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The Ultimate Sacrifice

March 13, 1996|PETE THOMAS

It has been 2 1/2 months since Donnie Solomon, a promising young surfer from Ventura, drowned after getting caught inside and buried under a massive set of waves that pounded Waimea Bay on Oahu's North Shore.

But only recently has anyone reported, in detail, the chaotic moments leading to Solomon's death last Dec. 23. Surfer magazine does so in its May issue.

Solomon had just caught what he had exuberantly told another surfer was "the biggest wave of my life" and was paddling back out when dark lines on the horizon indicated that an even larger set--one that would close out the bay--was rolling in.

The set, with waves well in excess of 20 feet, caught most of the pack inside, including lifeguard Terry Ahue, who lost his WaveRunner rescue craft.

Solomon had unsuccessfully tried to catch another wave in the set, and turned to see an even larger one coming. He had no chance.

"He got a few strokes as he was going up the face, but when he was two-thirds of the way up, the wave pitched out," Bill Ballard, a photographer videotaping the turmoil, told Surfer. "The last things I saw were Donnie's feet in the barrel as it pitched."

Solomon got sucked over the falls and was held under by the force of the wave. Another wave broke before he was able to make it up for air.

"Everyone around me looked at each other and said, 'That guy didn't come up," said Rick Irons Jr. a surfer watching from the beach.

A third wave broke, washing Solomon--who had yet to come up--and his board inside. Rescuers were eventually able to get to him, but were unable to revive him.

His death occurred a year to the day after big-wave rider Mark Foo drowned after wiping out at Mavericks, a notorious break near Half Moon Bay.

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