HONOLULU (KHON2) — Some visitors are thankful to be alive after a wave nearly washed them out to sea on Kauai’s North Shore this week.
Despite numerous high surf warning signs by lifeguards at Ke’e Beach, dozens of people hiked to Hanakāpī‘ai beach on Monday.
Kauai and Oahu’s north and west facing shores were under a high surf warning at the time.
Michael Shapiro and his wife Jacqueline tell KHON2 that they were excited to hike the Kalalau trail to Hanakāpī‘ai Falls on Monday.
Once they reached Hanakāpī‘ai beach, they decided to stop and enjoy their lunch. Shapiro said they were about 40 feet from the high water mark when he noticed a large wave break out at sea.
“There was this family on the beach, like eight people, taking a family snapshot and I just said to my wife half-kidding, ‘Last family portrait,’ or something like that,” he said.
“It wasn’t even a high wave,” he said. “It looked like a muscular wave, like a really strong wave and it just looked thick and I turned to my wife and friend and said, ‘Get ready to run.’
He said he didn’t think they were in any danger since they were higher up than others on the beach.
“I thought our feet were going to get wet and we should pick up our backpacks and just move to higher ground, but it just kept coming and coming,” Shapiro said.
The rogue wave pushed many people onto the rocks and they were left bloodied and bruised.
Shapiro and his wife were fully submerged underwater.
“The strength of this was just unbelievable. It was like being shot out of a cannon underwater and we were just like ‘Bam!’ and as fast as it happened it started to recede,” he said.
Shapiro’s ear was cut and his wife’s knees were swollen. Their friend had a contusion by her eye and the female next to them broke her ankle.
Kauai Fire Department said at approximately 2 p.m., Rescue 3 personnel and Air 1 were dispatched to Hanakāpī‘ai Beach for a report of individuals who sustained injuries from a large wave. A 19-year-old female was airlifted off the beach with leg injuries then a 27-year-old female was airlifted to another hospital with multiple abrasions.
Shapiro made the long walk back to the trailhead at Ke’e beach.
“After hiking out I got emotional thinking we’re very lucky, it would have been possible in that situation that people didn’t survive, or if the wave had been slightly bigger it could have carried people out to sea.”
He said he saw the warning signs at Ke’e beach that read High Surf, Danger, Don’t Swim, and Not to go on the beach.
“The irony was that we thought we were being really cautious. I mean, we were watching the waves, nothing was coming 30 feet from us and we intentionally didn’t go down to the beach and we just thought we were being responsible and apparently waves come up there much higher than we realized,” Shapiro said.
“I have tremendous respect for the power of water and it just never occurred to me, I’ve done some stupid stuff in my life and take chances on adventures, but I didn’t think we were taking any chance in this situation so it was just a wakeup call for sure.”
A visitor from China drowned at Hanakāpī‘ai beach on Dec. 22.
Firefighters and ocean safety recommend not swimming or walking on any wet sand or rocks at any beach during a high surf warning.