When Jack O’Neill died, it was a huge blow to the global surfing community. The man almost single-handedly made it possible for us to surf in colder water, after all, and his paddle out reflected the extent of people who cared for him. Thousands of people gathered in Santa Cruz on Sunday, July 9th, and formed a circle that, according to all reports, broke the world record for the largest paddle out. But despite the very obvious fact that more people paddled out for Jack’s celebration than the previous record set at Huntington Beach, it might not be official.
A few weeks before the Santa Cruz paddle out, organizers in Huntington Beach decided that they were going to set a world record for the biggest paddle out. It was to celebrate surfing’s inclusion into the Olympics, and it was by the book. Five hundred and eleven paddled around for two hours, struggling to link hands, and per Guinness’ protocol, hold it for 60 seconds. In the end, they did it, and they did it by the book–breaking the record was their goal, after all. The goal of O’Neill’s paddle out, however, wasn’t to break records. It was simply to honor a man who changed surfing.
According to estimates, somewhere around 3,000 people were present for the O’Neill paddle out–far more than the 511 at Huntington Beach. But getting all of them to hold hands for a consecutive minute proved nearly impossible.
According to Good Times Magazine, in the planning stages of O’Neill’s paddle out, organizers were excited about the prospect of getting a world record. When it became apparent what that would require–numbers on surfers, who the surfers were, the one minute of hand-holding–they decided that it wasn’t worth it. “At a certain point, it was like ‘Let’s forget it,’” Brian Kilpatrick, the vice president of marketing of O’Neill Wetsuits, told GT. “We’re not trying to break a record, we’re trying to honor Jack.”
So although O’Neill’s paddle out may not have officially broken the record for the world’s largest paddle out, it really doesn’t matter. And apparently, it hasn’t been officially announced yet, one way or the other. But it doesn’t really matter because, like Kilpatrick said, it was never about breaking records–it was about paying tribute to Jack O’Neill.