Kalani David, a rising star in the surf and skate world, died Saturday in Costa Rica after an attack while surfing the waves. He was 24.
The news was first reported by The Inertia. It was seemingly confirmed by David’s younger brother, Keoni, who posted on his Instagram story: “You are the best brother I could ever ask for. I will miss you Kalani.”
Born and raised on Oahu’s North Shore in Hawaii, David was born with a surfboard in one hand and a skateboard in the other, and by age 14 he was already considered “a seasoned veteran” like his X-Games- biography expressed it . In 2012, he won one of the first of his many major honours, with a gold medal at the ISA World Junior Surfing Championship in Panama.
The 24-year-old also had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a congenital heart condition in which an extra electrical path can cause an abnormally — sometimes dangerously — fast heart rate. In some patients, it causes a seizure that, while not always fatal, often involves loss of consciousness, something particularly dangerous in the ocean.
David had his first seizure in August 2016 while skating with friends at a park in Oceanside, California. When he was 18 years old, he later reported on Instagram that he “fell on my face and woke up in an ambulance.” The episode briefly stopped his heart and caused three more attacks in the hospital. “So thankful to be alive!” David wrote.
Months later—just before Christmas—David had another seizure in Oahu, Hawaii. The episode took place in the middle of the night, and he later posted on Instagram that he was “lucky he was even alive” after being held for about six hours before friends found him. He spent two days in a medically induced coma and had surgery weeks later to have an extra muscle on his heart removed, or “burned,” as he put it.
For David, giving up on one of his two loves was never an option. “If it was life or death, and I had to choose to skate or surf,” he told Stiches magazine in 2016, “I’d Choose Death.”
Tributes to the young phenom poured in after reports of his death surfaced on Saturday. Peter King, a surf photographer and filmmaker, was one of the first to remember David. “I will always remember your stoke when we would shoot skate and surf and how much hope you had for your future [sic],” He wrote.
In mourning the death of David, Freesurfing magazine called him “a child prodigy indeed” with “literally hundreds if not thousands of trophies.” The outlet noted in a Facebook post that it has “followed his career for at least 15 years. Maybe since kindergarten?”
“Kalani was one of the most talented surfers/skaters on the planet,” surf legend Kelly Slater wrote on his Instagram story, “pushing the boundaries every time he was on his feet.”