Surfers Sue Surf School

A crew of surfers has joined the fight to bar a surfing school from operating in the surf on the Big Island at Honoli'i, a small river-fed bay that has several nice waves. It is touted as Hilo's only real surf spot.

The local wave-riders contend that the little bay is already too crowded and could never safely accommodate a commercial surfing school. "The problem is, in Hilo we've got one surf spot, basically. You've got to protect your beach," said Adam Escobar, Waiakea High School teacher and surfer, in the January 28 Honolulu Advertiser.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources is considering a request by the surfers to adopt a new administrative rule banning commercial surf instruction from the Honoli’i bay.

Wilkie McClaren, who according to court documents operated the Big Island Girl Surf school there for nearly three years, agreed last November to stop the instruction at Honoli'i until the board makes a decision on the surfers' request.

Others have recommended waiting on the new rule for Honoli'i, arguing that the board should instead tackle the issue as part of a larger review of Hawaiian coastal recreation issues.

Richard Rice, administrator of the department's Boating and Ocean Recreation Division, told the Advertiser that the DLNR does not at this time intend to issue a permit for a commercial surf school at Honoli'i.

According to public records, the school needs an instructor's permit to legally operate in the bay and the school does not have one. Escobar said he believes that the state is "dragging its feet" in dealing with these issues.

Nolan Agliam, a county water safety officer who has worked at Honoli'i for the last three years, told the Advertiser that the population of surfers has soared since 2000 because of the growing number of University of Hawaii at Hilo students and cruise ship passengers who want to learn to surf.

The surfing area at Honoli'i is about 250 yards wide with a shelfing lefthander off the reef that empties into the river/channel and several cobbled beachbreak-type peaks on the right of the river. The very inside bowl off these peaks is where the school did business. Agliam said 90 people on various types of boards are now routinely packed into the bay on a good day.

Escobar and the other surfers are represented by prominent Hilo lawyers Stanley Roehrig, Thomas Yeh and Michael Moore, all surfers and Honoli'i locals. The lawyers are handling the case for free.

The legal team sought a temporary restraining order barring the DLNR from issuing surf instructor permits for Honoli'i, but that request was denied by Hilo Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura in December 2004.

Nakamura declared he wanted to give the state an opportunity to deal with the issues.

The battle is on; stay tuned for details from the Big Island.