Less than two days after Kirk Passmore went missing after a wipeout in large surf Wednesday on Oahu’s North Shore, his father expressed a wish that his son’s final ride be shared with as many people as possible.
Passmore, 32, a passionate big-wave surfing veteran and Hawaii resident, is presumed to have drowned, and as of Friday his body had not been found.
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Larry Haynes, a cinematographer who was capturing footage of surfers riding 20- to 30-foot waves at an outer reef known as Alligator Rock, complied with Passmore’s father by sharing Kirk’s final ride footage with Hawaii’s KITV News. (Video posted above.)
It shows Passmore, on the white surfboard, negotiating a steep drop before digging the nose of his board slightly into the water, catapulting him forward. The wave broke on top of the surfer and moments after the whitewater swept over him; his feet could be seen in the froth.
That was an indication, perhaps, that he might have ruptured his eardrums and had become disoriented, and did not know which direction was up or down.
Another large wave broke, snapping his surfboard in two, and breaking the leash attaching the tail-end of the board to the surfer’s leg.
By then rescuers had swept into the impact zone on personal watercraft, but could not get to Passmore before he disappeared. Unfortunately, the surfer’s fatal mistake might have been not wearing a floatation vest.
“They were trying to grab him but they had nothing to hold on to,” local surfer Chris Owens told Hawaii News Now. “What would have saved him is if he had a float vest on. Everybody wears float vests nowadays.”
Fatalities are extremely rare in big-wave surfing, despite the raw power of enormous swells generated by faraway storms. That’s because surfers, by and large, are a close-knit group and watch out for one another.
It’s also because most of them train vigorously to be able to withstand being held under for long periods, and because water patrol staff on personal watercraft are almost always on vigil during these large-surf events.
(There have been great strides in water safety on the North Shore since Todd Chesser, a famous surfer, died at Alligator Rock in 1997.)
Additionally, most surfers have come to realize the importance of floatation vests, which help them attain the surface faster after a wipeout, and keep their heads upright.
Passmore’s wipeout comes only two weeks after Maya Gabeira, a rare female athlete in this adrenaline-fueled sport, endured a beating in enormous surf off Portugal.
Gabeira, who was pulled to safety during a frantic rescue effort by her Jet Ski-riding partner, Carlos Burle, was wearing a vest and credits the device for helping to save her life.
It’s hoped that Passmore’s tragic accident will underscore their value, and serve as a reminder that despite great strides in water safety, nothing is guaranteed.