June 2nd, 2014 | By | 290 Comments

Slice of Life: Santa Barbara Paddle Out Guest Series by Stephanie Schechter

As many of you may know, my school, the University of California, Santa Barbara was recently shaken by a terrible tragedy. A deranged shooter rampaged through Isla Vista, the beautiful town adjacent to our campus, killing six students and injuring 13 others. Several days of shock and sadness permeated our community, and we are still in mourning to this day. In the wake of this tragedy, my friends and I, all members of the UCSB Surf Team, organized a memorial paddle out to honor our fallen Gauchos.

Classes were cancelled and the entire campus was at a standstill. While our healing process will take a very long time, our school has done an excellent job of celebrating the lives of the amazing individuals who left us all too soon. The surf team also wanted to help lift the spirits of our fellow Gauchos, so we created the “Isla Vista Memorial Paddle Out” Facebook event, and it went viral. The Facebook page encouraged students and friends to bring their surfboards, boogie boards, paddle boards, floating rafts, and swim fins to the beach that fronts our beloved ocean-side town for a ceremonial paddle out. We became somewhat concerned when we saw the unexpectedly large number of people who had clicked “attending” on the Facebook page… We contacted the Santa Barbara County Lifeguards and Firefighters to ensure safety among paddlers. Local florists provided us with buckets upon buckets of gorgeous flowers, and six breathtaking flower leis – one for each fallen Gaucho.

On the morning of May 28th, 2014, we were greeted by foggy skies and a cold breeze, but by the afternoon, it was clear and warm, and the ocean was as smooth as sheet glass. Our relatively small surf team had spent the day preparing for this giant event, expecting over 3,000 people. Around 6 pm, hordes of students showed up at the beach, making their way to the growing crowd of people standing with their respective watercraft. My teammates and I paddled out, and waited as our fellow students took to the water. By the time the surf team had made it to the kelp beds, we saw thousands of people surging towards us, and thousands more on the beach and on the cliffs.

We formed a giant circle and held hands. In the middle, my teammates Brad and Emily, officiated the ceremony, using a megaphone to convey their thoughts. The ring of people was so enormous that the participants directly across seemed to be football fields away! Still, the crowd was able to pick up on their message, acknowledging the beauty of life, and the beauty of our surroundings. Brad shared about the therapeutic properties of the ocean, while Emily told us about the significance of paddle outs in ocean communities. Then, six other teammates, each carrying a fresh orchid lei, joined them in the center of the circle. One by one, they threw each lei into the ocean, as Brad recited the names of each person who was taken from us that fateful Friday night.

By the end of the ceremony, all of the participants were hugging friends and strangers, while laughing and crying. We still felt the pain of the horrific experience we had shared as a school, but also felt the joy of celebrating the amazing lives of our six fallen friends. Then we cheered and heard the roaring echo of those filling the beach, the cliffs, and the balconies of every single house in Isla Vista shouting along with us. When, the paddle out came to an end, everyone felt refreshed and healed. We closed the ceremonies by throwing flowers, splashing, and shouting UC Santa Barbara’s fight chant over and over again, a resounding, “Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Gauchos, Gauchos!!!”

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