A precocious surfer who dreamed of one day taking part in the Olympics died earlier this week in Barbados, where droves of professionals had flocked to take on the enormous waves Category 5 Hurricane Irma was sending into the Caribbean.
Zander Venezia, a 16-year-old aspiring pro from Bridgetown, Barbados, died after succumbing to a “notoriously nasty wave” on the island’s east coast, Surfline reported. While onlookers initially believed that the victim had broken his neck, the autopsy revealed that Venezia was knocked unconscious and drowned without suffering any fractures.
“I’m told that Zander got overturned by a closeout set, where he likely hit bottom,” said surf instructor Alan Burke. “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.”
Rescue efforts were hampered because Venezia was situated in a rocky, hard-to-reach part of the beach.
“They tried to get him to the beach quickly, which was difficult,” Burke continued. “’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.”
Venezia was rushed to a nearby hospital as paramedics desperately tried to revive him; he was breathing but not responsive after nearly an hour and a half of nonstop CPR.
Burke described Venezia as “such a good, funny kid” who “was always joking, and he just loved surfing. He was so jovial, such a joy to be around.”
While loved ones have struggled to wrap their heads around the tragedy, Burke offered a silver lining in the form of Venezia’s last words.
“He told Dylan, ‘I just got the best wave of my life!’ Dylan was the last person to speak to Zander,” he said. “Then that next closeout set came through.”