A teenage champion surfer from Barbados is among the first victims of Hurricane Irma after being knocked unconscious while surfing a huge storm swell with fellow professionals.
Zander Venezia, 16, reportedly trying to catch a “mega-swell”, drowned on Tuesday (local time) at an undisclosed reef as Irma closed in on the east coast of Barbados, bringing winds of about 290 kilometres per hour and driving huge waves into beaches on the Caribbean nation.
USA Surfing posted on their Facebook page that they were “heartbroken” that one of their “surfing family” had passed away.
“Zander Venezia, one of the nicest and most talented kids you have ever met, hit his head on the reef surfing hurricane Irma swell in Barbados. He and his dad were at all of our Prime events and USA Championionships.
“He was so gracious, and kind and full of gratitude – even for having a jersey that fit. Life is fragile. Tell your kids you love them. I know Zander’s dad, Lou, did before every heat. RIP Zander Venezia,” the post read.
Venezia was on course for a successful career on the professional circuit, after winning the Rip Curl Grom Search event in North Carolina two weeks ago.
Fellow surfers and photographers rushed to pull him from the water and administered CPR but were unable to revive him, according to photographer Jimmy Wilson.
“His board was tombstoning, he was underwater,” he told surfing publication Stab.
“I got a photo of his last wave. But he made that wave. Didn’t fall. I think it might have happened on his way in.
“We’re not really sure what happened, other than he told someone he was going in.”
Hurricane Irma has ploughed past the Dominican Republic toward Haiti after devastating a string of Caribbean islands and killing at least 10 people as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century continued on its path towards Florida.
— with ABC