Kalani David, a rising star in the surfing and skating worlds, died in Costa Rica on Saturday after suffering a seizure while riding the waves. He was 24.
The news was first reported by The Inertia. It was seemingly confirmed by David’s younger brother, Keoni, who posted to his Instagram story: “You are the best brother I could ever ask for. I will miss you Kalani.”
Born and raised on Oahu’s North Shore in Hawaii, David was born with a surfboard in one hand and a skateboard in the other, and by 14 years old, he was already considered “a seasoned veteran,” as his X-Games biography put it . In 2012, he won one of the first of his many major accolades, clinching a gold medal at the ISA World Junior Surfing Championship in Panama.
The 24-year-old also had Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a congenital heart condition where those affected are born with an extra muscle on the organ that can cause a dangerously rapid heartbeat and seizures. Seizures, while not always fatal, often involve a loss of consciousness, which can be particularly dangerous in the ocean.
David suffered his first seizure in August 2016 while skating with friends at a park in Oceanside, California. Then 18 years old, he later reported on Instagram that he “fell on my face and woke up in an ambulance.” The episode briefly stopped his heart and triggered three more seizures in the hospital. “So grateful to be alive!” David wrote.
Months later—just before Christmas—David had another seizure in Oahu, Hawaii. The episode came on in the middle of the night, and he later posted to Instagram that he was “lucky to even be alive” after seizing for roughly six hours before friends found him. He spent two days in a medically-induced coma, and had surgery performed weeks later “to get this extra piece of muscle” on his heart “burned,” as he put it.
For David, giving up either of his two loves was never an option. “If it was life or death, and I had to choose skating or surfing,” he told stabilizer magazine in 2016, “I’d choose death.”
Tributes to the young phenom flooded in after reports of his death began to surface on Saturday. Peter King, a surf photographer and filmmaker, was one of the first to memorialize David. “I’ll always remember your stoke when we’d shoot skate n surf and how much hope you had for you future [sic],” he wrote.
In mourning David’s death, Freesurfing magazine called him “indeed a child prodigy” with “literally hundreds if not thousands of trophies.” The outlet noted in a Facebook post that it had been “following his career for at least 15 years. Maybe since kindergarten?”
“Kalani was one of the most talented ever surfer/skaters on earth,” surfing legend Kelly Slater wrote on his Instagram story, “constantly pushing the limits every time he was on his feet.”
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