one day when ALL five of us were almost washed out of it by an incoming wave! I learned a valuable lesson that day!)

Thanks and please be careful out there.

Spread the word if you love what you heard! #365kona so we can say Thanks!

Meet the Author

Julie Ziemelis

Julie Ziemelis is an entrepreneur, business owner, author, blogger and vlogger in Kailua Kona. She created and moderates the “365 Things to Do in Kona” page and the Kona Newbies group on Facebook. She blogs at and and vlogs with her husband, Eric, at “365Hawaii” on YouTube. Julie also authored the books, “How to Move to Kona” and the “Insiders Guide to Buying Real Estate on the Big Island of Hawaii”. You will most likely find Julie in Kona hiking, running, biking, taking photos and sharing Aloha.

Leave a Question or Comment About this Topic

  • Lance Owens says:

    Awesome post JULIE!
    As you know I live at the top of the trail to Captain Cook Monument and it’s only the first week of February and I have seen 2 helicopter 🚁 rescues this year (5 weeks in) , that’s just what I’ve seen, and a fraction of what I seen last year!
    People need to take this seriously, have fun, but pay attention, read, and listen 👂

    • Julie Ziemelis says:

      I had not even thought of that trail as an issue..although after struggling up it and I run almost every day, I can see why it would be a REALLY hard climb for people..especially if they fell or were dehydrated. Good caution call, Lance!

  • Kathy and John says:

    I love your blog. My hubby and I try to visit Kona every winter for a few weeks. Your advice has been wonderful over the years. We are too old to try stupid tricks like we might have 20 years ago when we first discovered Hawaii. This posting was Right On, dear girl. We have seen the same face plants, near drownings, and actually talked with a guy who underestimated the awesome power of the surf and ended up with a broken leg his first day on the Big Island. It was good to be reminded again, though. For the older crowd, is there a place in the winter months that you could recommend for snorkeling… easy to enter, calmer surf… or should we just assume that watching the younger set surf and frolic is enough fun in mid-winter for two aging escapees from cold and snow?!

    • Julie Ziemelis says:

      Aloha Kathy!
      If the surf is up, the snorkeling is not going to be that good anyway, since the water is all churned up. And guess what? There is a lot of heavy surf in the winter. I love Honaunau Bay for snorkeling, but you have to be REALLY comfy in the water and getting in on that step can be a bit of a challenge…I NEVER hesitate to yell at someone on the step. “Excuse me. Can you please give me a hand up?” 9 times out of ten a strong guy is able to put his hand right down and help me up and I have used this tactic on getting others out of the water, too! The area around the rocks at Beach 69 has some fish and check out Mauna Lani Beach. If the water is calm, Magic Sands is great..if not, its treacherous!
      Thanks for following the blog and appreciate the comments!