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Teaching Others How To Stay Alive

Sam Pa'e Jr. is an avid surfer, swimmer, diver, paddler and rescue instructor. Photo courtesy Sam Pa'e Jr.

Sam Pa’e Jr. is an avid surfer, swimmer, diver, paddler and rescue instructor. Photo courtesy Sam Pa’e Jr.

When it comes to the ocean, you name it and Sam Pa’e Jr. has done it – and he’s done it well. Pa’e is a consummate professional and one of Hawaii’s respected watermen. The Waianae native is an avid surfer, swimmer, diver, canoe and stand-up paddler, and a rescue instructor.

“Swim, dive, surf – anything in the ocean, I’m in,” chuckles Pa’e. “But my biggest accomplishment is sharing knowledge and teaching people how to save lives.”

His passion for lifesaving happened by chance following an incident in the late 1990s at a surf break on Oahu’s Leeward coast.

“I was pushing myself to the limit, venturing out in monster surf,” recalls Pa’e. “What I didn’t know was I was putting others at risk while I was trying to do something for myself. I knew what to do if things went wrong and assumed others around me did too, but I wasn’t seeing the full picture. Luckily, we survived that day.”

A similar incident happened several years later when, again, everyone in the ocean wasn’t fully prepared for the unexpected. That’s when Pa’e reached out to friends for help.

“I hooked up with the lifeguards down the Westside, and they took me under their wings and helped me look at the big picture,” says Pa’e. “It’s not look at the conditions, jump in and go! You have to be able to see the bad things before they happen.”

The big picture was now clear. In 2002, soon after being certified as a lifeguard, Pa’e had the opportunity to make a difference while watching surfers off Maili Point.

“The surf was huge, and I saw a guy’s board hit him in the leg and I knew his leg was broken,” says 47-year-old Pa’e. “I paddled out and told him I’m a lifeguard, just follow me and I’ll take you to a safe area. When we finally got in, I carried him up the beach, where he received medical attention.”

It changed his life. “I already had two strikes against me, but that incident opened my eyes because I was able to save a life,” he says with pride.

Since then, Pa’e has earned instructor-level certifications for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, National Association of Boating Laws Administrators (NASBLA) and National Safe Boating Council. He has numerous certificates that include boating safety, first aid, CPR, AED and lifeguarding.

He’s also head instructor for several programs with Hawaii Ocean Education Academy, including Safe Boating in Hawaiian Waters at Windward Community College (WCC). The course provides boaters with the educational requirements for operating a vessel in Hawaii waters. Effective November 2014, all recreational operators must have successfully completed this NASBLA-certified course in order to operate in state waters.

“Most boaters know about it, but how many of them are taking it seriously? I would guess 10 percent,” says Pa’e. “Hawaii Ocean Education Academy offers the course at WCC so operators can comply.”

Pa’e also teaches a recreational thrill craft operator safety education course at WCC. Since January 2005, all personal watercraft operators in Hawaii must complete this certification class.

“Anybody who operates a Jet Ski in Hawaii is mandated to take this safety course, but not everybody does,” says Pa’e. “It’s like driving a car without a license. You’re breaking the law and you could receive a citation, punishable by a maximum of $1,000 and a year in jail.”

The alternative could be far worse.

“This course makes you look at what could happen,” says Pa’e. “We call it PC-SELF: knowing your physical, cultural, social, environmental, legal and financial risks. You could get hurt or even die. I can’t teach anyone how to tow-in surf, but I can teach them how to stay alive.”

For more information, go to windwardcce.org/hawaii-ocean-education-academy.