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Student lifeguard shares tips on how to be safe in the ocean and beaches of Hawaii

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As winter waves begin to come in at full force across the beaches of the North Shore, local students and lifeguards remind students to be smart in the water, to learn basic ocean safety before going out to the local beaches and to have smart fun.

According to, Hawaii’s ocean and beach conditions are unique and unlike most places in the world. Those planning to get into the ocean should have basic knowledge about the water and ocean safety.

Elizabeth Merrill, a senior from California majoring in marine biology and lifeguard student supervisor of the BYU–Hawaii Pool, said, “Be safe and be smart, but also don’t be afraid to have fun. Things happen, but as long as you are smart and you have friends who are able to help you, you can be completely safe and still have a good time in the water.”

Ocean safety tips

Merrill offered tips for new and old students alike who plan to be getting into the ocean throughout the coming months, “Never swim alone. It’s the quickest way to get into trouble and nobody will know if you need help.

“Before you get into the water, wait and watch the sets of waves. A lot of the time, the water can look really calm, but then you jump in and some big sets of waves can come in. This can be dangerous because you can get hit by some big waves or pushed onto some rocks or reef.

“Sit back and watch the ocean for about 10 to 15 minutes before hopping in to see if there’s anything going on.”

Ethan Landgraf, a sophomore majoring in human resources from Nu’uanu, Hawaii, said growing up here he has spent a decent amount of time at different beaches around the island. “We grow up here being made known of the dangers of the ocean on the island. The one thing they teach all little children is to never face your back to the ocean. We’re always told to face the ocean if we are close to the water because you never know when a wave could come out.”

Landgraf encouraged students to be careful with shore break. “The shore break is a wave that breaks in really shallow water and you can easily get slammed onto the shore. A lot of times, people try to surf or do something in the shore break, and they can get smashed into the sand with a lot of force and injure themselves. Be really careful in a shore break.”

Merrill also explained how rip currents are probably the biggest dangers of the waters. “[Rip currents] are not bad as long as you don’t panic. It’s hard because you’re being pulled away from the shore and your instinct is to swim to the shore. You get scared because you can’t. If you can stay calm, they are fairly easy to get out of. You need to swim perpendicular to the shore to get out of a rip current.”

Merrill said beachgoers can look at the signage. “If there are signs warning of a rip current, be mindful of that. Speak to lifeguards if they are at the beach about the state of the water. Also, if the locals aren’t swimming there, that can also tip you off that maybe it’s not a really good place to swim.

Other things to be mindful of when using the beach

Another danger students should look out for is jellyfish, Merrill said. “They can be bad; they are painful but being stung by one is not life-threatening. They will usually come out after the full moon, so be mindful.”

Nick Byam, a sophomore majoring in business from Arizona, recalled being stung by jellyfish at a local beach. “[Jellyfish] can sting pretty bad and leave some marks on your body. Don’t panic, they won’t kill you, but you can avoid them. Try to watch out for the blue tentacles in the water or on the shoreline and get away from them if you see them.”

Landgraf said those who are interested in surfing or other watersports should check surf reports before they go and to avoid anything above four feet if new to the water.

“Also, be respectful [to] the ecosystem. Some people want to go out and fish, but when they go take way more fish than they need it actually hurts the ecosystem,” Landgraf said.

According to Merrill, the school offers a beginning swim class and also an intermediate swim class which helps people to get more comfortable being in the water and also to specialize their skills.

“We also have a lifeguarding course where people can get lifeguard and CPR certified in that class. It teaches people how to save people in the pool versus the ocean. It’s a class more for someone who does know how to swim.”

The Honolulu City and County website for Ocean Safety & Lifeguard Services provides information about the beaches of Oahu and lists a number of resources and services regarding ocean safety available to the public. Their website can be found here: