Stab Magazine | Jamie Sterling on the Kirk Passmore Incident

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Jamie Sterling on the Kirk Passmore Incident

The spectre of tragedy looms every winter on the North Shore. It’s a careful balance, committed big wave surfers mixed with those who just come wild for kicks, all taking on some of the world’s most juiced up surf conditions. Bad things can happen. And still, though we all know how easily those bad things […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The spectre of tragedy looms every winter on the North Shore. It’s a careful balance, committed big wave surfers mixed with those who just come wild for kicks, all taking on some of the world’s most juiced up surf conditions. Bad things can happen. And still, though we all know how easily those bad things can happen, it’s always a shock when it does happen. On Wednesday, Kirk Passmore was lost at Alligators. Big wave pro Jamie Sterling was in the water, and retold us the story.

Story by Craig Jarvis (Twitter: @red_elvis)

Stab: Jamie. Good to talk, wish it were under better circumstances.
Jamie: Yeah, we’re really feeling the loss over here right now. The reality has really hit home amongst the big wave surfers and everyone who paddles out when it’s serious. It’s kind of made people realise how fragile life is and how quick things can go wrong.

Kirk a good friend? I knew him for about 15 years, so we were good mates. He’s from California but just came over all the time and then eventually stayed. He was just totally in love with his surfing. He held three jobs and was putting himself through school, and charged whenever the waves were on. Totally competent in the big stuff and totally in love with surfing. He surfed for free, he didn’t do it for any fame or glory or anything. When the waves were on he was out there.

Was he out there for a while? He first tried to get out from the front, but couldn’t make it out. So he drove to Waimea and paddled down from there. If you’re at Waimea, sitting on the headland and looking west, Alligators is the next peak you see. You’d be looking straight into the lefts off the peak. Damien Hobgood and Tanner and Pat Gudauskas joined him and they paddled off down the coast.

Place looks fairly benign from the beach angle, but has a reputation. It’s where Todd (Chesser) died in 1997.

Kirk had no life vest or flotation device on. Yeah. I reckon there are about three quarters of the big wave surfers who are totally gearing up for big wave sessions and there are about a quarter that aren’t and Kirk was part of that quarter. You can’t rely on the life vest, but it really can make a big difference. On top of that, his leash plugs pulled out, so he was in heavy water conditions with so much moving water without a board or a life vest. If we could have recovered him we might have been able to save him. The fact that he lost his board was also a major factor out there.

How big was it? Twenty-foot Hawaiian. There were forty-foot faces out there. Still, Kirk was an experienced surfer and wasn’t out of his realm. They wave that he went down on was a solid set wave, so about a forty-foot face.

What were the conditions like? The swell had quite a rare northerly angle on it, so we were kinda surfing something new. We were all paddle surfing because it was perfect conditions, with light winds and glassy seas. The period wasn’t that big as the storm was right on top of us, everyone was just totally amped for it. Still, it’s a big wave spot and it’s an outer reef, so it’s the last frontier out there. You have to be self-sufficient. Even if you have friends and back-up, you have to be in control, with all the modern day gear. It helps. The wave itself is a peak, but due to the swell from the north we were mainly surfing the rights.

You did see him. The strangest thing. The wave that he wiped out on didn’t take him very deep. He was right at the surface. I saw his leg breach, and then he seemed to swim down a bit and then the next wave rolled over him and we never saw him again. We were all on it immediately. I caught a wave and went into the impact zone and was just trying to place myself where he would have been. I was taking big ones on the head, it was heavy, but we were all just scrambling, doing what we could. In a situation like this every second counts you know. As soon as we started going into minutes it was this terrible feeling, when you start losing hope. He probably blacked out after the second wave rolled over him and took in water. It’s so sad. With total respect to Kirk, if he had a $100 life jacket on he might have been saved.

You mentioned that you thought it might have been a burst eardrum. Yes. I’ve burst an eardrum before, so I know what it’s like. You lose balance, you don’t’ know which way is up, you almost start doing the exact opposite of what you should be doing, like swimming down.

What was the vibe when the crew realised that Kirk was in trouble? The session was over. Everyone started going in immediately, catching waves in. it’s not a common thing losing a surfer to the sea. It doesn’t happen often at all. Everyone was totally shaken. It’s not an easy thing to deal with at all. At this stage, as far as I am aware, the body has not been recovered.

Who was out there with you? All the Florence brothers and Tanner and Pat Gudauskas and Damian Hobgood as I mentioned. Jamie Mitchel was there, Nathan Fletcher, Koa, Ben Wilkinson and Eli Johnson. There were a couple of other good locals guys. Kirk. Every one a good surfer.

The season is just kicking in. Do you think this will change anything on the North Shore when the big wave spots light up? I think so. I think people will think a bit more about preparation and gear. Maybe more people will realise that when it’s big it’s heavy. It’s not an easy pursuit. Precautions have to be taken.  Don’t surf alone. Don’t take it lightly. Don’t waste energy fighting the ocean.

How are you feeling? It’s just really sad man. I had to make a few phone calls to his friends back in California. They’re pretty good friends of mine as well, so I had to break the news. Not easy.

Apart from friends and family, it’s always very sad for the whole global surfing family when we lose someone to the ocean. It puts such a weird perspective on the game that we play, the things we stress about, getting aggressive over waves and drop-ins and other such nonsense. It is sad. Kirk loved his surfing so much. It’s cold comfort, but at least he kicked out doing something he loved.

RIP Kirk Passmore. Condolences to family and friends.  Be careful out there.


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