Homes, Lives Torn Apart By The Sea

Merriam-Webster defines “erosion” as the gradual destruction of something by natural forces such as water, wind or ice. Hawaii residents are all too familiar with the force of water, particularly the Pacific Ocean, and at times the destruction isn’t so gradual.

From Kailua Beach to world-famous Waikiki Beach, erosion has cost the city and state millions of dollars in restoration and replenishing projects.


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Remnants of a deck are pounded by waves | Brianne Randle photo

But restoration isn’t always an option. Sometimes, all one can do is hope and pray that Mother Nature will change her course. It’s what more than a dozen North Shore families have been doing for the past several weeks.

The massive surf that pounds Oahu’s North Shore each winter has been a source of problems for homeowners for decades. But recently, a series of northwest swells, some as high as 30 feet, have been relentless, slamming the coastline with destructive force, ripping away backyards and decks and tossing around concrete floors and wood beams like rag dolls.

Ryce Reeves and his ohana have lived near Sunset Beach for more than 30 years. Last month, a portion of the family home’s deck and stairs buckled free in the raging surf.

“I’m way over the worry part because you can’t take it with you,” says Reeves. His response to the devastating erosion is admirable, knowing a part of his dream home is now gone.

It’s a sad scene that’s been repeated several times over the past few weeks. While some families have scrambled to protect their homes with hundreds of sand bags, others have reached out to friends with excavators, backhoes and bulldozers, hoping tons of lost sand can be pushed back into place before the next monster swell arrives.

Could some of this have been avoided?

Perhaps not. After all, there are always risks when you own a beachfront home. But homeowners believe they may have had a fighting chance at saving their properties and life investments had the state heard their earlier pleas for help and been more proactive in its assistance.

There has been renewed talk about building a seawall, which has been done on other stretches of Sunset Beach, or adding extra beams to the foundation of homes. But that’s all talk now, as the winter surf season continues to pound the shoreline.

Officials from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources have done several site checks and say homeowners can still contact them if they want to build something to protect their property. The DLNR says it is working with residents to authorize emergency measures to protect their properties, but it has not taken a position on building a seawall.

A permanent solution to the erosion woes may be too late. It’s a race against time, and time may not on their side.

It’s been absolutely heartbreaking to watch homes be torn from their foundations and sink into the ocean. Images of debris littering the shoreline and floating in the shore break have been haunting, to say the least. Longtime residents and veteran lifeguards say they never have seen anything like this before.

Merriam-Webster defines “resilience” as the ability to become strong, healthy or successful again after something bad happens. The ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretch, pressed, bent, etc.

While the power of the Pacific Ocean cannot be denied, neither can the fighting spirit and resilience of North Shore residents.

The winter surf season is far from over, and so is this battle between man and Mother Nature.