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Surfer Drowns After Hitting Pier Piling

Accident: Huntington Beach High School student had gone back for one more wave after practice in which he was trying to earn a spot on elite team.

September 07, 1997|GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Joshua Dean Hall just wanted to catch a few more waves before sundown.

He had surfed especially well in practice Thursday morning and appeared to be on the verge of making the 12-man traveling squad of the Huntington Beach High School surfing team, winner of 16 national championships.

But when he returned to the beach to surf on his own that afternoon, he attempted to ride a wave beneath the Huntington Beach Pier, slammed into a concrete piling and drowned.

"The whole surfing community is hurting," said Andy Verone, coach of the high school team.

When he died, the 16-year-old Hall was riding a brand-new surfboard bought for him by his grandmother, Phyllis Hall. The teenager's surfing had improved dramatically over the summer, which he had spent training hard, his coach said.

His chances of breaking out of a surfing class of about 100 into the elites were promising, especially after dazzling Verone during the team's first practice that morning.

"He was the last one out of the water and he came up to me and said, 'I'm going to make the team.' I told him, 'You're ripping out there,' " Verone said.

Hall was attempting to "shoot the pier" at 5 p.m. when the accident occurred. The maneuver, which is legal and quite common, involves attempting to surf through the pilings that hold up the pier.

"Sometimes people miscalculate and there are risks involved," said Huntington Beach Marine Safety Lt. Steve Davidson. "Over the years, there have been a lot of broken surfboards, a lot of cuts and bruises. But to my knowledge, we've never had an incident of this severity."

Hall lived a few blocks away from the school with his paternal grandparents, who were his legal guardians.

"His last day with us was a perfect day," said his tearful grandfather, Donald Hall. "He had a new board, he loved life. He was on cloud nine. Maybe that's the best time to go."

After services Tuesday at First Christian Church in Huntington Beach, Hall will be laid to rest wearing his surf team warmup suit and his surfboard leash.

Wednesday morning, a group of about 50 surfers will hold a traditional Hawaiian ceremony that involves paddling out to the end of the pier.

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