Kauai lifeguards rescued a 29-year-old Hanalei man who was swept out to sea by pounding surf Wednesday at Lumahai Beach, a notoriously unsafe location on the island’s north shore, county officials said.

Despite Ocean Defender initially telling its 644,330 followers on Facebook that he had died, county officials confirmed Thursday that the man is alive, and the nonprofit has corrected its post. His identity has not been released.

The surf was up to 30 feet, and he was standing at the water’s edge with a group of friends when a large wave swept onto shore and pulled him in, Kauai officials said.

Lifeguards from Hanalei responded on a Jet Ski and found him roughly 300 yards offshore. They took him back to Black Pot Beach because the surf was too big to return him to Lumahai. He declined medical treatment.

“In this case, the distressed swimmer did not attempt to fight the current and swim back to shore,” Ocean Safety Supervisor Kalani Vierra said in a statement. “He stayed calm and waited for help to arrive, which likely helped to save his life.”

Lifeguards are urging beachgoers to stay out of the water and away from the shoreline in light of continued high surf on the north shore.

“A 20- to 30-foot wave will sweep up onto shore and easily knock onlookers off their feet,” Vierra said. “Being swept out to sea in those conditions can be deadly and we are very grateful to our lifeguards, who have been working incredibly hard during this continued high surf event to prevent tragedies.”

Beachgoers play in massive surf Wednesday at Lumahai Beach.
Beachgoers play in massive surf Wednesday at Lumahai Beach. Courtesy: Terry Lilley

Kauai officials are advising no swimming at all north shore beaches, including Anini Beach. Hanalei Bay is also closed until further notice due to a shark bite, a county news release says.

Lifeguards will reassess ocean conditions Friday morning and updates will be given as information becomes available, the release says.

Civil Beat published a five-part series in January that explored why visitors die in Hawaii, including a close look at ocean safety and the unique waters in the islands. Read the full series here.

But Hawaii residents sometimes find themselves in trouble too, as happened Wednesday at Lumahai. Of the 359 drownings between 2010 and 2014 in Hawaii, 176 were locals, according to the Department of Health’s most recent data.

A wave crashes around a man Wednesday at Lumahai Beach.
A wave crashes around a man Wednesday at Lumahai Beach. Courtesy: Terry Lilley

Lumahai is known as a dangerous beach among locals, who sometimes refer to it as “Lumadie.”

It was the site of a drowning Oct.12. Jamie Zimmerman, a 31-year-old doctor and ABC News journalist from New York, died after being swept into the ocean near the river mouth.

Terry Lilley, a Kauai marine biologist, shot a video and took photos of kids playing in the surf at Lumahai on Wednesday.

“I kept saying to them, ‘You’re doing something really stupid here.’ And they said, ‘No, we know what we’re doing.’ Typical 14-year-olds,” he said.

A wave washes far up the shore at Lumahai Beach, surprising beachgoers Wednesday.
A wave washes far up the shore at Lumahai Beach, surprising beachgoers Wednesday. Courtesy: Terry Lilley

The local kids who know Lumahai could tell the sand had built up so much that it was washing people up the beach instead of out to sea as generally happens, Lilley said. The problem was that a group of 30 or more tourists were watching the kids and becoming emboldened.

A big wave came and washed them up into the trees,” he said. “If the wave would’ve sucked them back like it normally does, there could have been 20 people who died yesterday — easily.”

Lilley said he’d like to see the tourism industry pay for a person to patrol the unguarded beach not as a trained lifeguard per se, but as someone who simply tells beachgoers of the dangers there.

“The signs and brochures aren’t effective,” he said.

For up-to-date information about ocean conditions, talk to a county lifeguard, visit www.kauaiexplorer.com, or call the Kauai Ocean Safety Bureau at 241-4984.

For the latest information about ocean conditions at beaches around Hawaii, visit hawaiibeachsafety.com.

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