The surfing community is in shock Tuesday after learning that one of their favorite sons, 16-year-old Zander Venezia, of Bridgetown, Barbados, passed away while surfing in solid conditions at a shallow reef near his home, called Box by Box.
According to Surfline, which first reported on the incident, Venezia had just caught one of the best waves of his life before tragedy struck. Hawaii's Nathan Florence, one of several visiting pros visiting the island for the huge swell generated by Hurricane Irma, reportedly saw Venezia paddling back out to the lineup when he was caught inside by a closeout set and slammed into the reef.
According to the report, Venezia's family is still awaiting the autopsy report, but there's speculation that he may have broken his neck upon making impact with the reef.
Former Bajan pro surfer Alan Burke told Surfline, "Zander was bleeding, and he wasn't moving. They tried to get him to the beach quickly, which was very 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 of them stick out of the water. When they finally did get him in, they performed CPR on the beach. The ambulance came really swiftly from Speightstown, and on the drive, Nathan Florence and Dylan Graves and the paramedics continued to try and revive Zander. By the time they got him to the hospital, he was breathing, but not responsive. From the time Nathan got to Zander in the water to when they arrived at the hospital, it was about 75 minutes of nonstop CPR."
Just before the incident occurred Venezia was reportedly beaming. He'd been seen scoring a number of good rides that morning. "He told Dylan, 'I just got the best wave of my life!,'" Alan recalled. "Dylan was the last person to speak to Zander. Then that next closeout set came through."
Burke and his two sons, Josh and Jacob, were like brothers to Zander. They'd just spent the past week scoring fun surf on the East Coast of the United States with Venezia, while competing at the WRV Outer Banks Pro. "Zander was such a good, funny kid," he told, Surfline. "He was always joking, and he just loved surfing. He was so jovial, such a joy to be around. I just can't believe he's gone. I'm a mess, man. We're all a mess over here."
Sadly, Josh Burke received the tragic news from his dad about 40 minutes before taking to the lineup for his heat at the QS 6000 Azores Airline Pro. He won the heat, and dedicated his effort to his friend before breaking down during his post-heat interview.
Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Zander, who was loved so dearly by all who knew him. Stay tuned for more on this story as more details become available.