The conditions of beaches throughout Hawaii often vary by the day and even the hour. You could be enjoying a nice swim one afternoon only to find “No Swimming” signs posted up the next. On more than one occasion, I’ve witnessed waves on the North Shore jack up from a playful two feet to a barreling six feet in a couple of hours.
Here’s an example of how looks may be deceiving. A beautiful beach that can often have dangerous currents and waves.
Makapuu Beach, located on the east side of Oahu, falls into this category of unpredictable beaches. On calm days, its clear sandy waters light up the bay and entice swimmers and snorkelers to jump right in. But on red-flagged days, which prohibit swimming, Makapuu looks like a completely different place. Deep-sea waves roll across the bay and into a pounding shore break. Bodysurfers and body boarders only dream of these perfect kona wind swells that bring glassy, hollow rides. On less-than-perfect days, the bay can resemble a washing machine, with waves crossing up from the h3 winds.
Fortunately, lifeguards on duty make the call on whether it’s safe enough and are always a good resource for beach-goers not familiar with the beach. They’ll most likely tell you about the dangerous rip tides and the powerful shore break that could slam you into the sand and cause injuries. They may also direct you to friendlier beaches nearby in Waimanalo or Kailua and warn you about a similarly dangerous beach a couple miles east of Makapuu called Sandy Beach.
I know of many families that still go to Makapuu even when the surf is up. Instead of going in the water, they enjoy the two-mile stretch of beach for barbecuing, tanning or taking in the panoramic views. Outside of Makapuu Beach, you’ll see the lighthouse on the right-hand side and then two islands to your left. The one resembling a floppy-eared rabbit is called manana island, or rabbit island. As a kid, I imagined the rabbit swimming toward a carrot, which the smaller island closely resembles. It’s actually more than that and serves as a state seabird sanctuary called kaohikaipu islet.
MAKAPUU BEACH PARK • Waimanalo, Oahu • Lifeguard on duty daily 9am-5pm, otherwise people are advised to swim at their own risk • Free parking in lot; Near bus route