I was going to post a picture of a sunrise this morning, but decided I wanted to share a very special ritual that involves sunrises, the beach AND funeral rituals.

Being married to a surfer has provided a front row seat into the lifestyle and traditions of surfers. Surfers have a tendency to think they are invincible, so when a surfer passes away, it is not only an emotional loss of a fellow surfer, it also is a grim reminder to them that they are mortal. The surfing community has a tradition to commemorate the passing which is both beautiful and fitting… it is called “The Paddle Out”.

paddle-out1Participants in the memorial service paddle out to a suitable location with flower leis around their necks or with loose flowers (sometimes held between their teeth). The participants then get into a circular formation, hold hands, and silently pray or have someone speak a few words. Sometimes they will raise their clasped hands skyward before tossing their flowers or leis into the center of the ring. Sometimes they will all splash the water after their time of silence.

Afterward, they paddle back toward the beach to begin their surf session. Often these services take place at sunrise or sunset. In locations with a pier, such as Huntington Beach, Orange County, California, the service can take place near the end of the pier so that any non-surfers, can watch and participate. Often the participants on the pier will throw down bouquets of flowers into the center of the ring.


Ken “Skindog” Collins and Mavericks pioneer Jeff Clark join hands for the traditional paddle-out. Photo: Nikki Brooks | Titans of Mavericks

Since I don’t surf, I have never participated in a paddle-out.. at least gone out in the water. I have always been an observer from the beach. Non-surfers are always welcome, but I have always thought that the actual act of being in the water is a time to be reserved and honored for those who share that common bond of riding waves. It is always a very emotional site to watch from the beach.

One other thing that I’ve seen some of the surfers do… after the paddle-out, a lot of them will then “go surfing”. Catching waves can be quite a competitive event, because a wave has a peak, and it is the surfer who is at the peak is the one who can call dibs on that wave and catch it. You can imagine the challenges that take place between these athletes as they all compete to be the one who can say, “This is my wave.” Anyway, after a paddle-out, many surfers who are lined up to catch a wave will be right where they need to be to catch a great wave and they let that one wave pass. It is their way to “give that wave” to their friend who is gone from this life. It is the final gesture to say, “This is your wave.” A very fitting gesture to say their Final Farewell.

And for those who might want to see the sunrise from this morning: