Commercial operations to depart Canoe Beach

Commercial thrillcraft operators have agreed to relocate their businesses farther away from the popular Hanakao’o (Canoe) Beach Park in light of community concerns about safety, especially during regatta season.

“That area’s heavily used by canoe paddling folks,” said Ed Underwood, administrator of the state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation. “Commercial operators have agreed to move down a little bit, and now that area is going to be open to more recreational activities.”

Swim buoys will be relocated “further out to sea in order to encompass the entire outrigger canoe regatta area,” according to a notice from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources last month. Additionally, the current thrillcraft and parasail operators agreed to relocate their businesses away from Hanakao’o Beach Park prior to their upcoming season, which begins Friday.

Theo “Ted” King, who has offered personal watercraft rentals offshore fronting Hanakao’o Beach Park in Kaanapali for more than three decades, said he’s “all in favor of this.”

“If we can move a thousand feet further north and give more breathing room for the canoe clubs, then why not do it?” said King, owner of Pacific Jet Sports Inc. “It’s not going to affect our demand, customers won’t even know the difference. It’s a win-win situation.”

King said that he plans to move his offshore barge north between the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa and Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club. He also will instruct guests to ride out toward the open sea and away from the shoreline.

During the busy summer months of June, July and August, King said, an employee will be on a personal watercraft monitoring customers at all times. A GPS device will be installed on every watercraft to track them so that every time a ride exits the designated area, an alarm will go off to notify the instructor.

“It is our goal to run a safe operation and be a business, which can be enjoyed and appreciated by all,” King wrote in an email “To the Paddling Ohana and Peoples of Maui.”

The news brings “a happy ending” to a three-year struggle by Patricia “Aunty Patty” Nishiyama, who has been asking governing officials to make the area safer since William Kalanikai “Uncle Billy” Gonzales was struck and killed by a recreational motorboat in 2011. He was preparing regatta lanes for high school paddling crews to practice on.

“When we have regatta state races, can you imagine how busy that place is?” Nishiyama said. “My mo’opuna (grandchildren), my nieces and nephews are there.”

“We had to make it more safe. . . . If there was another accident, we would never forgive ourselves,” the lifelong Lahaina resident said.

Nishiyama, who leads community group Na Kupuna O Maui, wrote several letters to legislators, the mayor and the governor – many of which were published in local media – advocating for “safer waters in West Maui.”

She said that she and other kupuna were thankful when King reached out to them a few months ago in moving the community toward a workable solution.

“He (King) took me down to the Hyatt and told me, ‘Aunty, I’m moving my business down here,’ ” Nishiyama recalled. “I was crying, ‘Is this for real?’

“We are so pleased that Mr. King has humbled himself to move over. Kupuna will always have him in our prayers,” she said.

It took the cooperation of King, as well as two parasail operators who agreed to embark and disembark their passengers from an alternative access area located in front of the Hyatt, to reserve Hanakao’o Beach Park for recreational use only.

“As it stands now, no commercial activities will be occurring on Canoe Beach, and the area is open to swimming and canoe paddling,” DLNR officials said.

When asked whether a new business would be able to begin commercial operations at the beach in the future, Underwood said they would need to first obtain a permit from the state department, “and we probably wouldn’t issue it.”

“It feels really good, now we can go to Canoe Beach and not listen to all the Jet Ski sounds and enjoy ourselves,” Nishiyama said, adding that family members have in the past scattered the ashes of their kupuna in the same waters that personal watercraft used to charge through.

“We (kupuna) are very pleased with the outcome. . . . We feel now that Uncle Billy can rest in peace.”

* Eileen Chao can be reached at