The tragedy of the Air France Flight 447 sent a quiet chill around the world. So cruelly unexpected, the trans-Atlantic flight took the lives of 228 unsuspecting passengers, and inspired unsettling thoughts that it could have been one of us. And it was.
One of Flight 447’s victims, a Brazilian orthodontist by the name of Dr. Jose ‘Rommel’ Souza, was an avid surfer who traveled the world in search of waves, making friends along the way. As a result, lineups around the world are mourning his sudden end.
Jimmy Brady, a firefighter and photographer, met Souza and his girlfriend in Tavarua. “For one week we shared a ton of great moments. You get one session with somebody, and if it’s an epic session you’ll remember it for the rest of your life,” he said. Brady didn’t find out about Souza’s death until a week after it happened. “It was really hard to swallow,” he said.
Richard Gaunt, who also met him in the water, ended up becoming great friends with Souza. The two surfed together for five years, and his death has left Gaunt in deep sadness. “He was a fantastic surfer and an inspiration to keep going at it – even if you’re having a bad day surfing,” said Gaunt. “It was a great loss for everyone that knew him.”
On June 13 and 14, paddle outs in New York, Rio, and Devon brought together the people that respected and admired the well-traveled surfer and his girlfriend who also perished in the crash.
“We formed a little circle, and we did it quietly,” said the paddleout’s organizer, Jimmy Brady. “And we did a little thank you and a goodbye and put them out of their worries just outside the Atlantic,” he said. “It’s always special when you’re in the water anyways, and to be in the water to say goodbye to someone that way is even better.”
Souza was accomplished both in and out of the water, as he spoke four languages and had studied in both Brazil and Paris. But his surfing may be remembered most. “Perhaps one of his most memorable rides was at Uluwatu on a huge day,” said Gaunt. The wave quadruple overhead, he caught it right at the peak and rode it for a kilometer and a half. “He rode the wave so far he had to get a motorbike back from Padang beach,” said Gaunt.
According to his friend Justin Dyson, “He always kept an eye on the surf forecast, not just London but on Europe and beyond.”
His hapless death occurred on his 35th birthday. The sanguine surfer was traveling from Rio to Paris with his girlfriend, Isis Pinet. “We take solace in the fact that they were together in the last moments and that he was returned to the water,” said Gaunt. “He was one of the finest surfers in any line up—from Porthleven to 2nd reef Pipe—in his passing we have lost a true warrior.”
Since the unexpected disaster, online posts have cropped up, describing what a great surfer, orthodontist, and person he was. “He was quiet, unassuming, kind of like a typical Brazilian—humble, but you know there’s a little bit of rage in him,” Brady explained.
His death was shocking to everyone who knew him, and many of his friends said he is a person they will never forget. Gaunt said, “He represented everything that is special about our sport and although his death was tragic, what will be remembered is his life which was an inspiration to all those who knew and surfed with him.”