Watch: Massive Waves Pound Keauhou Townhomes; Residents React to Swell’s Damage

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Property owners whose townhomes were smashed by Saturday’s massive swell spent Monday cleaning up their damaged properties and recounting the remarkable scene, where waves toppled over roofs and washed through living rooms.

Clint Sloan, who has owned his oceanfront townhome at the Kona Surf and Racquet Club in Keauhou for 25 years, said he has seen some big swells during his time there, but nothing quite like the south swell that pounded his home at about 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

“You could just see it,” he said, describing the rising appearance of the ocean as he drove from town to his townhome to check on the property. “It’s hard to describe.”

He told Big Island Now that he was renting out his townhome and went there to evacuate his tenants before the waves hit, as he sensed from the ocean’s movement and appearance that something dangerous was about to happen. He said the renters had a difficult time comprehending the gravity of his warning. Even after the mammoth waves started smashing his and his neighbors’ buildings, he said some people were still hesitant to leave, even as water swirled around them.


“People didn’t want to leave,” Sloan said, describing the scene as scary, where water levels stood 3-feet high in the parking lot behind the buildings. 

His tenants did get out of the townhome, but some neighbors never evacuated. While the contents of the lower level of his home were destroyed, Sloan said it was fortunate nobody around there was hurt. He said visitors and even residents should respect the dangers of the ocean more.

“Please don’t argue,” he said “Listen to someone who looks like they know what they’re talking about.”

Part of the scene was captured in a video his daughter, Isabella Sloan, recorded that went viral. It shows water pounding down from above the rooftops.


The Kona Surf and Racquet Club manager declined to comment for this story. Damage estimates weren’t available, but Clint Sloan estimated it would cost upward of $60,000 to redo the damaged lower level. The Hawai‘i Fire Department responded to the scene Saturday. A high surf warning had been issued all weekend because of the south swell and Tropical Storm Darby, which passed south of the Big Island. Public beaches and some parks were closed all weekend.

Isabella Sloan said the waves started smashing around 4:30 p.m. and carried on until 10:45 p.m., but a bulk of the damage was done around 5 p.m. She helped her father evacuate people and echoed his observation that many didn’t want to listen.

“It was very strange,” she said. “You think people would be a little bit more smart and not get too close to the ocean, especially when it was like this.”

The whole scene was hard to believe, she said.


“It was tragic,” Isabella Sloan said. “I was in a lot of shock and still think a lot of people are. … It’s very sad to see it, but it’s also very magical that our Mother Nature is doing this.”

Some kids were even hanging on to trees as the water battered around them, playing in it, Clint Sloan said.

On Monday, crews swept away the debris and chunks of building and rocks strewn about the parking lot of the gated community. Yellow caution tape blocked off sections of the property where workers cleaned. Playing cards and other household items swept from the townhomes were part of the rubbish piles.

One condo owner, Dawn, who didn’t want to share her last name but has lived in the complex since 1984 and was surveying the damages Monday, said she was in her condo more on the mauka side of the property watching TV, oblivious to what was happening, when the scene unfolded. She said she didn’t realize the extent of what happened until later, when her kids called to check on her and she saw Isabella Sloan’s video.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.


Kona Surf and Racquet Club workers clean up the damage from Saturday’s massive swell. (Tom Hasslinger/Big Island Now)
Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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