From the moment you get off the plane and head North, you can feel the mounting energy gradually intensify as you head toward Hanalei. Signs are hung intermittently along the highway: "We love you Andy." "Hanalei loves Lyndie." "Andy: 1978-Forever." "You'll always be our hearts." Blue ribbons are tied around telephone poles and strung from bridges. The closer you get to the epicenter, the more palpable the emotion.
Thousands of people, everyone in Andy's life--family, childhood friends, fans, along with most of the Top 44--came together today to honor Andy. But today was more than a paddle out. It was unlike anything Kauai, the surf community, or the world has ever seen before. It was an outpouring of emotion and support and community--time, energy, food, entertainment, and equipment readily donated for a celebration of life that can only be described as amazing.
In accordance with Andy's wishes, the crowd didn't form a hand-in-hand circle, but instead gathered just outside the sandbar at Pinetrees and surrounded the boat carrying Bruce, his wife, and Andy's wife, Lyndie. On Jet skis nearby were Andy's parents, Phil and Danielle, huddled around them in the water were all of Andy's closest friends, on nearby canoes were family members, and surrounding all of it were hundreds of other friends and members of the community.
As Bruce stood up, the crowd erupted, splashing water in the air, cheering, and clapping. With emotion and poise, Bruce spoke to the group. "Andy loved all of you here," he yelled. Tears streamed down everyone's faces, as they applauded and chanted, "AI...AI...AI..." Overhead, a helicopter circled and dropped thousands of flowers over the procession. Bruce told the crowd that this is what Andy wanted, for his ashes to be spread outside of Pinetrees, and for everyone to celebrate. Choking back tears, Bruce took out the container carrying his brother's ashes and emptied half into the water. Then, with his arm around Andy's pregnant wife, passed the rest to her so she could bid her final farewell to her husband. With their faces in their hands, the crowd huddled tightest around the boat sobbed.
Andy's parents climbed aboard the boat and the family embraced, surrounding Lyndie's pregnant belly, a tangible symbol of Andy's lasting legacy. Everyone cheered again, pounding their fists against their boards and throwing leis in the air.
Slowly everyone made their way back to shore, where thousands more gathered on the beach and live music and a full spread of food awaited. Another outpouring of emotion was yet to come, as Andy's best friends took turns expressing their memories and sentiments, paying their respects on stage.
Occy recounted his most recent trip with Andy to Tahiti. "The pain will go away, but the memories never will," he said. Luke Egan, Parko, Mick, Corey Lopez, Blair Marlin, and Graham Stapelberg fought back emotion as they expressed their love for Andy, Lyndie, and their unborn child. Then Andy's crew from home--Kala Alexander, Dustin Barca, Jason Irons, Reef McIntosh, Billy Zietz, Danny DeRohan, Kai Garcia, Keala Kennelly, Rochelle Ballard--expressed just how much Andy meant to Hanalei and to the boys. But the most poignant message from all of the memorial speeches was just how elated Andy was to learn that he was going to be a father. "The best memory I have of Andy was when he found out he was going to be a dad," said Fred Patacchia. "I've never seen him happier."
With the birth of his son only weeks away, Andy's legacy lives on.