Should we share cool discoveries with readers, or keep it all secret for fear they will hurt themselves?
People get hurt on vacation…People get killed at beaches without lifeguards…Responsible guidebooks will keep anything from their readers that might get them hurt…Don’t tell them where the good stuff is…Don’t expose them to anything that might get them hurt…Safety is all that matters…If even one single person gets hurt because of what you write, then you are to blame…People can’t be responsible for their own actions…Visitors are too dumb to keep themselves safe…Keep them at the resorts drinking mai tais and wearing matching aloha shirts.
Each of those thoughts have been conveyed to us here at Wizard Publications by so-called safety experts and visitor officials since we started our guidebook series. In short, many of them want us to keep you in the resorts and out of harms way. They think that by revealing places to you that they don’t formally approve, that you will lose your ever-loving mind and go out and get yourself hurt. And once in awhile, they are right.
What promoted this blog was an incident that just happened. Some background: A few years ago we discovered some shoreline pools near Secret Beach on Kauai that are wondrous to use—during calm seas, usually in the summer. So we outlined a specific hike get to the area and described what you’ll encounter. There is also a public access from the road down to the shoreline specifically created by the county. Part of our job is to visit places like this during all seasons. So before we ever wrote it up, we visited these pools throughout the year. Good thing, because during high seas this is a dangerous place. So in our description in the book we include the following safety warnings:
“Beware of getting slapped by a rogue wave here. You shouldn’t consider this hike if the ocean is angry, which is reasonably often, except in the summer…”
And we say:
“Only consider this other pool when the ocean is calm. Big surf or a rogue wave can turn that second pool into a washing machine and turn you into a limp rag.”
Finally we write:
“We want to stress that this whole hike isn’t doable when the surf’s up. The ocean can clobber this coastline, especially in the winter, and could kick the living daylights out of you if it wanted to. Even calm seas could surprise you. Stay observant and don’t push it just because you’re itching to visit. This hike, like so much outdoor activity in Hawai‘i, depends on nature being in a good mood.”
All these warnings in addition to the most detailed ocean safety section of any guidebook to the islands, a separate hazards section, and area safety descriptions strewn throughout the books. Pretty straightforward. So along comes a visitor from Singapore who, during a high surf warning and in the winter, goes out to this location, stands on the rocks and gets swept out to sea by a monster wave. It was a horrible tragedy and we are saddened by the senseless loss. This follows on the heels of two other visitors this winter who died the exact same way. 2013 is starting out to be a terrible year for drownings on Kaua‘i. Surf’s been rough this winter. People have drowned at beaches with lifeguards. Local residents have drowned (one was even a surfer). And one visitor, trying to cross a flooding stream with a group of others was swept away and drowned. So the question becomes—do we shield you from every place you might drown? If so, we gotta pull out Hanalei Bay, Poipu Beach, Lydgate Park and Nawiliwili Harbor, because these popular beaches have all claimed lives this year. We also have to pull many of the lifeguarded beaches, because they, too have claimed lives in the past few years. The island’s most prominent ocean safety crusader, Monty Downs, who has probably saved lives with his introduction of rescue tubes at island beaches, has repeatedly singled out our books for being irresponsible for describing any beaches on the island that don’t have lifeguards. He writes articles and gives interviews where he slams us for daring to reveal anything that might get people hurt. And this morning, we woke up to the surf report on the radio, only to hear another slam, attributed on the radio to Mr. Downs, that you should never buy guidebooks because they get people killed. This latest salvo stems from the Singaporean visitor, who we don’t know if he had a guidebook, who went out to the ocean onto the rocks, during a high surf advisory and in the winter, and in the face of large waves got swept to his death.
Our philosophy at Wizard Publications has always been this: Discover, verify, decide if it’s right, describe and warn with as much detail as we can. It makes up the core of our DNA. We have discovered tons of cool places that we never revealed because they had safety issues that could not be surmounted. But some places are safe during good conditions and unsafe during bad ones. A golf course, for instance is usually safe. But during a lightning storm it could get you killed. Should all golf courses be permanently closed because some player might continue his golf game when lightning bolts are striking all around?
If you want to find the places of your dreams, our job is to describe everything in our books and apps, including the dangers, to the best of our ability and rely on your common sense. We don’t believe that everything should be dumbed down so that the most irresponsible of those among us will be unable to get himself hurt. Millions of people visit the islands each year without getting hurt and come away with memories of a lifetime.
As to well-meaning but misguided crusaders like Mr. Downs who are quick to shout, don’t read the guidebooks, we respectfully suggest they have it backwards. If that tragic victim from Singapore had read the guidebook, he would have been informed and would not have been there at the shoreline in those conditions in the first place.