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HOME / LOCAL NEWS

Saturday, December 18, 2004 2:08 PM

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Crowd control needed at Peahi cliffs
By ILIMA LOOMIS, Staff Writer

WAILUKU – The owners of the Peahi cliffs where spectators gather each winter to watch the world’s top surfers ride the world’s biggest waves are looking for ways to manage the crowds.

No security or crowd control was in place when the first winter swell of the season rolled in Wednesday, drawing an estimated 1,500 people to cliffs that overlook the world-famous “Jaws” surf site.

A surf event producer took it on himself to help keep order at the site, but a spokeswoman for A&B Properties, which owns the land, said he was not acting on behalf of her company and did not have a permit to hold an event.

Rodney Kilborn of Handsome Bugga Productions said he was trying to help keep the area safe and orderly for spectators and photographers Wednesday.

That effort included asking for money from photographers.

“We had the permits for that place. We’re not asking them to pay a fee, we’re asking them for a donation,” Kilborn said Thursday. “We were taking the initiative to try to make that place safe.”

A&B hadn’t issued permits to Kilborn or anyone else to use the area Wednesday, said Community Relations Manager Linda Howe.

“We had nothing signed with him,” she said. “There were no agreements and he wasn’t acting on our behalf.”

Jane Kachmer of BamMan, a production company she shares with surf stars Dave Kalama and Laird Hamilton, said she has been working with Kilborn to create a “gathering” of longtime big-wave riders to surf “Jaws” together sometime over the winter.

When she and other organizers learned a large swell was on its way to Maui this week, they spoke with A&B officials to look into holding the event, but later realized they would not be able to get the public shuttles necessary if they were to close off the area for security.

They ended up putting off the event, but they had state permits to film surfing Wednesday, and Kilborn, knowing the waves would draw spectators and that no measures were in place to deal with them, went to Peahi on his own initiative to help manage the crowd.

“Rodney, to his credit, felt there were safety concerns,” she said.”So he and two or three local guys went to create some safety boundaries.”

Kachmer said Kilborn was not officially working for her or as her partner on Wednesday, but she added that unofficially, “We’re all working together” to organize the gathering of big-wave surfers.

“We definitely would like to help find solutions to make it safe and help protect the spot,” she said.

Kilborn said he gave wristbands to paying photographers because he felt the photographers were not safe crowded near the cliff – at one point he noticed a spectator knock one of them over, and it created a “domino effect.”

The photographers who donated money voluntarily received wristbands and were asked to go to the front of the group.

Kilborn said he felt he was helping the community by trying to make the area safer.

“We’re concerned, because if something does happen, A&B would shut off the place completely. Nobody would have the opportunity to go down there,” he said.

A&B Properties owns the Peahi fields and Maui Land & Pine leases them for cultivation.

Howe said the two companies share concerns about crop damage and liability. Maui Pine had to call off a scheduled harvest Wednesday due to the crowds, and company officials said some of the crops were trampled or crushed by cars.

Both companies are working together to develop a management plan to allow continued access, Howe said.

“The most simplistic but undesirable option would be to enforce private property rights (and block access),” she said. “However, we believe there may be a scenario possible that still enables controlled, safe and respectful access to view the surf.”

Warren Suzuki, senior vice president of community relations and communications, said Maui Pine wanted to protect its fields while also accommodating the public.

While the company has the right to cut off access to the field, Suzuki said he understood the huge interest of the public in seeing “Jaws.”

“As you can imagine, we would be criticized for that. We don’t want to do that,” he said.

But he also felt spectators should understand the importance of being able to harvest on schedule, before the fruit gets overripe, as well as the cost of crop damage.

“When you consider what happened on Wednesday, I wouldn’t say they’re oblivious, but I would say they’re not giving it the level of consideration they need to,” he said.

Kilborn said he was trying to address some of those concerns, and felt he was helping the community by working to keep order among the mobs of people.

He said he helped clear the way for a man suffering chest pains to be driven out of the field, stopped someone from stealing pineapples, and told a vendor who was setting up a cook fire in a hazardous area he had to leave.

“They’re lucky people like us were there to talk to these people and give them a little education,” he said.

With tourist guides and magazines pointing the way to world-famous “Jaws,” Kilborn said a plan needs to be made soon for how to deal with the crowds.

“It’s just getting worse,” he said. “It’s going to get worse, and something

needs to be done.”

nIlima Loomis can be reached at iloomis@mauinews.com.

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