Teen Surfer Dies While Riding Waves in Barbados During Hurricane Irma

A talented teen surfer died while riding waves in Barbados during Category 5 Hurricane Irma on Tuesday, September 5.

Zander Venezia, an Island native, was knocked unconscious and drowned after slamming into a shallow reef. According to Surfline magazine, the 16-year-old was surfing with other professionals who flew to the Caribbean to catch the historic swells.

Surfline reported that shortly before the tragedy, Venezia told fellow surfer Dylan Graves, “I just got the best wave of my life!”

Alan Burke, a pro-turned-surf-instructor, who considered Venezia like a son, said paramedics tried to revive the athlete but it was too late. “Zander was such a good, funny kid. He was always joking and he just loved surfing,” Burke told Surfline. “He was so jovial, such a joy to be around. I can’t believe he’s gone. I’m a mess, man. We’re all a mess over here.”

@zandervenezia By all accounts you were as good a friend as you were a surfer…thank you for the impact you had on those around you for a life lived with joy and purpose. And thank you for taking this photo with me when you were 5. I will cherish it always. @louis_venezia sorry doesn't cover it. Words cannot suffice for your family and the loss of a son. The grief felt by so many is felt around this surfing work of ours. Much love to my #BarbadosFamily. #GoneTooSoon #ZanderVenezia •For those who don't know, Zander passed away while surfing today after catching what he said was the best wave of his life. He was knocked unconscious when he hit his head on the reef, possibly braking his neck and taking a long hold down for a number of waves. Friends and fellow surfers aided in a rescue attempt but his injuries were greater than could be addressed making him the first victim, by default, of #HurricaneIrma.

A post shared by Kelly Slater (@kellyslater) on

The Olympic hopeful’s death has rocked the surfing community with tributes pouring in from friends, including Kelly Slater, who shared a photo of himself and Venezia in 2006, when Venezia was 5 years old. “By all accounts you were as good a friend as you were a surfer . . . thank you for the impact that you had on those around you for a life lived with joy and purpose,” Slater wrote on Wednesday, September 6. “And thank you for taking this photo with me when you were 5. I will cherish it always.”

Hurricane Irma
NOAA's GOES satellite shows Hurricane Irma as it makes its way across the Atlantic Ocean in to the Caribbean. NASA/NOAA GOES Project via Getty Images

Venezia won first place at the Rip Curl Grom Search in Nags Head, North Carolina, in August.

Hurricane Irma is one of the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean with winds up to 185 miles per hour. 

Sign up now for the Us Weekly newsletter to get breaking celebrity news, hot pics and more delivered straight to your inbox!

Want stories like these delivered straight to your phone? Download the Us Weekly iPhone app now!