The risk of dying from surfing is very low, but it can happen. You can be knocked unconscious and drown. You can be attacked by a shark. You can even suffer from a fatal injury when you’re hit by a jet ski, another surfer, or even your own board.
Such incidents are extremely rare, but they do occur, and when they do, they leave the surfing world in shock.
As the following list shows, several promising surfers have died while doing the thing that they love.
Mark Foo is one of the best-known big wave surfers to succumb to the waves. He had an eye for big waves and was constantly seeking to outdo himself. Surprisingly, the wave that killed him was said to be less than 20 feet tall, resulting in a wipeout that has been described as “innocuous”.
It occurred in 1994 at Mavericks, a famous big wave surf location in Half Moon Bay, California. According to Surfer Magazine, Foo was sleep-deprived following a late flight. It may have led to his demise, with some suggesting that he became caught in his leash and was unable to escape.
Mark Foo’s body was found still tied to a broken tail section, with the pathologist report citing a death from drowning and head trauma.
Over 700 people attended Foo’s funeral, which was held at Waimea Bay. His ashes were placed in the ocean by a group of surfers who formed a circle to honor his life.
Following the death of Mark Foo, a debate raged about the usage of surfing leashes, with many believing that Foo’s leash played a significant role in his death. Leashes are used to ensure that surfers don’t lose their boards, allowing them to stay in touch following a major wipeout. But opponents argue that a leash increases the surfer’s risk of colliding with the board, leading to head injuries and drownings.
Quick-release leashes have since become commonplace in the surfing community as they help to negate some of these risks while still offering many of the benefits.
Katherine Diaz was a 22-year-old surfer from El Salvador who died while training for the 2021 Surf City El Salvador World Surfing Games, a tournament that was staged by the International Surfing Association (ISA) as a qualifier for Tokyo 2020.
She was in the water in El Salvador when she was struck by lightning, killing her instantly. Reports say that Katherine had just finished hugging her friend when the lightning struck, throwing her friend—and her board—back and killing Katherine.
Óscar Serra, just like Katherine Diaz, was a 22-year-old surfer who lost his life to the surf in 2021. The Basque-based surfer headed straight for a big wave in Puerto Escondido and was knocked unconscious by the force. He remained underwater for two successive waves and by the time the lifeguards found him, it was too late.
Dickie Cross was a sailor, surfer, and paddleboard racer from Hawaii. He became famous for building a canoe and sailing it from Waikiki to Molokai. The same bravery and desire for adventure led him to North Shore, where he searched for big waves with his friend, Woody Brown.
The two surfers got caught in big swells far away from the shore. Brown survived and was washed ashore, but Cross’s body was never found.
Malik Joyeux was an experienced surfer who rode his first waves before his 10th birthday. He was a big surf master by the time he reached adulthood and in 2003, he won the Billabong XXL Tube of the Year award for his efforts at Teahupoo.
But just two years later, the Tahitian surfer experienced a brutal wipeout at Pipeline when an 8-foot wave broke his board. It claimed his life.
Like so many experienced surfers before him, Donnie Solomon ran into trouble at Waimea Bay. He paddled out to a big wave, flew over the falls, and did not resurface in time.
Professional surfer and sporting legend Kelly Slater was there to watch the catastrophe unfold.
Summary: Big Wave Surfing Deaths
As you can see, even the most experienced surfers can fall victim to the surf. In addition to the big wave surfers mentioned above, countless other surfers have lost their lives as a result of head wounds, drownings, and freak accidents.
Other famous surfing deaths include Sion Milosky, who died surfing Mavericks in 2011; Ace Cool, who went missing after surfing at Waimea Bay, and Todd Chesser, whose life was claimed at Outside Alligators after he rejected Waimea Bay because it was overcrowded.