Treacherous Beauty: Hawaii's Most Deadly Beaches Are Also Tourists' Faves


These are the small waves at Ho’okipa on Maui. (Leah Ginsberg)

As I sat on the beach in Maui last week, I marveled at the size and power of the tide and the waves crashing to shore in Wailea. The next day I took a drive northeast to Ho’okipa to watch brave souls kite surf in even bigger and bluer swells. To me they all seemed crazy to be playing in mountains of water that came so high and so fast.

Most people think of Hawaii as an island paradise (and it is), but the state has some very dangerous beaches – and often the most dangerous are also the most popular, among tourists and locals alike.

Related: Life Lessons from Maui: What I Learned Driving the Crazy Road to Hana

The Hawaii State Department of Health recently released a study which tracked spinal chord injuries from ocean activities between 2009 to 2013, and there are similar studies that track drownings and near drownings. So what did the DOH find?


Hanauma Bay, Oahu (Banzai Hiroaki/Flickr)

"Hanauma [Bay, Oahu] and Waikiki [Beach, Oahu] appear to be ‘dangerous,’" the DOH’s Daniel Galanis told Huffington Post, with the most number of drownings.

Hanauma Bay in Oahu had 11 drownings between ‘09 and ‘13, which is especially worrisome since it’s a popular bucket-list snorkeling spot. At Hanauma, the danger seems to lie in the fact that many people underestimate how strenuous snorkeling can be, especially older swimmers. In fact snorkeling and swimming are the two most common activities that result in drowning in Hawaii.

Black Rock, Maui; Kahanamoku Beach and Lagoon, Oahu; Molokini Island, Maui; and La‘aloa Beach, Big Island round out the top-five deadliest beaches in the state.


Big Beach, Makena, Maui (David Grant/Flickr)

As for injuries, spinal cord events lead the charge, most suffered by visitors (78 percent) while diving into the rough ocean, body surfing, or body-boarding. Big Beach in Makena in Maui had the most spinal chord injuries – 22 in the five-year period. The rest of the top-five most injury-prone beaches are: Sandy Beach, Oahu; Brennecke’s, Kauai; and Laaloa on the Big Island.

What it comes down to is that wild natural beauty often comes with danger. Mix that with visitors who aren’t used to the terrain or who underestimate conditions as well as their own abilities, and it can be a recipe for disaster. Before you go to any beach, DOH’s Bridget Kaumeheiwa Velasco recommends checking the current ocean conditions on the Department of Health’s ocean safety website,, and she tells Huffington Post: When in doubt, don’t go out.

Related: Let’s Take an Adrenaline-Fueled Island Hop Through Hawaii 

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