With a heavy heart the The Watercraft Journal reports the loss of big wave surfer Kirk Passmore on the North Shore of Oahu last week. Hawaii’s mecca of surfing was experiencing the first large, Northwest swell of the season and surfers were taking full advantage of the extreme conditions. Sets in the 20-foot range were seen along the outer reefs creating a great kickoff to the winter season.
Over the last several years there has been a resurgence in big wave paddle-in surfing as apposed to the tow-in craze of the early 2000’s where surfers utilized personal watercraft to tow themselves into large waves. Despite the trend of forgoing mechanical assistance to actually catch the wave, PWC’s have remained a huge part of surfer safety in extreme conditions and last week was no exception.
32-year-old Kirk Passmore and a standout crew of top pro surfers were trading off on solid 20-foot sets at an outer reef know as Alligator Rock. Several PWCs were on hand to take action in the case of an emergency. At 11:20am Passmore was seen dropping in on a huge set wave. As he dropped down the face he caught his outside rail, sending him headfirst off his board with the lip of the wave impacting right behind him. Witnesses describe seeing Passmore’s feet sticking strait up in the air, with his head below water as the next wave came crashing down on top of him.
Safety crews aboard PWC raced in to grab him but were thwarted by repeated set waves. Passmore was not wearing a flotation jacket, something that has recently gained popularity among big wave surfers. Witness Chris Owens told Hawaii Now News, “They were trying to grab him but they had nothing to hold on to. You know like, everybody out there (pause) see what would have saved him is if he had a float vest on. Everybody wears float vests nowadays.” Pro surfer Jamie Sterling described his flotation vest he uses in extreme conditions, “I have co2 canisters in here. I can pull them and they blow up like the life vests on the airplane so if we get in trouble, I pull these and they go to the top and they stay inflated throughout my whole session so I have constant buoyancy.”
Rescue crews continued their search via PWC as well as helicopter and Coast Guard cutter but were unsuccessful. Despite the advantage of having PWCs on hand, one can never be too careful when in extreme conditions. The Watercraft Journal would like to send our condolences to the Passmore family as well as urge all of our readers to always wear a flotation device.
Below is a video of Kirk’s last wave. It has been released with the permission of the Passmore family so the community can share Kirk’s last ride.