A historic South Pacific swell brought high waves and choppy ocean conditions over the weekend, leaving roads and beachfront properties awash in water and rubble.
National Weather Service warnings remained in effect all weekend after predictions the swell would produce “dangerous breaking waves along south-facing shores”, with waves reaching up to 24 feet then decreasing to 15 to 20 feet until 6 p.m. Monday.
“A combination of large waves and predicted steady water levels could lead to inundation of beaches that generally remain dry, particularly at and around the daily peak tide,” according to the weather service. “Expect ocean water to occasionally wash over stretches of beaches, very strong breaking waves and strong inshore and rip currents. Large breaking waves and strong currents can impact harbor entrances and canals, making it difficult to handle boats.
Rainfall had also been forecast as Tropical Storm Darby passed south of the islands over the weekend. However, the Weather Service showed minimal rainfall for Maui as the remnants of the storm dissipated around 5 p.m. Saturday evening, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center said maximum sustained winds were 40 miles per hour at the center as the storm moved west at around 22 mph.
As predicted by the NWS, there was a major upwelling of beaches, inundation of beaches which generally remain dry and exposure of vulnerable coastal roads on Saturday and Sunday as the southern swell reached the islands.
Staff at Mala Ocean Tavern spent their Sunday cleaning up debris and drying floors after waves crashed into the beachfront restaurant, according to an Instagram post.
A Lahaina company spokesperson could not be reached immediately on Sunday, but the post said they have closed “because of the swell which hit us yesterday and which we anticipate for today.
“Please send all your prayers and aloha for all beachfront businesses in Maui today,” the post added.
Down the street, Star Noodle in Lahaina closed for a few hours Saturday due to heavy surf and ocean conditions in front of the restaurant around 5 p.m. when water began pouring over the breach wall, the report said. restaurant manager Reed Robertson on Sunday afternoon.
“It started washing stones in our parking lot and turning our parking lot into a lake,” said Robertson. “Some of the water got into the restaurant last night, but it was all cleaned up last night and they put up barricades and we were able to avoid damaging the restaurant.”
Water from the parking lot of the Honu Oceanside seafood restaurant was also draining into Star Noodle’s property and into Front Street, he said. Frida’s Beach House, which has a beachfront seating area, had a similar experience.
Of the four businesses located just above the shoreline on the Mala Warf side of Front Street, Robertson said Star Noodle was the “least impacted”.
The Star Noodle maintenance crew arrived at 5 a.m. Sunday to shovel and clear the grounds, and the gates reopened for business that afternoon, although another swell was forecast Sunday evening.
“From now on, everything works normally”, said Robertson.
Further west in Kaanapali, crew members from the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort were spotted digging a channel to drain seawater to the ocean Sunday morning after Saturday swells hit parts of the hotel grounds.
In North Kihei, Maui Canoe Club President Jeff Moore was seen Saturday with a six-member crew of MCC and Mana’olana (Pink Paddlers) moving mauka canoes swiftly down the road “as far as we could” to save them from crashing waves and high tide.
“Most canoes were also filled with water to weigh them down even more,” Moore said Sunday.
They were at the beach Saturday from about 5 p.m. until sunset. The parking lot at the north end of the club property was “completely flooded” and high tide was washing out and crossing North Kihei Road in a few areas, slowing traffic, he said.
On Sunday morning, Moore said he found all their canoes safe, but the beach “is now lined with large and small corals and other miscellaneous debris.”
They canceled training scheduled for Monday and scheduled a beach clean-up day for 8 a.m. Tuesday instead to pick up piles of kiawe beans, branches and other debris that washed ashore.
Along the way, Kihei Canoe Club members, many of whom had been away most of the day at the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association regatta in Kahului Harbor, were helped by volunteers as they waded through the sea water to move their canoes to a place sheltered from the waves across the 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 called one of the most big swells they’ve seen in 15 years.
“This large southern swell is expected to be the largest seen in Hawaii in the past decade,” the state Department of Lands and Natural Resources said in a news release, adding that many state parks would be closed on weekends for safety reasons.
Still, many surfers were testing their limits on Saturday in big waves and fast barrels at “Freight Trains” at Maalaea as hundreds watched from the shore.
Sunday afternoon, conditions were “excellent” with 6 to 8 foot surf, said Kawika Regidor. There were about 50 people in the water and about 30 more on land.
Waves were rolling in and flooding the roads south and north of Kihei, as well as the Honoapiilani Highway overlooking Olowalu. The conditions, along with spectators and workers crossing the island, slowed traffic throughout the weekend.
The “traffic was crazy” while Upcountry resident Daniel Pietsch drove past Maalaea toward Lahaina on Saturday afternoon.
“It took me an hour and a half to go from Kahului to Lahaina”, he said.
Maui County officials closed South Kihei Road from Uwapo Road to Leilani Road due to heavy surf Saturday and it remained closed until around noon Sunday.
Maui Emergency Management Agency officials were also concerned about high wave impacts on the Honoapiilani Highway in low-lying areas from Papalaua Beach to the area known as “Cut the mountain.”
Calls continued for police and firefighters throughout the weekend, including one around 10:53 a.m. Sunday regarding a man on a boogie board at Keawakapu Beach in South Maui having trouble rowing to shore .
Another call came just 10 minutes later near Kapalua Bay regarding two stand-up paddlers in distress and another around 2pm for a similar situation in Napili Bay.
Residents and visitors are asked to stay away from affected areas, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said in a news release Sunday.
“A combination of high tides and large waves makes driving dangerous in some areas of the South Rim, so we ask everyone to exercise caution and avoid these areas if possible,” said Victor.
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at [email protected] Writer and photographer Matthew Thayer contributed to this report.