How to stay safe in the oceans of Hawaii

Beach on the South east side of Oahu near Halona blow hole

I grew up in the water. I've been beach camping during the summer with my dad for as long as I remember, I swam competitively throughout most of elementary and middle school, I paddled canoe all through high school, and quite honestly I can't recall ever not knowing how to swim. I'm extremely comfortable in the ocean and feel very much at ease in open water, but that doesn't mean that I ever let my guard down. The ocean is powerful and commands respect. Even if you're in shallow, protected waters there are some things you should be aware of. 

  • Never turn your back on the water - Rule number one, guys. Especially if you're standing in shallow water, if you're facing the shore with your back turned to the ocean, that's the easiest way to get knocked down and dragged out. 
  • Watch out for jellyfish nine days after a full moon - So this one totally sounds like an old wives' tale, but I swear it's true. About nine days after a full moon, the southern shores of 'Oahu, at least, become suddenly populated with box jellyfish (the kind whose stings hurt). And because a lot of tourists aren't aware of this, they get stung. For instance, today happened to be a box jelly day, and there were reports of over sixty people treated for stings. 
  • If you're caught in a rip current, don't swim against it - Rip currents are portions of water that moves faster, stronger, and in different directions from the surrounding waters, and if you get caught in one, you can get dragged with it. First instinct would be to swim against it to try to get out of it, but if it's strong enough you could just end up wearing yourself out doing yourself a lot of harm. If you're a strong enough swimmer, try to swim parallel to the shore or at a slight angle to the current. If you're not, call for help as loud as you can and just float with it. Rip currents won't pull you under, so you'll be safer just riding with it than panicking and tiring yourself out. 
  • Have a buddy - So, funny story - One time when I was about fourteen, my dad and I were out at the beach just the two of us. It was kind of out of the ordinary since we're normally with a big group, but no one else could make it that day, and we just decided to go and do our regular thing anyways. For him that meant fishing, and for me that meant diving. So I went out and swam out by the reef until I noticed people leaving the water. My first thought was that there must have been a shark sighting, so I started to make my way back towards shore. Then, a man on a surf board came up to me and stopped me saying, "Hey, I think your dad's looking for you." It turns out I had swum a little too far for a little too long, and my dad couldn't find me and panicked. For two years after that he would spontaneously exclaim how glad he was that I was alive. And while nothing actually happened, just imagine if something had happened. No one would have been able to help, and my dad would have been in serious trouble with my mom. 
  • Watch out for animals that can hurt you - If you're walking on rocks, be careful of wana, pointy, poisonous sea urchins, and eels. If you see a floating blue bubble, don't touch it and try to get out of the water - that's a Portuguese man-of-war, they sting, and if there's one there will be more. Sharks are much less of an issue than the above, so please don't stress about those. Especially if you see a little one with a black-tipped fin. That's a reef shark and it won't hurt you, so don't hurt it. 
  • Only swim at lifeguarded beaches and obey the posted signs - Seriously. So many tourists die every year because they don't do these things. Don't be dumb.