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map Pokai BayPaddling in Lightning & Rain
By Kevin K.L. Ching, Lead Paddler with Joseph Hu, Sweep

Pokai Bay to Yokohama, Oahu, Hawaii
Kayak Club: Hui Wa'a Kaukahi

Map: Pokai Bay to Keawa'ula (Yokohama) Bay, Oahu, Hawaii: Leeward Shore

KEVIN, LEAD PADDLER: In short, don't do it. Paddling in lightning can cut your paddling career, as well as other careers, short. But sometimes you start off on a nice day, as was the day of the Pokai to Yokohama Paddle, and just when you're into it, Boom! Crack! Flash! Mother Nature decides its time to put on a show. What are you going to do now?

It was a paddle that I had asked for back in July, and through the infinite generosity of the "Hui," (Hui Wa'a Kaukahi - Oahu Kayak Club) the trip was scheduled. When we talked about it, I admit I was somewhat concerned about an early North Shore swell, but as it turned out, when the day arrived, a South Swell was kicking up; a decent south swell that was bringing in 6 to 8 foot waves at Kaiser's Beach.

As I was driving in to the leeward side of the island to the launch site, some white caps were visible at Barber's Point, not a good sign for the paddle. By contrast, however, Pokai looked relatively flat. After putting my boat down on the beach, club members Bill, Bob, Doug, and Don joined me to car pool at Yokohama.

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After parking, we went down to the beach to evaluate the "take out" spot. To the right was a 2 to 3 ft break, to the left a 1 ft shore break, and in-between a turbulent, but very landable take out. "This is a great spot to land" declared Don, and with that we sped back to Pokai.

Before long, the last members of the club assembled and we all put in, paddling hard down the coast to our ultimate destination. Norm had taken the lead and was pulling away from the pack. Sandy, Doug and Bill were right behind Don and Carole in their double kayak. Maghna, our club president and Joe and Dorothy, paddling a Malibu Two, were in the sweep position.

I was bearing down on Norm at Lahi Lahi point, where the waves were breaking at 6 to 8 feet. To avoid the waves I turned makai (seaward) and paddled away from the surfers. Norm on the other hand didn't change course and paddled straight towards the surfers and the impact zone. Soon another roller came barreling in and Norm was right in its path. Suddenly, his scupper disappeared behind a mass of rolling white water.

It looked like "lights out" for Norm, when in the distance, he reappeared. He apparently increased his cadence and paddled out of range with pure impulse power. Now I had a lot of water to cover if I wanted to catch up with him so I increased my cadence as well. Norm stopped and saw me coming, waiting until I caught up. "What took you so long!" He asked.

Paddling on past Makaha, Norm asked if the take out site was the beach under the dome on the top of the ridge. I didn't think so, since it looked pretty far away. Actually, we realized later, it turned out to be a good landmark for the take out spot at Yokohama. When we approached Makua, Norm insisted that that was Yokohama Bay, and was very disappointed to learn that we were actually another mile down the coast.

It was at that point that two life guards riding a Jet Ski approached us. "Are you guys OK?" they asked us. We said we were on a paddle and thanked them for checking up on us. As we approached the takeout spot, the breakers had come up some. The 2-3 foot waves breaking to our right were now breaking at 6 feet, and the shore break on the left was now occasionally 3 ft instead of the 1ft at launch.

Norm looked somewhat tentative at the landing, but I insisted that the middle break was safe. We both landed simultaneously, pulling our kayaks up the characteristically steep sand. In the shore break were a couple of "lolo's" launching in an inflatable kayak, rolling back and forth with the waves, in spite of being warned by the lifeguards.

Now high on the sand bank, we saw Bill approaching, and right behind him was Doug. By the time Doug landed, the rain was starting to fall. Makua was now disappearing behind a squall. Doug handed me the radio and said that Joe and Maghna were calling.

JOE, SWEEP PADDLER:  It was as if all at once, the sky opened up. Huge drops of rain began to fall on us creating large rings on the water around our boats. As the land before us was beginning to disappear, I took a quick compass reading of the shore-line or the beginning of Makua Beach.

I switched my VHF radio to the weather channel and heard there was a flash flood occurring in Central Oahu. I then radioed Kevin and informed him that we were turning into Makua.

Ocean swells the size of football fields passed under us and, as we came in sight of Makua Valley about a half mile off shore, dark thunder and rain clouds edged down the mountain towards us. The land and shore then completely disappeared from view, replaced by an eerie whiteout.

KEVIN, LEAD PADDLER: Soon thunder was clapping and flashing could be seen in the squall. Bob was landing down the beach, and Maghna was also radioing that she was landing at Makua. A few minutes later those that made it to Yokohama were all loaded up and heading down to pick up Maghna, Joe and Dorothy.

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JOE, SWEEP PADDLER: Putting on our life vest and continuing to paddle, we expected to reach the shore shortly since we turned directly towards shore when the rain hit. We could only see within few feet on all sides of the kayak as the rain kept pouring down.

After paddling for awhile, I estimated that we should have been ashore by now but the shore did not appear. We started listening for crashing waves as there was only white around us. The ocean was still calm.

Deck compas at Tom's ShopThe rain continued to pelt the water and our kayak. I checked my compass again and realized that somehow our kayak had turned almost 90 degrees from our original heading towards shore. We were paddling parallel to shore and not towards it. If we continued on this course we would have paddled past Kaena Point and on to the island of Kauai!.

Quickly turning towards our original heading, we began to paddle toward shore in earnest. Finally the mountaintops began to appear through the clouds and eventually a faint band of sand appeared before us.

We then caught Maghna on the radio. She had already landed and wondered where we were. We reported in and followed the beach to her landing spot. A call to Kevin gave assurances that now all of the kayakers had landed safely.

Lessons Learned....

sunKEVIN, LEAD PADDLER: As an after thought, the Hui did just the right thing. In a lightning storm, it's not a good idea to continue paddling on the water, you shouldn't be the highest object on any surface, and especially the ocean.

When Maghna and Joe saw the lightning storm approaching, instead of paddling on, they chose the nearest calm landing, which was Makua. Meanwhile, on the beach, the paddlers that already landed, headed for the cars which turns out is an excellent place to be when lightning is all around.

If your car isn't nearby, try crouching near some small brush, avoiding tall trees or structures. Finally, it was a blessing that we had our radios so that we knew that the sweep paddlers were OK.



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