HONOLULU (KHON2) — Advisory and warning level surf is expected to hit most of Oahu’s north and west-facing shores for the next seven to 10 days. Just like other industries and businesses, Honolulu Ocean Safety is not immune to the recent omicron surge. 

As of Friday, Jan. 7, Honolulu Ocean Safety was down nine guards, which was a significant drop from the 21 who were out the first week of January due to COVID-19 or by being a close contact of someone who tested positive. 

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“Just like every employer, we do have a number of workers who are out right now because of COVID. We carefully monitor that,” explained Honolulu Ocean Safety Chief John Titchen. “We have some people who come back in and leave, either for isolation or quarantine, or any other reason associated with COVID.” 

He said they are monitoring the upcoming swells that are expected to bring 20-to-25-foot surf to north and west-facing shores during the second week of January.

“We don’t anticipate shortages right now for the north shore and the leeward coast, and what we will do is if we end up needing to move personnel around or resources around, we will ensure we have mobile units covering these areas,” Titchen continued. 

Sometimes when the surf is large, he said fewer people tend to put themselves in life-threatening situations and stay back from the water.  

“So, the better plan will be to ensure we have mobile units to keep people out of the surf if it truly is that big, if it is that warning level for the north shore and leeward coast,” Titchen said.  

Lt. Kyle Foyle who covers Oahu’s North Shore said ocean safety is doing its best with the omicron surge and staffing shortages

“That’s why we’re stressing for people to go to lifeguarded beaches because our mobile units are stressed with low staff. So, if you’re going to beaches that are unguarded and you get into trouble it might take us a second to get there.

North Shore Lt. Kyle Foyle

“The best tip is to go to beaches like Pipeline, Sunset and Waimea where we have guarded towers that are staffed,” Foyle continued. 

Lifeguard towers typically open at 9 a.m. and close around 5:30 p.m., and mobile units patrol as early as 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. or until the sun sets. Lifeguards are reminding people that if they see a tower closed, they should call 911. 

Titchen said north and west shores will be a priority during high surf events in terms of tower staffing, and he hopes no towers will be closed during the week. 

“We will provide that information on HNL.info as soon as we have it to let the beach-going public know a tower may not be staffed for that particular day,” Titchen said.

All shores are expected to be busy on the weekend, and Titchen noted that they are looking at staffing and will always have mobile coverage. Lifeguards are also encouraging new surfers who might be testing their limits in 2022 to ask lifeguards questions before going out.  

“We love questions; it’s better for you to ask questions and we can answer them, then for us to be answering those questions outside the lineup at Sunset when it’s 12-feet,” Titchen added. “So, it’s better to do it on dry sand; so please come to the lifeguard tower and if you have any doubt, don’t go out.” 

Maui and Hawaii island said they are down one lifeguard each due to the coronavirus. 

The approaching swell will hit Kauai first and they will see 15-to-24-foot faces as early as Friday evening. Kauai Ocean Safety has also been impacted by omicron and had as many as five lifeguards out during the same period two weeks ago.

“That was to maintain with the state’s recommendation of taking the now five days off,” explained Deputy Fire Chief Mike Gibson of the Kauai Fire Department. “Most of these occurred at the same time as the heavy rains and the brown water, so we did close one lifeguard stand on North Shore, but there were no crowds. We really were fortunate of the timing, but currently, we have everything open. We do not anticipate any shortages, especially during this next couple of weeks.” 

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Gibson reminded the public that Polihale is unguarded, and although Ke’e is a guarded beach, Hanakāpī‘ai is not as it has extremely hazardous surf.