A quick-developing thunderstorm near the coast of El Salvador created a bolt of lightning that killed surfing star 22 year-old Katherine Diaz. Diaz’s uncle, Beto Diaz, told local media that his niece had gone to hug a friend she spotted at the surf spot when lightning struck.
“She, the friend, was thrown by the force of the lightning strike too, the board threw me back. Katherine died instantly.”
The International Surfing Association (ISA) released a statement over the weekend with regards to her death: “It is with a heavy heart that the ISA has learned about the passing of El Salvador’s Katherine Diaz. Katherine embodied the joy and energy that make surfing so special and dear to us all, as a global ambassador of the sport. She excelled at the international competition level, representing her country with pride at both the ISA World Surfing Games and ISA World Junior Surfing Championship.” They added, “We send our heartfelt condolences to Katherine’s family, the surfers of El Salvador, and to all those in the international surfing community whose lives she touched. We will never forget you.”
Yamil Bukele, the president of the Salvadoran Sports Institute, wrote that “I greatly regret this death, and I join in the family’s pain”.
Diaz was at the El Salvador surfing spot called “El Tunco” when the storm hit; she was practicing during a training session ahead of the ISA World Surf Games which is scheduled to occur in the coming weeks. From there, Diaz hoped to qualify to compete in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, representing her home country of El Salvador.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, surfers in El Salvador are planning to hold a “paddle out” to remember and honor Diaz. During the paddle out, surfers will sit on top of their boards at a distance from the coastline, sharing their memories of the surf star.
The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) says that lightning regularly strikes and kills people on or near bodies of water. “As recently as 2011, a lifeguard was fatally struck by lightning in Florida.”
If you are at the beach when a thunderstorm approaches, get off the beach. According to the National Weather Service, if you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to kill. Lightning can strike more than 25 miles from the thunderstorm in which it originates. There aren’t many places on a beach to take shelter from a storm: because trees are an unsafe location, beach-goers are encouraged to take shelter in a building –even a bathroom, if necessary, or in a car.