Each hurricane season, when cyclonic beasts of wind and rage spin and hurl across the Atlantic, trying to decide which part of the Eastern seaboard to pounce upon, an unusual dichotomy occurs. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the populations listen to Mother Nature’s roar and prepare to hit the deck. The others—those who surf—also prepare to hit the deck, only difference is it’s the deck of their surfboard. Yes, it is a time for surfers when eyes widen and visions of perfectly stacked walls of water dance in their heads.
One such surfer was 16-year-old Zander Venezia of Bridgetown, Barbados. On September 5th, he and a group of friends, including Jacksonville Beach’s Asher Nolan, had been enjoying a morning full of epic barrels at a secret spot along the Northeastern coast of Barbados. Surf venues throughout the Caribbean undoubtedly lit up as colossal Irma contracted and churned through the Atlantic waters, this locale being a standout.
“That swell breaks like once in a blue moon.”
The promising young surf star was paddling back out after catching a wave at what the locals call “Box by Box,” when he was caught by a closeout set, which threw him onto the shallow reef below.
Bajan surf champion Mark Holder commented, “That wave only breaks when you have hurricane swells and it breaks in a different direction, so that swell breaks like once in a blue moon. When it is breaking guys go there because it is a beautiful wave, but it is pretty dangerous. In my 45 years I have never surfed that break, I surf at ‘Soup Bowl’ and other places around the island but I never surf that break because it is pretty dangerous. The way the waves are coming in today even at ‘Soup Bowl,’ you have to be on your ‘A’ game. You must know what you are doing because out here is not easy. If you are not a professional today is a day you should sit down and watch.”
Nathan Florence was the first one to spot Zander after he surfaced, who jumped immediately into rescue mode. He shouted for the other surfers nearby and also began to perform CPR on the teen, whom he had placed atop his surfboard.
A feat it was indeed to navigate Zander back to shore, as large rocks abound at Box by Box, some of them even protruding above the water’s surface. The CPR efforts continued on the beach, where paramedics promptly arrived and rushed him to the hospital. By the time they arrived he had received about 75 minutes of nonstop CPR. Sadly, the heroic life-saving efforts were unsuccessful.
“You were charging and had the happiest smile on your face…”
The tragic accident happened as the surf world was just getting a glimpse of the rising star. Two weeks prior, he had just won top prize in the Rip Curl Grom Search in North Carolina. His dream was to surf in the 2020 Summer Olympics. Those who knew Zander held him in high esteem for his surfing prowess and his outstanding character.
Asher Nolan posted on Instagram, “I’m going to miss you so much Zander! You had such an amazing session today. Surfed for 4 hours. You were charging and had the happiest smile on your face everytime I saw you. You were a humble, respectful, full of positive energy that every kid should look up too and live the way you did. Gone too soon. My heart is heavy. The Venezia’s always treated me like family and it hurts that they have to go through losing someone so special.”