It’s about respect: Kiter, swimmer feud escalates

What started as an unpleasant encounter between a family and a few kitesurfers at Kanaha Beach Park last month has escalated to a feud that has been a center of heated debate on local and social media outlets.

Last week, an officer from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources was dispatched to Ka’a Point to respond to the family’s latest complaint about reckless kitesurfers who ventured too close to their 4-year-old son while he was playing in a protected pond area designated “for swimming only.”

The dispute between the family and kitesurfers began April 13 under similar circumstances at Ka’a Point on Maui’s north shore, according to a letter Philip Bolek wrote and sent to media outlets as well as DLNR officials. Bolek said his son was playing in a protected “fishpond” area when a kitesurfer “came into the pond at high rates of speed nearly hitting my son.” When Bolek and his wife confronted the kiter, the couple were allegedly “threatened and harassed.”

Bolek called nearby lifeguards as well as DLNR, who told him that the area was a designated “swim zone,” but nothing was done to deter the kitesurfers. In the following weeks, “hostile” confrontations between the Boleks and kitesurfers continued.

State officials will start enforcing “swim zone rules” at the beach, said DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward in an email to The Maui News last week.

A portion of Chapter 13 in the Hawaii Administrative Rules designates the protected area “for swimming only,” said Ward, and state law mandates “no person shall operate a vessel or sailboard in these zones.”

Kiteboards are classified as “a vessel or sailboard,” said Ward, despite many kitesurfers who dispute that.

However, she also conceded that the zoning designations were drafted in 1988 to address concerns between swimmers and windsurfers, while kitesurfing did not become a popular sport on Maui until more recently, around 1998. Now, the western end of Kanaha Beach Park, nicknamed Kite Beach, has become internationally recognized as one of the best beaches for the sport.

While Ward did not provide any specific resolutions or planned actions, she said that “swim zone areas and rules will be enforced.” The DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation will be meeting with the department’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement to discuss outreach and enforcement efforts “as soon as possible.”

But kitesurfers, or kiters, say that this “swim zone” is the only spot on the beach that they can safely launch and land when there are offshore winds.

“The wind dictates where we can go, it’s not like we have designated areas for launching and landing,” said Maui Kitesurfing Community President Joel Richman, who has been kiting at Kanaha Beach for more than 10 years. “If you try to come in downwind to the pond, your kite will fall in the water, and then you have to swim to shore or walk up on the beach from very far down with all your gear. . . . It’s really difficult.”

Kiters usually go back out to sea if they see people in the pond, and wait for the area to clear out before coming in, Richman added.

The 66-year-old kitesurfer said that in more than 40 years of visiting that beach, he has never seen or heard of any reported accidents or injuries caused by kitesurfers trying to launch or land their kites in the pond area.

Most kiters are people who respect and take care of the area, Richman said. After the 2011 tsunami, many kitesurfers donated picnic tables and volunteered to clean up the beach, he said.

“It’s about family, respect, peace, recreation, we just want to get along,” he said. “I don’t kite for bad vibes or to get in fights, we (kiters) are a valuable member of the Maui community, and we deserve a spot to do what we love.”

Other kiters argue that they have been able to share the beach with other fishermen, paddlers and beachgoers for many years, and should find a way to continue sharing use of the area.

“Yes, that is a swim zone but swim zones have always been adapted to the public use, and we haven’t had any complaints in the past 12 years people have been kiting there,” said Steve Sadler, director for Maui Kitesurfing Community. He added that the area in which kitesurfers use to come in is farther away from the beach, a deep, rocky area not usually used by young children.

In light of the Boleks’ concerns, members from the Maui Kitesurfing Community put up a sign recently that reads: “No kiting in pond when swimmers are present.”

Richman said he hopes that this will be enough to satisfy the Boleks, who he said are the only people who have called the DLNR to complain about kitesurfers.

“If they don’t like being around kiters, they could go to any other spot on the north shore,” said Richman. “There’s lots of beaches for people to swim, but there’s very limited places we can kitesurf.”

* Eileen Chao can be reached at