Surfing Mourns the Loss of a Popular Young Star

It wasn't so much his considerable talent as a surfer, in waves large and small, that made Jay Moriarty one of the world's most popular wave-riders.

It was his talent as a human being.

That has been known for years by his many friends, by his wife and family, and even by casual acquaintances. Moriarty wore a smile wherever he went; he finished his sentences with a laugh and generally put those around him in a better mood.

That is what the close-knit community of Santa Cruz will miss most about Jay Michael Moriarty. The lineups at the local breaks won't be the same without him.

"The guy was such the cohesion in the lineup," says Frank Quirarte, publisher of the Maverick's Web site and a close friend of Moriarty's. "Here we are a bunch of old grouchy bastards and then he shows up and he can't not smile and laugh, and then we're all smiling and laughing.

"Everybody you talk to mentions this about Jay. Hell, if I die and 10 people say that about me I'll be stoked."

Moriarty died a week ago, two days before his 23rd birthday, while breath-hold diving at the Maldives, an island republic off southern India. He had been touring with Team O'Neill and, during a lull, he traded his board for a mask and snorkel and ventured off for a morning dive.

He failed to show for lunch, which was no cause for alarm. But then he missed dinner and a search ensued. In the dark of night, his body was discovered on the ocean floor, near where he had last been seen.

Moriarty was a rising star on the surfing scene, an exceptional long-boarder but also a big-wave expert who had conquered some of the largest and most dangerous waves ridden at Maverick's, his home break near Half Moon Bay.

If he had to leave this world early, his family and friends might have reasoned, it would have been beneath the power of one of those thunderous crushers: the route taken by noted surfer Mark Foo in 1995.

Instead, Moriarty's departure occurred thousands of miles from home, during what was supposed to have been an idyllic dive in paradise. How he drowned remains unclear, but one theory is that he had succumbed to shallow-water blackout, a condition that renders victims unconscious, without warning, when oxygen-starved lungs steal oxygen from the blood.

Moriarty had last been seen by Brazilian tourists diving down a buoy rope to about 30 feet and sitting on the bottom, his arms outstretched as if he were meditating.

Had he been diving with a buddy, he might still be alive. But that's merely conjecture.

News of his death was delivered by phone late Friday night. It spread rapidly Saturday, thanks to a front-page story, with sparse details, in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Shock and disbelief were the first reactions. The tsunamic groundswell of emotion that followed was proof not only of the popularity of the young surfer, but of the bond surfers--particularly big-wave surfers--seem to share.

Asked via e-mail to express his feelings about Moriarty's passing, Laird Hamilton, a renowned big-wave specialist from the Hawaiian island of Kauai, offered a touching perspective in eulogy form.

"I knew only of his courage and fearlessness," Hamilton said. "He was loved and respected. It seems there are only good things to say about Jay. He was happy. You ask yourself 'Why?' So young. So many more things to do and time to share.

"Yet maybe he learned what he needed here. Maybe he is saved from the burdens of living. We mourn out of our own selfish desire to be with our friends and loved ones who have gone. But, if you knew that they were in a better place at peace, wouldn't you then be rejoicing and celebrating their fortune?

"He will always be here, and his deeds will be spoken of in the light of campfires for many generations to come. We know not of our time and place of departure. We only know that it will come and it is written. When I go, please have a party for me.

"I didn't need to know Jay very well to know that he would want his passing celebrated. It's one of the unspoken rules of the men of the sea. Goodbye Jay, a man of the sea. There you will always be. Keep an eye on us. Your brother, Laird."

Evan Slater, editor of http://swell.com, remembered the day he and Moriarty both paddled out at Maverick's for the first time, on April 1, 1994. "To me, he stands side by side with big-wave legends of the past: Jose Angel, Pat Curren, Buzzy Trent, etc.," Slater said. "He did it for all the right reasons: a true love [of] being among the most horrifying elements known to man. If he hadn't made a cent off it, he'd be doing the same thing. Jay was the heart and soul of the Maverick's lineup and no one will ever replace him."

Messages pertaining to Moriarty's passing on http://www.mavsurfer.com numbered about 1,000 by Wednesday morning, and they're still pouring in from all over the world.

One was from his father, Doug, who recalled fond memories and apologized for pushing his son too hard during childhood, before becoming overcome with emotion.

"Yesterday I decided that I can't go on without you," he wrote. "I still don't know what to do. I need to be here for your [younger] brother. He's surfing now and wants to be like you. Sean loves you, Jay. I need your strength if I'm going to get through this. I don't know if I can do it."

That blossomed into a show of support for the father.

"I'm amazed at the way the Internet has allowed the mourning process to take place and celebrate Jay's life," observed Bill Sharp, publisher of the Costa Mesa-based Surf News. "It's hard to not get teary when you see what some of Jay's family have shared. The California surf community has been hit very hard emotionally by this, because Jay was just a super-cool, super-happy guy. And he was by far the best big-wave surfer for his age California has ever seen."

Kim Moriarty has "been a rock through all this," Quirarte said, adding that she has been comforting those who have broken down trying to comfort her.

She has been surfing a couple of times and, it seems, that has been the best therapy for some of Moriarty's close friends.

Jeff Clark, who pioneered surfing at Maverick's, was among the closest. Moriarty was Clark's tow-surfing partner when the waves got really big. They'd take turns pulling the other onto monstrous breakers and rescuing each other in dangerous situations.

Clark has been an emotional wreck all week, a friend said. He didn't return phone calls to The Times but told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this week: "He was the ultimate human being. Man, he loved life and loved everybody."

Moriarty's body was due to arrive home Thursday. After cremation, his ashes will be spread, amid paddle-out ceremonies, at both Pleasure Point, one of his favorite breaks, and Maverick's.

The surfer is being honored tonight and Saturday night during premiere screenings of the surf video, "Return of the Drag-In," at Capitola Theater in Capitola, Calif.

The video, a sequel to "Year of the Drag-In," features footage of giant waves at Maverick's being ridden by Maverick's elite.

If there had been any doubt before, there's none now as to who the star of the show is going to be.

News and Notes

* Albacore update: San Diego's season is in full swing, with anglers aboard 1 1/2-day boats getting limits and those aboard one-day boats averaging a few fish per rod. The most productive area is 50 to 60 miles south of San Diego. The problem for the day boats is that the bite has been best late in the day, after they've headed home. Skippers running from Long Beach and Newport Beach are reporting mixed results. The Toronado out of Pierpoint Landing on Thursday called in a noon count of 40-plus albacore 65 miles out, east of San Clemente Island.

* Local fishing: Sand bass have finally migrated into local waters, giving anglers on half-day and twilight boats from Oceanside to L.A. Harbor something tasty to pull on. The Enterprise, out of Marina Sportfishing, on Wednesday night logged 97 sand bass and 38 barracuda for 15 anglers at Huntington Flats. Three-quarter-day boats fishing the front side of Catalina are logging impressive catches of calico bass and barracuda.

* Sailing: Nine Aloha Division boats will shove off Monday to kick off the 41st Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu. The larger and faster boats in divisions I and II, including defending champion Pyewacket (skippered by Roy E. Disney), will start July 1. Division III and IV boats will begin racing June 30. All starts will be from the Palos Verdes Peninsula at 1 p.m.

* Eastern Sierra: Mammoth Mountain's summer season begins today with the opening of the Adventure Center at Panorama Station. The center is headquarters for the resort's mountain bike park, gondola rides to high-country hiking trails, shuttle rides to and beyond Reds Meadow, a climbing rock and ropes courses. Details: http://www.mammothmountain.com.

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