Surf school regulations move forward

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today

    Visitors learn to surf at Kahaluu beach in Kailua-Kona.

KAILUA-KONA — The Kohala Center is moving forward again with plans to limit surf school operations at Kahaluu Bay in Kailua-Kona, but business owners say they still aren’t satisfied with what the nonprofit has planned for the popular surf spot, taking issues with fundamental components of the proposed management program.

Meanwhile, Cindi Punihaole, director of the Kahaluu Bay Education Center, a project of The Kohala Center, said the organization isn’t planning additional meetings before the new bid submission deadline of 2 p.m. March 27.


The Kohala Center was selected to manage a program that would limit surf school operations at the bay to just four businesses, which will be selected through a competitive bidding process. The new deadline comes after an earlier Feb. 20 deadline was postponed following strong pushback to the original proposal.

And while an addendum released Monday addresses some of the concerns, it doesn’t change the fundamental problems some had with the proposal — specifically limiting use of the bay and charging surf schools a minimum $3,000 a month to do business there.

“A lot of us still cannot afford that,” said Wesley Moore, owner of Kona Town Surf Adventures.

Moore said he understands the need for some sort of regulation at Kahaluu, but has strong reservations about how the program and fee would impact small businesses such as his own.

Punihaole said they’re looking at the program as a pilot project with a six-month time line. In her view, the important thing is to get a program off the ground and make adjustments as it goes.

Capt. Rick Green, owner of Hawaii Lifeguard Surf Instructors, said any proposal that restricts businesses from using the water is a nonstarter. Green said his big concern is making sure businesses operating at the bay are properly licensed and certified, something he said has never been enforced.

Under its agreement with the county, The Kohala Center is required to create and manage an advisory board, which Punihaole said would oversee the program and make adjustments, rather than waiting until the six months are up.

Throughout the course of a year and assuming each of the four permitted surf schools is paying the minimum $3,000 a month, the monthly fees would generate $144,000 for the program.

The fees would pay for one full-time and one part-time education ranger as well as a supervisor, the minimum needed to have someone at the beach throughout the week.

But Moore said any plan that forces surf schools to put up $3,000 a month is “taking a good chunk of change out of local businesses.”

“You’re asking small, local businesses to pay $3,000 a month, when there’s months we don’t even make that,” Moore said.

Green agreed.

“They want a portion of my business and I receive nothing in return,” he said.

While the program itself will change and evolve, Punihaole said she wants the surf schools to be confident they will get what they pay for. And if she finds a better way to accomplish the program’s goals or a way to do it with less manpower, she’ll pursue it.

Green doesn’t plan to take part in the bid, saying he plans to present a petition with more than 1,500 signatures to the mayor and local officials.


That petition urges the county to cancel the program.

Email Cameron Miculka at