Keep Sandy Beach ‘Sandy Beach’

Every year there are dozens of bills and resolutions introduced by Hawaii lawmakers that stir emotion and ignite conversation. Some of them strike at the core of our beings, while others simply make us go, “Hmmm.”

A resolution that was introduced by Honolulu City Councilmen Ernie Martin and Stanley Chang drew sharp criticism from bodysurfers to political pundits. It proposed renaming popular Sandy Beach on Oahu’s East Shore “President Barack Obama Sandy Beach Park.”


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Then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., body surfs at Sandy Beach Aug. 14, 2008. Sen. Obama was in Hawaii on vacation. AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

“In 2012, President Barack Obama did an interview where he was asked what he would do if he had one day, no bodyguards and he wouldn’t be recognized, and he immediately described driving down the highway and catching waves at Sandy Beach and seeing a turtle in the water,” says Chang. “It really shows his love and aloha for bodysurfing at Sandy’s.”

The world-famous and bone-crunching shorebreak gained national headlines in August 2008 when video and photographs of the then-presidential candidate bodysurfing there went viral. A city lifeguard watching the beach that day shared the memorable moment with MidWeek.

“He introduced himself to me along with four Secret Service agents, and then we all jumped into the ocean,” recalls Peter Erwin. “At first, we were just talking story, and then all of a sudden he caught a wave. He did great, had great technique and it was exciting. I told him I can honestly say I see guys come down here every day and they don’t have that kind of style. I don’t think it will ever happen again.”

While Chang and Martin initially thought renaming the beach would be meaningful to the president, many in the community thought otherwise and expressed their displeasure. The two lawmakers eventually decided not to move forward with the resolution. Was it a good idea?

The short answer is no and here’s why.

First and foremost is public safety. Sandy Beach is already one of the most dangerous beaches on this planet, with dozens of broken necks and backs to support its nasty reputation.

Chang says one of the goals of the measure is to “generate additional interest in the park” with hope to have it as an “additional showcase for residents and visitors from all over the world.”

Is that what we really want? And were we setting ourselves up for potential personal injury lawsuits?

During the powerful south swell last month, ocean-safety personnel made 13 rescues in one day at Sandy Beach, along with hundreds of preventative actions. Do we really need more inexperienced people in the ocean here, especially the curious?

Secondly, aren’t there others more deserving of such an honor?

Think of the incredible watermen and women who have called Sandy Beach their home break over the years, or more importantly, the men and women who have saved lives here. What about them?

The council has apparently set aside about $500,000 in the city’s budget to make improvements at Sandy Beach, which includes replacing the road and parking lots, and a little bit extra for a plaque commemorating President Obama’s love for bodysurfing there.

That’s fine, but to rename the beach and say it’s a fitting and non-political tribute to the president doesn’t seem right. It’s just not pono. Some old-timers still call Sandy Beach Park by its Hawaiian name, Awawamalu or Wawamalu.

That would be more appropriate.

If this was such a good idea, why haven’t we renamed Waimea Bay Eddie Aikau

Waimea Beach Park? After all, Eddie never lost a soul while manning the tower at Waimea Bay and saved hundreds of lives there. Or for that matter, Makaha Beach, Buffalo Keaulana Makaka Beach or Rell Sunn Makaha Beach — two people who’ve meant so much to the Leeward Oahu community and have contributed greatly to Hawaii’s rich sports history.

It hasn’t been done because it’s not a good idea. But the people have spoken and, for now, Sandy Beach Park will remain Sandy Beach Park — as it should be.