Big waves arrived in Hawaii on Tuesday night, peaking Wednesday with 25-foot swell. With the surf world's eyes on Oahu's North Shore for the start of the Triple Crown of Surfing, and the Association of Surfing Professionals' Top 32 elite surfers standing by, many were up for the challenge.
One local surfer, however, has not returned to land.
The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched a Dolphin helicopter from their Galveston Island base in Honolulu to begin a search on Wednesday. According to a news release from the Coast Guard, Haleiwa's Kirk Passmore, 32, was last seen wearing black board shorts and no shirt. His surfboard was located onshore.
The search remained officially open by authorities on Thursday evening, but a post from Passmore's family on the Brigham Young University-Hawaii website alludes to his passing.
"He started coming to Hawaii when he was 14 and was an experienced and expert surfer," the post said. "He was not new to big wave surfing, having surfed most of the well-known big wave locations."
Written under the heading, "Kirk Passmore, February 11, 1981 to November 12, 2013," the statement goes on to say he is "survived" by his mother, father, stepmother and three siblings.
Passmore, originally from Carlsbad, Calif., lives in Haleiwa, on the North Shore, and is part-owner of the Third Stone Surf Shop in Waialua. The incident happened at approximately 11:30 a.m. HT. According to friend and professional surfer Jamie Sterling, Passmore was experienced in big-wave riding. He paddled out to an outer reef near Alligator Rock, just south of Waimea Bay, caught a 20-foot wave and fell at the bottom. He was seen briefly before disappearing in the next set of waves.
"It's a spot we don't usually surf. It was only working because of the angle of the swell," Sterling said. "It was really hard just to paddle out to it. I made it out with a handful of guys. Kirk and a few other guys paddled out from Waimea Bay."
According to witnesses, Passmore had been out for about an hour when he took off on a wave behind ASP competitor Patrick Gudauskas of San Clemente, Calif. Passmore made the drop off the lip of the wave, but the momentum threw him over the nose of his board as he got to the bottom of the wave and hit the water.
"We saw him at the surface after the wave, but his legs were popping out of the water. He may have busted his eardrum. When that happens, you almost do the opposite of what you're supposed to do," Sterling said.
Surfers nearby alerted everyone in the water to start searching, including the four jet skis that were on hand.
"I took off on the next set, and it put me right in position to search for him. But I felt helpless searching in the impact zone wondering when the next set is coming," Sterling said.
The Honolulu Fire Department, Ocean Safety and the Coast Guard all joined the search, and the Coast Guard continued it through the night.
Passmore's board was found with the leash plug ripped out, and Sterling noted that Passmore was not wearing an inflatable float vest, protective wear that has become more prevalent at big-wave arenas and outer reefs.
"He's a really good guy," Sterling said. "He held down three jobs and was getting his marketing degree from Brigham Young University in Honolulu. He isn't sponsored. He just surfs for the love of it."
This reef is close to the area where professional surfer Todd Chesser drowned in 1997, and Waimea Bay claimed the life of surfer Donnie Solomon in 1995.