Not everybody is comfortable taking their clothes off in public. But they shouldn’t have to die doing so.
That’s what I think every time I visit remote Kehena Beach in the Puna district of the Big Island. It’s highly sought out because of its black sand, pristine water, drum circles, hippies and clothing-optional status.
“There are only 17 black sand beaches in the world, we checked,” a visitor from Oregon posted on TripAdvisor a few days ago. “This is a must see when visiting the big island.”
Gushed a Minnesota tourist, “If you are lucky you will see dolphins or whales swimming past!”
Said a traveler from Michigan, “About three-fourths were nude, and there was plenty of herbal smoking.”
There are no lifeguards and the ocean can be rough at Kehena Beach.
“The beach is a bit hard to get to, straight down a rocky cliff,” says Barb Dunaway of Pahoa, also on TripAdvisor.
That is an understatement.
I visited Kehena a couple of weeks ago and found little has changed — except now there are community life preservers available for use and a handmade sign warning that the beach is dangerous: “Kehena ‘seems’ to claim a life about once per year, usually unaware visitors. Exercise extreme caution!”
Many don’t, and even the strongest hikers and swimmers will find the climb down to the sand difficult (especially if the rocks are wet after a rainfall) and entering and exiting the surging surf challenging.
“Kehena Beach has no restrooms, lifeguards or accessible walkways,” Armstrong wrote. “There’s also seemingly no trash, attitudes or cops.”
The state and Hawaii County do little to make Kehena Beach a safer place. But some locals have taken the initiative.
Nude sunbathing is against the law in Hawaii, except for prepubescents. But at certain beaches, a lot of people get naked and go in the water anyway.
The resolutions point out that websites like TripSavvy list Hawaii’s nude beaches, often without disclaimers. Kehena, which is in San Buenaventura’s district, is listed first in the resolutions along with Honokohau Harbor Beach on Big Island; Donkey Beach and Kauapea Beach (known as Secret Beach) on Kauai; Little Beach and Kaihalulu Beach (known as Red Sand Beach) on Maui; Papohaku Beach on Molokai; and Polo Beach and Kahuku Beach on Oahu.
The resolutions explain that most of these beaches are remote and difficult to access. And that raises problems:
There are multiple issues concerning these clothing-optional beaches, including the possibility of unsuspecting tourists being arrested for public nudity, sanitation concerns caused by the lack of restrooms, and safety concerns caused by the fact that these beaches have neither reliable cell-phone reception nor call boxes.
For San Buenaventura, who has inspected several of the beaches herself, it’s a matter of public safety.
“There is a potential for accidents, or people could be victims of crime,” said San Buenaventura, an attorney. “And it’s difficult to get help.”
Charlene Chan, HTA’s director of communications, said her agency “has no position on this legislation at this time.” And the two resolutions were never heard.
Still, San Buenaventura is on to something. Not only are some of these beaches dangerous, but there is money involved.
To the first point: Kehena is unstable land because of the active (currently very active) Kilauea volcano.
The Hawaii tourism industry may not want to market its illegal nude beaches, but they have long been a reality and so deserve state attention.
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