Zander Venezia, a 16-year-old junior pro surfer from Barbados, was reportedly killed this week surfing the huge swell created by the approach of Hurricane Irma. From a Surfline report:
“Horrible news,” original Bajan pro-turned-surf instructor Alan Burke told Surfline. “I feel empty, we are in shambles over here. I wasn’t there [at the spot], but my wife has been with the Venezia family at the hospital.”
“I’m told that Zander get overturned by a closeout set, where he likely hit bottom,” Alan managed between tears. “Nathan Florence got to him first, then shouted for the other guys and started to perform CPR. Zander was bleeding, and he wasn’t moving. They tried to get him to the beach quickly, which was difficult. ‘Box by Box’ is a tough place to get in and out of, even if you have the ability. There’s lots of big rocks around, and some stick out of the water.”
“When they finally did get him in, they performed CPR on the beach,” Alan continued. “The ambulance came really swiftly from Speightstown, and the whole drive Nathan Florence, Dylan Graves and the paramedics continued to try and revive him. But once they got him to the hospital, Zander was breathing, but not responsive. From the time Nathan got to him in the water to when they arrived at the hospital, it was about 75 minutes of nonstop CPR.”
As I understand it, a closeout set has a different shape and break pattern than most waves—where a normal wave is angled as it approaches the beach, and therefore breaks in a sequence that starts at its forwardmost point and moves along the wave’s length, a closeout wave is basically parallel to the beach, and will break all at once, so that a surfer trying to ride it either has to ride under the break or has to try to turn perpendicular to it, and ride straight at shore. Both choices carry risk: riding under the break subjects the surfer to the force of a collapsing wave; riding straight ahead potentially means having to dodge rocks or other surfers or swimmers, features that wouldn’t necessarily otherwise come into play. Riding a closeout set can be dangerous under normal conditions; riding one in a huge, hurricane-fueled swell, and at a location with a shallow reef system and rocks that protrude from the water, is obviously an enormous risk.
Surfline initially suspected that Venezia broke his neck upon crashing into the shallow reef, but an autopsy performed this week reportedly confirmed that he was knocked unconscious by the wave, and drowned in the surf.