New bill would allow tow-in surfing in Hawaii’s smaller waves

Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story!

A bill that would amend state law to allow personal watercraft to tow surfers into waves below high-surf warning levels, as determined by the National Weather Service, has been introduced in the state

SB 3228 proposes to amend Section 200-37, Hawaii Revised Statutes, to read that, subject to state Department of Land and Natural Resources rules,
“a person may operate a thrill craft, while engaged in training for tow-in surfing, during periods that
are below high surf warning levels,” which NWS determines by the full face of a wave, from trough to crest.

The bill’s stated rationale is that the current law’s high-surf limitation prohibits tow-in surfing participants from training and gaining competence in periods of safer, smaller surf.

“I think it’s a good idea, because somebody needs to go out there and practice when it’s not that big, ” said Betty Depolito, veteran North Shore surf instructor and event organizer whose Red Bull Magnitude women’s Hawaii big-wave competition is currently underway in a virtual format. She canceled the in-person Red Bull Women of the Bay at Oahu’s Waimea Bay for the second year due to the pandemic.

“When I did (in-­person) big-wave contests for the girls, I had them go through how to breathe, Jet Ski training” and other special skills needed for the life-threatening sport,
Depolito said Thursday in a phone interview.

“And they’re doing it anyway. There’s Jet Skis all over the place, even when it’s 10-15 feet,” she added.

NWS high-surf warnings are issued when wave faces are predicted to reach 25 feet on all north-
facing shores, 12 feet on Big Island west-facing shores, 20 feet on the remaining islands’ west-­facing shores and 15 feet for south- and east-facing shores.

“This is aimed for folks, Jet Ski operators and surfers, who want to tow-in in contests,” state Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran (D, Wailuku-­Waihee-Kahului), the legislation’s sponsor, said Thursday by phone.

“Somebody in the community brought up the issue of how do people train if they’re only allowed to do it when it’s actually high surf and dangerous for someone new,” said Keith-Agaran, noting he grew up in Paia, the site of famed big-surf break of Peahi, or Jaws, where Laird Hamilton, David Kalama, Darrick Doerner, Buzzy Kerbox and others launched tow-in surfing in the 1990s in towering waves then considered too big, fast and steep to paddle into. Nowadays, big-wave riders can be seen both paddling on their own or and being towed in at Jaws.

“Obviously, you don’t want novices entering
waters to do tow-in surfing without having the opportunity to try it in less
severe conditions,” Keith-
Agaran said. He said he was introducing the bill “so we can at least get the discussion started.”

Drawing a parallel to other activities, such as snorkeling tours in protected areas like Molokini Crater, “a lot of times, these new water sports and tours happen before anyone gets around to looking at how we should be regulating and managing them,” he said, “and regulations
follow the use.”

On Friday, SB 3228 was referred to the Senate
Water and Land and Judiciary committees.

Go to Source