Historic south swell floods canoe clubs, oceanfront businesses

Weather service keeps warnings in effect with ‘dangerous’ waves in forecast

A large wave washes over South Kihei Road shortly before it was closed to traffic Saturday afternoon. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

A historic South Pacific swell brought high surf and rough ocean conditions over the weekend, leaving beachfront roadways and properties flooded with water and rubble.

Warnings by the National Weather Service remained in effect all weekend after predictions that the swell would produce “dangerous breaking waves along south facing shores,” with surf reaching up to 24 feet and then subsiding to 15 to 20 feet through 6 p.m. Monday.

“A combination of large surf and regular predicted water levels could lead to flooding of beaches that typically remain dry, especially at and around the peak daily tide,” according to the weather service. “Expect ocean water occasionally sweeping across portions of beaches, very strong breaking waves, and strong long shore and rip currents. Large breaking waves and strong currents may impact harbor entrances and channels causing challenging boat handling.”

Rainfall had also been in the forecast as Tropical Storm Darby passed south of the islands over the weekend. However, the weather service showed minimal rainfall for Maui as remnants of the storm dissipated around 5 p.m. Saturday night, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center said that the maximum sustained winds were at 40 miles per hour at the center as the storm moved west at about 22 mph.

A surfer pops out of a tube during a long ride at Maalaea’s famed Freight Trains surf break Sunday morning. Considered by many as the fastest rideable wave in the world, but rare in occurrence, Freight Trains drew a small army of wave riders and spectators Saturday and Sunday as a large swell hammered Maui’s south shore.

As the NWS predicted, there was significant beach run-up, flooding of beaches that typically remain dry and exposure of vulnerable coastal roadways on Saturday and Sunday as the south swell reached the islands.

Mala Ocean Tavern staff spent their Sunday clearing debris and drying floors after waves crashed into the oceanfront restaurant, according to a post on Instagram.

A spokesperson for the Lahaina business could not be immediately reached Sunday, but the post said that they closed “due to the swell that affected us yesterday and that we are anticipating for today.”

“Please send all your prayers and aloha for all the oceanfront businesses in Maui today,” the post added.

Down the street, Star Noodle in Lahaina closed for a few hours Saturday due to large surf and ocean conditions fronting the restaurant around 5 p.m. when water started to wash over the break wall, said restaurant Manager Reed Robertson on Sunday afternoon.

Kihei Canoe Club members are assisted by volunteers as they wade through seawater to move canoes to a spot safe from waves across South Kihei Road on Saturday.

“It started washing rocks into our parking lot and basically turning our parking lot into a lake,” Robertson said. “Some of the water got in the restaurant last night, but that was all cleaned up last night and they put up barricades and we were able to keep from damaging the restaurant.”

Water from the Honu Oceanside seafood restaurant parking lot was also draining into Star Noodle’s property and down Front Street, he said. Frida’s Beach House, which has an oceanfront seating area, had a similar experience.

Among the four businesses located right above the shore on the Mala Warf side of Front Street, Robertson said Star Noodle was the “least impacted.”

Star Noodle’s maintenance team came in at 5 a.m. Sunday to shovel and clear the lot, and doors were open again for business that afternoon, though another swell was anticipated Sunday evening.

“As of now everything is normal operations,” Robertson said.

A surfer takes a spill at Freight Trains in Maalaea Sunday

Further west in Kaanapali, Hyatt Regency Maui Resort crew members were spotted digging a channel to drain seawater back to the ocean Sunday morning after Saturday’s swell filled portions of hotel grounds.

In North Kihei, president of Maui Canoe Club Jeff Moore was seen Saturday with a crew of six members from MCC and Mana’olana (Pink Paddlers) quickly moving canoes mauka towards the road “as far as we could” to save them from the crashing waves and high tide.

“Most of the canoes were also filled with water to further weigh them down,” Moore said Sunday.

They were at the beach Saturday from around 5 p.m. until sunset. The parking lot on the north end of the club property was “completely flooded” and the high tide was washing up and across North Kihei Road in a few areas, which slowed traffic, he said.

On Sunday morning, Moore said he found all of their canoes safe and secure, but the beach “is now lined with coral, large and small and other various debris.”

Hyatt Regency Maui Resort crew members use shovels to create a channel to drain seawater back to the ocean Sunday morning in Kaanapali. The water was flooding canoe clubs at Hanako‘o Beach and a corner of the Hyatt property.

They canceled practice set for Monday and scheduled a beach cleanup day for 8 a.m. Tuesday instead to rake up piles of kiawe beans, branches and other debris that has washed up.

Down the way, Kihei Canoe Club members, many of whom were gone most the day at the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association regatta at Kahului Harbor, were assisted by volunteers as they waded through seawater to move their canoes to a spot safe from waves across South Kihei Road.

Images and videos posted online and sent to The Maui News of ocean conditions around the island, including Makena State Park and Maalaea, showed what surfers said were some of the biggest swells they’d seen in 15 years.

“This large south swell is expected to be the largest seen in Hawaii over the last decade,” the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said in a news release, adding that many state parks would be closed over the weekend for safety.

Still, many surfers were testing their limits Saturday in the big, fast-moving waves and barrels at “Freight Trains” in Maalaea while hundreds watched from the shoreline.

Frida’s Beach House owner Mark Ellman and his dog Coco walk across the debris-strewn parking lot next to his restaurant in Mala Sunday morning

On Sunday afternoon, the conditions were “excellent” with 6- to 8-foot surf, Kawika Regidor said. There was about 50 people in the water and another 30 or so others on land.

Waves were washing up and flooding onto South and North Kihei Roads, as well as the Honoapiilani Highway fronting Olowalu. The conditions, along with spectators and workers traversing the island, slowed traffic throughout the weekend.

The “traffic was insane” while Upcountry resident Daniel Pietsch was driving past Maalaea towards Lahaina Saturday afternoon.

“It took me an hour and a half to get from Kahului to Lahaina,” he said.

Maui County officials closed South Kihei Road from Uwapo Road to Leilani Road due to high surf on Saturday and it remained closed until about 12 p.m. noon Sunday.

Maui Emergency Management Agency officials were also concerned about high surf impacts onto Honoapiilani Highway in low-lying areas from Papalaua Beach to the area known as “Cut Mountain.”

Calls continued for the police and fire departments through the weekend, including one around 10:53 a.m. Sunday regarding a male on a boogie board at Keawakapu Beach in South Maui having a difficult time paddling back to shore.

Another call came in just 10 minutes later near Kapalua Bay regarding two stand-up paddleboarders in distress and another around 2 p.m. for a similar situation at Napili Bay.

Residents and visitors are cautioned to stay away from impacted areas, said Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino in a news release Sunday.

“A combination of high tides and large surf is making driving hazardous in some south shore areas, so we are asking everyone to exercise caution and avoid these areas if possible,” Victorino said.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com. Staff writer and photographer Matthew Thayer contributed to this report.


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