2013-01-04 / Front Page

Rockaway Bids Dylan Smith Goodbye

By Dan Guarino

More than 30 friends, relatives and fellow surfers took to the water off Beach 86th Street to honor Dylan Smith on Sunday December 30th. There they formed a large circle with each facing their surfboards toward the center in what is known as a paddle out ceremony. Many more people observed from the shore. Dylan Smith, an avid surfer and local hero who saved lives during the height of hurricane Sandy, drowned in Rincon, Puerto Rico on December 23rd. He was laid to rest of Saturday December 29th. See story on page 45.

More than 30 friends, relatives and fellow surfers took to the water off Beach 86th Street to honor Dylan Smith on Sunday December 30th. There they formed a large circle with each facing their surfboards toward the center in what is known as a paddle out ceremony. Many more people observed from the shore. Dylan Smith, an avid surfer and local hero who saved lives during the height of hurricane Sandy, drowned in Rincon, Puerto Rico on December 23rd. He was laid to rest of Saturday December 29th. See story on page 45.

On the morning of Saturday, December 29th, hundreds gathered at St. Frances de Sales Roman Catholic Church to say goodbye to Rockaway hero Dylan Smith.

A professional lifeguard and avid surfer, Belle Harbor resident Smith, 23, is credited with saving six people from rising flood waters and a raging gasline fire at the height of Sandy.

He drowned while surfing in Rincon, Puerto Rico days before Christmas on December 23rd.


Dylan Smith Dylan Smith Despite freezing rain, attendees reported more than one thousand people attended the service, with “the church already overflowing with standing room only.”

Said a family friend “At least a hundred or more neighbors, friend and colleagues of the Smith family stood in silent and supportive vigil.”

Accompanied by a procession of bagpipers and firefighters, Smith’s casket arrived carried by pallbearers consisting of cousins and friends. Following behind it were his parents, Tim and Mary Smith, brother, Jake, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and close family friends.

Smith’s cousins Kyle Esquirol, Ryan Moroney, Shane Walsh, his uncle Tom and longtime family friend Mike Light delivered the eulogies during the service. Among many other things, they noted him as “a true son of Rockaway…” and “a humble and uncomfortable hero,” churchgoers reported.

Monsignor John Brown, celebrating the Mass, recounted how Smith, along with neighbor Michael McDonnell, worked to save trapped neighbors on the night of the October 29th storm. He described how Smith jumped out of his living room window and using a handmade rope line and his surfboard swam through freezing waves, high winds and swift moving debris to save people trapped on the porches of their burning houses.

According to funeral attendees, Monsignor Brown addressed his bravery and the untimely nature of his death, noting the promise of eternal life that is integral to the Catholic faith Smith grew up in.

A longtime family friend noted, “When the sign of peace was exchanged it almost felt like an enormous and collective group hug.”

Fire trucks also lined the streets around the church. An FDNY honor guard stood in the rain at silent attention as Dylan Smith was carried from the church for the last time. Smith’s father is a retired firefighter.

Smith’s wake, held at the Marine Park Funeral Home, Brooklyn on the preceding Thursday and Friday, also saw hundreds at a time in attendance. Arrangements were made by the Denis S. O’Connor Funeral Home, which is itself dealing with recovery from Sandy.

Visitors described an overflowing abundance of floral displays, including a 7 foot surfboard made of red carnations, which spilled out of the viewing room. Hundreds of photos highlighted Smith’s full and active life, including a picture of him as a young boy dressed in FDNY gear.

Honoring a request by the family, male attendees of all ages wore surfing

“board shorts” and flipflops, adding a profusion of color to the proceedings.

Smith was also honored with a paddle out ceremony off Beach 86th Street on Sunday, December 30. A large group took to the Atlantic Ocean’s waters on surfboards, forming a large circle, facing each other. A short distance away an FDNY fireboat shot jets of white water into the clear blue sky in salute. A paddle out circle is a traditional ceremony used worldwide to mark the passing of a surfer.

A second paddle out ceremony, timed to coincide with Smith’s stateside funeral, took place in the warm blue waters off Rincon, Puerto Rico. According to family members, about 100 people formed the circle, while another 100 watched from shore.

A memorial tribute to him was assembled on the beach at Rincon.

Observed one person, “Dylan Smith was given, deservedly, a hero’s funeral.”

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