It’s not hard to imagine where Emery Kauanui would have spent his Saturday had his life not ended tragically at the age of 24. The professional surfer and La Jolla resident probably would have been at WindanSea Beach.
“He was an every-day-in-the-water kind of guy, for sure,” said Todd Bartlett, a surf shop owner who sponsored Kauanui for the past seven years.
Kauanui spent as much time surfing the left-breaking inside wave at WindanSea as anyone, friends say. In those waters, the surfer known to some as “The Flying Hawaiian” displayed a high-performance surfing style and an “aloha” spirit that rarely accompanies such a high surfing skill level.
Friends and family will gather in those waters this Saturday, June 9, at 3 p.m. for a memorial paddle-out in honor of Kauanui. The traditional Hawaiian ceremony will follow an earlier memorial service to be held Saturday morning at 11 a.m. at Coast Vineyard Church on Mount Soledad. Kauanui died May 28 from head injuries sustained in an altercation with four young men in front of his mother’s home on Draper Avenue.
Kauanui was born in Kauai and moved to La Jolla in the mid-1990s, where he attended and graduated from La Jolla High School. He was attending Mesa College and had plans to someday return to Kauai with his longtime girlfriend to open up a surfing and horseback-riding camp for underprivileged children, Bartlett said.
“He had a big love for the outdoors, and big love for his family and friends - he had a lot of friends,” Bartlett said. “Just wait and see how many hundreds of people show up for that paddle-out.”
The paddle-out is a tradition in Hawaiian surf culture. Accompanied by friends and family, Kauanui’s mother, Cindy Kauanui, will spread his ashes in the waters he so loved.
“In Hawaiian culture they believe that when you paddle out, there is a spiritual connection with the water,” said Tiffany Swink of WindanSea Surf Club, which is helping organize the ceremony.
Swink also said a movement is afoot to name the inside left at WindanSea “Emery’s.” Surf spot names are informal and often determined by general consensus; with Kauanui’s legacy as one of the best surfers and friendliest faces at the spot, there is little doubt the name will stick.
“A lot of people knew him because he ripped, but he was just a sweet, nice kid,” said Jonathan Chesner, a close friend of Kauanui’s who often shared the lineup at WindanSea with him.
Chesner said that Kauanui always displayed a welcoming attitude at a surf spot that is known for being competitive and unforgiving for “kooks” - surf-speak for unskilled, disrespectful newcomers to the lineup.
“If someone cut him off on a great wave and kooked it, he would just laugh,” Chesner said. “He would just paddle back out and get one 10 times as sick and just rip it to bits.”
“He liked surfing with anyone who liked to go in the water,” he said.
Chesner remembered Kauanui as a person with only three priorities: family, friends and surfing. His singular focus could be seen in a short survey on the Web site for Bartlett’s surf shop, Liquid Foundation. Asked what his goals were with surfing, Kauanui responded, “Travelling and surfing.” Those priorities may have cost him an odd job or two at restaurants around town, but Kauanui was the type of person that no one could stay mad at, Chesner said.
“He was the kind of guy who would come over and use up all your groceries to make you and him lunch,” he said. “I loaned him boards and he would break them, and he’d say, ‘I did such a sick air, you would have loved it,’ and then you forget that your new board is in two pieces.”
Big aerial maneuvers were a signature of Kauanui’s surfing. He first became part of Bartlett’s surf team at the age of 17, after Bartlett saw him surfing around La Jolla.
“His ability and the way he surfs stands out of a crowd,” he said.
Bartlett’s surf team was a tight-knit crew that spent countless hours together at his Mission Beach shop and on the sand.
“He had a lot of love for the outdoors, whether it was surfing, throwing horseshoes on the beach or just hanging out on the beach,” he said.
Bartlett said Kauanui’s family was a huge part of his life. He is survived by his mother, older brother Caleb and younger brother Nigel. Chesner said that many people called him “Junior” or “Junior-Boy” because he was named after his father, who still lives in Kauai. Bartlett said Kauanui would travel there a couple times a year to see his father and enjoy the Hawaiian surf.
A foundation has been set up in Kauanui’s memory to help fulfill his dreams of starting the surf camp in Kauai. Those interested in more information or making a donation can contact Sharon Shomaker at JetSet Models, the business Cindy Kauanui operates in La Jolla Shores. She can be reached at (858) 551-9393, ext. 110.
A memorial service will be held June 9 at 11 a.m. at Coast Vineyard Church, 6550 Soledad Mountain Road. The memorial paddle-out will be held at 3 p.m. at WindanSea Beach, 6800 Neptune Place.