“It was one of the ugliest waves I’ve ever paddled for, but his head was already down — he was gonna go.” This was the best way East Coast pro Jesse Hines could describe it — the last wave of Japanese surfer Motomitsu Watanabe’s life — which easily could have been his own. On January 19 Pipe was far from perfect, roaring under gray skies with ruffled edges from a light onshore breeze. Truly, the only tempting factor could be at 8- to 10 feet, Pipe was still heaving over five feet of water, and certainly not looking as dangerous as some days. But, as the North Shore’s proven time and again, the ocean can always be deadly. Before a thick set of westerly bombs began to stack on the horizon, Jesse Hines thought he was in prime position. “At first the wave looked perfect, so I swung to paddle when I noticed that Moto was now on my inside.” Hines continues. “I took a couple strokes in case he couldn’t catch it when I noticed the wave start to mutate; I looked down and could see the reef with two distinct channels in it sucking dry, and I could hear the crowd hooting at him to “go!” I pulled back and looked over my shoulder expecting him to do the same. But he was committed, he hadn’t even looked; I think he just thought it was his time to shine.” Closer in, Hines’ friend and fellow East Coast pro, Noah Snyder, who’d paddled for and missed the last wave, saw the whole thing: “As I raced to get under the wave, he was grabbing for his rail, trying to get over the ledge. Then the wave got real ugly and he got lip launched out into the flats while still holding his rail, and as I went through the wave there was a loud noise like he might have hit his board. When I ducked the next wave I got sucked over back onto the reef; where he would have been, but his board was broken and I didn’t see him anywhere.” Nobody did until more than {{{200}}} yards away, near the Ehukai beach park he was found by a group of surfers including Snyder, Aussie Josh Fuller, Will Tant and others. Said Snyder, “When I was being obliterated by the set there was no way I could get to him; at first a couple guys had gotten their hands on him but couldn’t keep him–there was way too much water moving around, plus he was heavy because his lungs had filled with water.” Once on the sand lifeguards and paramedics did their best to resuscitate him, reviving his breathing, but he still fell into a coma on the way to the emergency room.Not long after the lineup was completely empty. “It was weird,” said Hines, “I don’t think another good wave came in for the rest of the day.”In the days following Motomitsu’s parents and girlfriend arrived from Japan to be by his side, where many of the surfers who’d rescued him came to offer their support. “Noah, Will, Matt Beacham and I came a couple of days later and prayed with his parents for him and them,” added Hines, “we know it could have been any of us.” After eleven days and no improvement expected by doctors, Motomitsu Watanabe’s parents decided to take him off life support. It was Jan. 29th. “He couldn’t have been more than 22,” said Hines, “he’d been out the day before, too, smiling; he was one of those guys who’s genuinely stoked just to be out there.” — Hagan Kelley