Carnations floated in the water lapping gently against the Santa Monica Pier. A conch shell bellowed. Twenty-four surfers bobbed in the chilly Pacific, sliding their boards into a circle.
Saturday's paddle-out, a turn-of-the-century ritual borrowed from Hawaii, honored the victims of the South Asia tsunami.
"Surfers believe life comes from the sea, and the paddle-out brings it back to the beginning. It's closing the circle of life," said organizer Mary Setterholm of Surf Academy in Redondo Beach.
The memorial began as volunteers set a dozen long boards on laundry baskets. They leaned posters against them with the names of the devastated countries, followed by their death tolls.
Thailand, 5,309; Kenya, 1.
"Sri Lanka had a lot of dead," remarked a little boy, staring at the number on the poster: 29,825.
Six men and six women in wetsuits balanced boards -- with eucalyptus tied to them -- on their heads and then snaked single-file behind a woman striking a djimbe, an African drum.
The surfers steadied the boards on a table as Niranjala Tillakaratne, a 50-year-old neuroscientist, stared.
A Chumash Indian leader, Mati Waiya, burned sage.
After prayers, surfers took the boards to the water's edge, and passersby paraded to the pier's end. Lisa Miller, 25, and the other surfers paddled out and slid into the quiet ocean.
Into a microphone that occasionally screeched, Waiya led the Four Corners prayer. To north, east, south: After each, a conch shell wooed and onlookers tossed daisies, lilies and carnations. To the west, he said, "where the sun sets, where life exits the world."
Two boats sprayed water in arcs over the surfers, who stretched their arms skyward.
Looking up, Miller imagined the tsunami. "I kept thinking the wave must have been that high. It must have been so scary."
Over the mike, a woman intoned each country and its death toll.
The surfers scattered the eucalyptus over the ocean, and the crowd shouted: "Rest in peace!"
Tears trickled from under Lynne Richter-Vitale's sunglasses. "We've been so afraid of the ocean, and it's so beautiful again. I was mad at it, and this allows me to forgive it."