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Readers Pick Their Favorite Piece of Hawaiian Sand : Beaches: Choices vary widely, but Hamoa Beach on Maui has lots of fans. And one expert advises watching out for dangerous currents and reefs.

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TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

The perfect beach, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder.

We suspected as much when we put together our June 11 Hawaii issue, in which we sought out Hawaiians’ opinions on the islands’ best beaches. Now that readers’ letters of response are in, we have documentary evidence to support our theory. But we also have evidence that Hamoa Beach, on the quiet Hana side of Maui, has many friends.

Leonard Stegman of Laguna Hills writes that he can’t imagine how we could have overlooked Hamoa. Stegman notes that author James Michener once called Hamoa the most beautiful beach in the South Pacific, and cites its overhanging trees, warm water and crescent shape, which, Stegman says, amount to “rapture itself.”

Stegman’s opinion is seconded by Rena Smith and her husband (also of Laguna Hills), who note that the Hotel Hana-Maui claims Hamoa, but that it is public (as are all of Hawaii’s beaches) and open to anyone who flies in or makes the challenging 50-odd mile drive from Maui’s main city, Kahului, to tiny Hana.

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Joan Kahaleuahi of West Los Angeles is another Hamoa supporter, and enjoys the advantage of a husband whose family is from the area. “Whenever we go back home to Hana,” Kahaleuahi writes, “it’s the first place I go and the last place, before the ride across the island to the airport in Kahului.”

Beyond Hamoa, readers’ choices vary widely. Bernadine Edmunds of Santa Monica, defying the often-offered view that Honolulu is too crowded, asserts that her favorite swimming beach in all of Hawaii is Waikiki, where she has swum at least twice a year since 1954. The water is warm, she says, and “never too rough.” Conversely, Hugo V. Schmidt, a Newport Beach dentist, remembers working at the Dole pineapple cannery near Honolulu in the summer of 1948 and testing his body-surfing skills against the big, green waves at Makapu Point, which travel many yards before breaking. “However,” Schmidt adds, “it breaks on the rocks or the beach sand, so you must get out to avoid injury.”

The contrast between Edmunds’ and Schmidt’s tastes points to a central problem in choosing a beach: how to balance safety with the lures of athletic challenge and aesthetic appeal. B. Chris Brewster, lifeguard chief for the City of San Diego and editor of the U.S. Lifesaving Assn. Manual of Open Water Lifesaving, cautions that “while Hawaiian beaches are gorgeous, they can also harbor serious hazards due to strong waves, currents and reefs. The beach safety record of Hawaii is nothing to brag about. Amid these problems, lifeguard protection is scant and some areas of Hawaii are reducing it further.”

In particular, Brewster cites Maui’s Makena Beach, an often-recommended spot that our June 11 story cited as the favorite of the muralist Wyland. At Makena, Brewster says, “lifeguard services were recently terminated over fear of lawsuits from the neck and back injuries that are sustained in the sometimes heavy shore break. This is a travesty considering how dangerous Makena can be.”

Some other reader choices:

Nani Cipponer of Glendora, remembering childhood visits to see her grandparents on Oahu, endorses Pupukea Beach on the island’s north shore, “a learning beach because of the tide pools created by the lava rocks, which also shelter you from the deep blue ocean. You can find sea urchins, starfish, crabs and opihi on the rocks.”

Barbara and Gerry Trafficanda of Tarzana cast their joint vote for Napili Beach, Napili Bay, Maui, “a serene smile of unspoiled sand . . . surrounded by a patchwork of pineapple fields and stately Norfolk pines. There are coral reefs just a few feet off shore where we snorkel in the still morning ocean above schools of glistening fish.” The Trafficandas go on to describe the safety of the water there for children, the views of humpback whales in migrating season and sunsets beyond distant Molokai. To clinch their case, they sent along a copy of the family’s 1993 Christmas card, a full-color fold-out rendering of their favorite shore being frolicked upon by 21 Trafficandas and significant others.

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Ben Newlander of Beverly Hills calls Waimanalo, on Oahu, his favorite beach on the planet. “Broad expanse both in length and width, the most beautiful aqua and turquoise colors, with a long, slow, steady break, good for some easy bodysurfing but mostly just family fun.” Waimanalo’s sand, he says, feels like baby powder.

J.W. Lopez of Long Beach nominates Lanikai Beach, east of Kailua on the windward side of Oahu.

Robert Badovinac of Lakewood proposes Hookipa, the popular and windblown windsurfing beach near Paia on Maui.

Finally, John C. Elliott of San Marino writes to say he has several favorite beaches on Maui, all of them small and relatively isolated, some best in the mornings, others best in the afternoons. “And you know what?” continues the helpful Elliott. “I’m not going to tell you any more. Except one piece of advice. Don’t swim alone. Sharks have favorite beaches too.”

Reynolds travels anonymously at the newspaper’s expense, accepting no special discounts or subsidized trips. To reach him, write Travel Insider, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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