Zander Venezia, one of Barbados’ most talented junior pros and six time national champion, represented the island for the last three years in the Azores, California and Ecuador. He would have represented his country in Japan this year but a tragic surfing accident on September 6 cut the promising surfer’s time short.
His parents Louis and Lisa Venezia, along with his sister Bella, sat down with Barbados TODAY at their St.Thomas home sharing candidly on the life and legacy of Zander, who was an avid competitor among the Pro Junior and Qualifying Series (QS) ranks and whose career, just before his death, was just beginning to take on a wave of its own.
“For Zander, the water was a second home to him and he surfed every day particularly in these last few years. Zander would surf most mornings before school and then he would surf after school. Many times he wouldn’t even come home but he would go from school straight to beach,” his parents said.
The 16 year old St Michael student still managed to create the perfect balance between surfing and school. “He knew that if he didn’t keep his grades up, he would not be allowed to travel for surfing and so he was a great student, he didn’t just scrape by at school, he performed well and he truly enjoyed Maths, he got a Grade 1 with distinction in Maths when he was in 4th form,” they said.
Speaking proudly of Zander’s achievements was his dad Louis who accompanied him to the majority of his competitions. “In the Azores, we participated in the International Surfing Association ISA World Championship and we finished 19th in the world, out of 144. The year prior to that in California, Barbados finished 12th, which was the best result Barbados has ever had,”
Louis said, noting the last two years had definitely been Zander’s highlight in international surfing, outside of Barbados.
He also noted that Zander was the only Barbadian to ever win the National Scholastic Surfing Association Open Junior Championship, which he won in 2016, becoming the second Caribbean national to do so in over 30 years.
Louis, a proud dad, beamed as he recounted some of the many achievements attained by his son. He shared with Barbados TODAY his undoubtedly fondest memory with Zander.
“Definitely when he won the National Scholastics, because I remember always telling Zander ‘If you work hard you’re going to get noticed’, because coming from Barbados, you really need to win convincingly to be able to win and every time he would come third or second, consistently making finals but never winning, and when he finally won, I was so proud because he was winning from the first wave, each heat and he won it convincingly.”
When asked what were her fondest memories of their son, you could tell it was hard for Lisa to choose. The grieving mother quietly whispered: “Every day with Zander was a good day. Zander was just always so positive and so loving, always happy.”
Zander was the second of their two children and only son. The proud parents said in many ways he completed their family. His sister was brought to tears as memories flooded her mind.
“There are so many good memories with Zander, he was my little brother, and I can’t pinpoint the best memory but the day we went to Canada’s Wonderland is my favourite,” she recalled. “Zander loved roller coasters and I don’t but for some reason I allowed him to talk me into doing one ride and it was amazing and before I knew it, we were trying to do as many as we possibly could and it was just, such a fun day.”
Next to surfing, the humble young man had a heart for people particularly children. It was precisely why all the money from his funeral was donated to the Variety Club, a charity Zander had worked alongside, mom, Lisa, revealed.
Lisa went on: “In July, Zander assisted the Variety Club in a surfing event for disabled children and it was the first time that Zander was able to go and help because in previous years, he was always away when it was held and he was just so excited to go and help.
“He literally smiled all day and in August, I got a random call from the mom of one of the children at that event and she called me because she wanted me to know how great Zander was to her son that day, how her son often talks of Zander and how Zander helped to make her son feel special and if it was possible that Zander could make time to come see him.”
“At the time Zander was away surfing and I called to tell him and Zander immediately knew which little boy I was talking about and he said ‘yes, for sure, when I get home.’”
This charitable background will be a driving factor in the creation of the Zander Venezia Foundation, which will honour the kind-hearted surfer’s legacy by helping disabled and underprivileged children across Barbados.
And while most great surfers get one paddle out, one of surfing’s most hallowed ritual to honour the life of a fallen surfer, Zander got over seven.
“There was a paddle out at the World Games in Japan, four in California and two here at home in Barbados,” Louis said.
He added that the break where the fatal incident happened now has a monument and the local surfing community has renamed that beach as Zeeland.
“To have a wave renamed after a surfer is the highest form of accolade, it doesn’t get much bigger than that,” Louis said.
Zander touched the lives of many during his lifetime. He was memorialized during one of the biggest surfing events, with the World Surf League (WSL) Junior Pro Competition held earlier this year renamed WSL #LivelikeZander Junior Pro in his memory. Zander’s ripple will be felt forever as persons across the world both in and outside the surfing community #LiveLikeZander.