Public input sought: Hearing set for proposed Kahalu‘u surf school regulations

  • Visitors learn to surf at Kahaluu Bay. A public hearing will be held next week on proposed amendments on surfing school regulations at North Kona site. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file photo)

  • CHELSEA JENSEN/West Hawaii Today

    Students and instructors prepare to surf at Kahalu‘u Bay in July. The number of surf schools allowed to operate at a time would be capped at four and students in the water at Kahalu‘u Bay would be spread throughout the day under draft rules proposed by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

By West Hawaii Today Staff

A public hearing will be held next week on proposed amendments on surfing school regulations at Kahalu‘u Bay.

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The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation will hold the hearing via Zoom at 10 a.m. on Sept. 8 on the proposed amendments of Hawaii Administrative Rules.

All interested persons are invited to provide testimony on the proposal, either verbally or in writing. Those looking to provide oral testimony must connect to the Zoom webinar by web or phone within 30 minutes of the start of hearing.

Written testimony can be sent by email to dlnr.harreview@hawaii.gov or postal mail to 74-380 Kealakehe Parkway, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740 Attn: HAR Review. Comments must be emailed or postmarked by Sept. 15.

Under the proposed rules, the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation would be authorized to issue up to eight permits for commercial surf school instruction, an increase from the current four permitted by rules established in 2016.

Though there would be more companies permitted to operate in the bay overall, the rules would create two instruction periods for the bay, spreading out the impact. Four commercial surf schools would be permitted to operate from 8 a.m. to noon and the other four from 1-5 p.m.

The draft rules would also change the number of students allowed in the water. Currently, each instructor can have four students, or up to eight students per surf school permit, in the water at any given time for a total of 32. Under the draft rules, the number of students would be tied to the permit, not instructor, thus being limited to four in the water at any time per permit for a total of 16.

The permits would be issued via lottery.

The DLNR, Hawaii County and other stakeholders have been discussing since at least 2015 the issue of regulating commercial surf instruction at Kahalu‘u Bay, though the issue comes up in West Hawaii Today archives as early as 2004-05.

Initially, Hawaii County was to take the lead in limiting access to Kahalu‘u Bay ocean waters and enforcing those limitations, however, after learning it was not the permitting authority no permits were issued.

The state took the lead on permitting commercial surf schools at Kahalu‘u Bay in 2019 after an agreement was reached after state and county officials met in June 2019 at the request of the state Legislature.

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Following public hearings, the rule may be revised, if necessary, and then submitted back to the board for final approval. Upon approval from the board, the Attorney General will review the rules again before transmitting it to the governor for his signature and filing with the lieutenant governor. At that point, the rules have the effect of law.

The permits would be issued via lottery, Meghan Statts, DOBOR assistant administrator, told the board Friday, noting the division was unsuccessful in getting legislative approval this past session to award the permits via auction.

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