Yesterday the tragic news broke that one of Barbados’ most talented young surfers, 16-year-old Zander Venezia, had died after hitting the reef during a heavy session on the east coast of the island.
Zander had been competing since the age of 11, when he won the U-12 category in the National Championships. In April this year he took out the Open Juniors division in the NSSA East Coast Regional Championships and more recently won the the Rip Curl Gromsearch 16-U division at Jennette’s Pier, forging the path for what was undoubtedly set to be a fruitful surfing career.
As the swell from hurricane Irma began to arrive on Tuesday morning, Venezia paddled out at a shallow reef break, along with a crew of friends, locals and international pros, including Nathan Florence, Dylan Graves, and Balaram Stack who had flown in for the swell.
Venezia got caught inside on a big close out set and was spotted unconscious in the impact zone
After snagging some perfect barrels, Venezia got caught inside on a big close out set and was spotted unconscious in the impact zone by Nathan Florence who immediately rushed him to the beach and began performing CPR. An assembled group of pros and locals began furious resuscitation efforts until the ambulance arrived.
“The ambulance came really swiftly from Speightstown,” surf instructor and close friend of the family, Alan Burke told Surfline. ”
For the whole drive Nathan Florence, Dylan Graves and the paramedics continued to try and revive him. But once they got him to the hospital, Zander was breathing, but not responsive. From the time Nathan got to him in the water to when they arrived at the hospital, it was about 75 minutes of nonstop CPR.”
At the hospital it was discovered that Zander had broken his neck and despite the efforts of the medical staff, he could not be saved and was pronounced dead on Tuesday afternoon.
“He was one of my sons’ [Josh and Jacob Burke] best friends, and like a son to me,” Alan continued.
“We just traveled the whole East Coast together, surfing that last Outer Banks swell together. Zander was such a good, funny kid. 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.”
If there’s any consolation to be found in this tragedy, it is in Zander’s last words, spoken to Dylan Graves just before that fateful closeout set took his life.
“He told Dylan, ‘I just got the best wave of my life!'” Alan finished. “Dylan was the last person to speak to Zander. Then that next closeout set came through.”
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.
Our deepest condolences go out to all of Zander’s friends and family and the whole Barbados surfing community.
Cover photo: Zander Venezia and father Louis at the Ron Jon Vans Pro. Photo WSL / ANDREW NICHOLS