Kailua Beach Erosion ‘Worst Ever’

A sad scene at Kailua Beach. Ron Mizutani photo

The text from my paddling mate was brief, but it was an attention-grabber.

“Major erosion at Kailua Beach. Worst ever!”

Could it be that severe? I had my doubts, so I responded, “Worst ever? You say that every time the sand washes away!”

He fired back seconds later: “No believe me … come see for yourself!”

The invitation sounded more like a challenge. How could I resist? Within minutes I was out the door, heading to our ocean playground to see what all the fuss was about. I knew a potent swell was pounding Oahu’s eastern shoreline, but I didn’t realize how big the surf was until I made the turn at Kaelepulu Stream and saw a massive wall of white wash nearly a quarter mile out to sea. Could this be the reason?

I quickly jumped out of my truck and rushed to the beach. I couldn’t help but notice the sound of a chain-saw echoing through the park. It certainly wasn’t the roar I was expecting to hear.

City crews were busy cutting several ironwood trees that were dangerously leaning as beachgoers walked by. Severe erosion had taken a huge slice out of the shoreline, leaving tree roots exposed.

“Now you believe me?” I stared in disbelief. One of the trees had fallen into the ocean and was now sitting in the shore break.

“This is sad.”

When it comes to erosion at Kailua Beach, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I’ve never seen anything like this,” or “This is the worst ever.” But this time, it really was the worst ever, and truthfully, I had never seen anything like it. What was once one of the world’s most-beautiful beaches was literally gone.

The relentless surf also had caused a portion of the boat ramp to collapse. The city says it could take a few weeks to make repairs, but only after crews assess the damage and that wouldn’t happen until the swell backed off.

Old-timers say erosion has always been an issue at Kailua, but the beach would find a way to heal itself within months. For some reason, that stopped in the late 1990s. Cement blocks that were buried near the boat ramp nearly 30 years ago were suddenly exposed. University of Hawaii researchers said the shoreline at Kailua Beach was receding at a potentially dangerous rate.

Some people believe the erosion intensified when crews started clearing sand from the mouth of Kaelepulu Stream with a bulldozer. Sand that once washed back into the ocean with the help of Mother Nature was now being pushed to the side and the beach no longer could heal itself.

Others emphatically say this is the result of global warming.

Last March, city crews did their best to replenish the beach by spreading 1,500 cubic yards of sand from Kaelepulu Stream along the shoreline, rather than piling the sand into large dunes. Local residents and visitors appreciated the effort, and the beach stayed healthy for months.

That all changed when the powerful east swell recently arrived at our doorstep and stuck around for a few days, and tons of sand literally disappeared overnight.

Recovery may take months.

Is this the worst Kailua Beach has ever looked? I would say yes. But sadly, the way things have gone over the past few years, this may be a case where the worst is yet to come.