Though they’re beautiful regardless, Hawaiian beaches have a few hazards that the wise visitor would do well to take note of. Every year, someone dies due to an unwise choice.
Ripcurrents are the most common danger in Hawaii. The problem: most people assume that when the water looks calm, it’s safe. This assumption is wrong, and it can get you killed. Pay close attention to the signs on the beach, and if you’re not certain, ask a lifeguard. If there’s not a lifeguard on duty, you’re probably wiser to pass up this beach in favor of the next one down the road.
Winter waves are just as dangerous as ripcurrents, although they’re a lot more obvious. Especially along Oahu’s North Shore, winter waves can reach 50 feet in height, and come down on the beach with immense force. If you’re watching the pro surfer action on these monster waves, stand well back and use binoculars. Just one of these powerful waves can knock you down and drag you out to sea.
Posted hazardous areas are a more unpredictable danger. When Hawaiians put up a sign notifying you that an area is dangerous, they mean it. For instance, you can hike down and get fairly close to the Halona Blowhole, but people have been killed by standing too close to it; the force of the water can knock you out and dump you into the water below, a turbulent mess that leaves little chance for rescue. Never, ever second guess a lifeguard or a hazard sign.
Jellyfish are swept into shore during specific times of the year, mostly onto the southeast-facing beaches. Some are relatively harmless, but Portuguese man-o-war and poisonous box jellyfish are often swept up onto the beaches and in the water, where they are nearly invisible. In the early part of the year, do a jellyfish check before swimming even if there is no news about them; if a beach is posted for jellyfish, just go on. It’s better to visit after April if you don’t want to catch jellyfish season.
No-lifeguard beaches are common in Hawaii, mostly because there are so many beaches. Lifeguards are mostly stationed at urban beaches like Waikiki, at major public parks, and in places with fragile ecosystems. Unless you’re a strong and confident swimmer and you’re going out with friends, you’re better off looking for beaches with lifeguards.
Human predators, unfortunately, are the most common non-ocean danger. Hawaii is a tropical paradise, but people are human. Because it’s easy to congregate and camp on the beach, you’ll find a large number of homeless and drug addicts in some beach spots. Never walk along a lonely beach by yourself, and don’t take moonlit walks on the beach unless you know you’re in earshot of other human beings.
You’ll find human predators in other areas; areas like Ka’ena Point are known for occasional disappearances. Before hiking on isolated trails, check with rangers and other authorities to make sure you’re going into safe locations, and never hike alone, or at night unless you have a local guide.