Along the rocky coast of Puna, there is a trail which leads to the tranquil Shipman Beach or Haena Beach, while beautiful, the currents along the shoreline are known to be strong and treacherous, signs are posted warning beachgoers of the hazards they may face. On February 11, 2023 Puna-resident Derek Sorenson, Navy Veteran, and previous lifeguard saved a young woman who had swum out with 2 friends at Shipman Beach on a seemingly uneventful stormy afternoon. Onlookers watched as Sorenson put on his fins and swam out to the rocks where the young woman and two of her friends had been desperately trying to fight the waves and climb up on the rocks. The young man and woman who were with her were able to climb out and get out of danger, but the waves were too strong and were continually pushing the woman on the sharp rocks. Sorenson put the woman on his back and proceeded to breast stroke back to shore, saving the young woman from further harm and possible drowning.
Sorensen grew up in Carlsbad, California, he says he was always in the water, in his early teens he trained and worked as a lifeguard. He joined the Navy and was trained as a combat medic and was stationed on Oahu where the rules were that anyone who went into the ocean had to wear fins. While he did not understand the rule at first, he quickly learned how strong and torrential Hawaiian tides can be. Carrying this rule with him as he moved to the Big Island of Hawaii, Sorensen pushes the idea of having proper water training, wearing fins, and respecting the unexpected power of the ocean.
Sunyata, local life coach and friend of Sorenson, invited him to join her to hike to Shipman beach that day, last-minute, and feels that his presence there was fate. Sunyata went on to explain that there were other adults on the beach watching, but no one went in to help the troubled trio. After seeing the commotion, she looked over to Sorensen stating, “Derek, this is all you!”
Many who visit Shipman Beach do so because it is a resting place for Green Sea Turtles and is a beautiful white sandy beach. While beautiful, Shipman Beach has its reputation for being dangerous, and has taken several lives earlier this year. Shipman Beach has no lifeguards on duty and it requires beachgoers to hike over a mile in to access the beach. This event serves as a reminder to always take proper safety precautions when entering the water, read signage, or do research on the area you are swimming and if at-all-possible, to wear fins, it might just save your life.
Have you hiked to Shipman Beach? What do you love about the Big Island? Let us know in the comments below or tag us on social media @bigislandpulse to be featured! 🤩