What to know about Tamayo Perry, the actor and surfer who died in apparent shark attack

Tamayo Perry, the pro surfer and actor who died in an apparent shark attack off Oahu’s North Shore on Monday, was remembered as a “legendary waterman” and a man of faith by his colleagues and family.

Here’s what to know about him and the circumstances surrounding his death:

Who was he?

The 49-year-old was a professional surfer, lifeguard and stuntman who also appeared in the splashy films “Blue Crush,” “Charlie’s Angels 2” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” as well as the TV series “Hawaii Five-0” and “Lost.”

“When I’m not acting, I’m still quite a character, so there’s always a ton of fun to be had,” he said in his official bio on his company website Oahu Surfing Experience.

Perry, who was born and raised in a small country town on O’ahu east of the North Shore, was “a knight forged in the fires of the North Shore in the ’90s,” his family said. He also co-founded and offered surf lessons through Oahu Surfing Experience with his wife Emilia and worked as a lifeguard on the North Shore. He began his career with the Ocean Safety department in July 2016.

“Tamayo Perry was a lifeguard loved by all. He was well-known on the North Shore. He’s a professional surfer known worldwide,” Honolulu Ocean Safety acting chief Kurt Lager said at a news conference. “Tamayo’s personality was infectious, and as much as people loved him, he loved everyone else more.

Prior to that, he surfed professionally for more than 15 years. He boasted about being paid to surf the Pipeline, which he described as “the world’s deadliest wave,”according to his professional bio.

He launched onto the world stage upon winning the prestigious Pipeline Masters trials in 1999, which opened the door for a “small time island boy” to keep up with the world’s best at the Pipe Masters competition. He later competed in Tahupoo, Tahiti, against Andy Irons, Kelly Slater and Vetea David in the industry-billed “Super Final.”

The surfer said that a “freak accident that turned into a near-fatal experience” at Pipeline ultimately led him to teaching — his goal was to instill “proper surf etiquette and safety” into those he instructed.

What happened?

Local authorities said that Perry was surfing at Mālaekahana Beach lake, near an area known as Goat Island, on the northeast coast of the Oahu, and died Sunday afternoon in the attack.

Honolulu Ocean Safety and the city’s fire, police and emergency medical services departments responded to the beach just before 1 p.m. after a caller reported seeing a man who appeared to have suffered “more than one shark bite,” Shayne Enright of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department said Monday in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. Lifeguards brought Perry to shore by jet ski and paramedics assisted with the death pronouncement.

After the incident, Ocean Safety personnel posted shark warnings in the area, Enright said.

No official cause of death has yet been announced and it’s unclear what type of shark attacked him.

How frequent are shark attacks in that area?

Perry’s death is reported to be ninth fatal shark attack in Hawaii in the last 20 years, Honolulu News Now reported Monday. His is said to be the only death in that time that hasn’t happened in waters off the island of Maui.

The actor’s death was one of four shark incidents in Hawaii this year, according to the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. Only about a dozen of more than 300 species of sharks have been involved in human attacks, the National Ocean Service said, and those attacks typically occur when the shark is confused or curious.

Although attacks are still statistically rare, annual shark attacks and human fatalities increased in 2023, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File. ISAF, a database of global shark attacks, reported in February that there were 69 confirmed unprovoked cases worldwide last year, 10 of which were fatal. That number aligns with the most recent five-year average (between 2018-2022) of 63 incidents annually.

A potential factor in the rise is climate change, researchers have said, but the increase could also be due to a combination of more people being in the ocean each year and a stronger emphasis placed on reporting bites and fatalities.

Perry, who described himself as a “Jaws” fan, wrote on Facebook in 2015 that “sharks freak me out” and that “only the Lord can say when it’s your time.” In another post, he said that he could sense when sharks were around while he was surfing, the Daily Beast reported.

What have Perry’s family and colleagues said?

In a statement to The Times that was later posted on social media, Perry’s family commemorated him as a “hero.”

“He was everyone’s big brother, stern and uncompromising with an infectious and kolohe smile. He was your rescuer in time of need, your safety when all things fell apart. He was a knight forged in the fires of the North Shore in the ’90s, his faith in Christ the rock upon which he stood. Few are those who truly follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Tamayo never took his eyes off the path,” the statement said.

“Tragic though his passing may be, he left this world doing what he loved where he loved to do it. We find strength in knowing he is in heaven with our Lord Jesus Christ, trading barrels at Pipeline with his friends that have gone before him.”

How the surf world reacted

The ocean community in Oahu is said to be reeling from the attack. An informal memorial for Perry was set up Monday near his lifeguard post on Banzai Pipeline, according to Hawaii News Now. There, his longtime colleague Lt. Dave Wassel of the Honolulu Ocean Department spoke about the “unique situation” the community had been “thrust into.”

“There’s nothing in the handbook of how to navigate this,” Wassel told the news station. “There are people alive today because of the successful CPR he has performed on them. It’s something you can’t say about a lot of people, so it’s great to see.”

In a statement to The Times, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said Perry “exemplified bravery, commitment and a deep sense of duty, serving our community with unwavering dedication.”

“His heroic actions and tireless efforts to ensure the safety of our residents and visitors will never be forgotten,” the mayor said. “As we grieve this unimaginable loss, we are reminded of the inherent risks faced by our lifeguards daily, and we extend our deepest gratitude for their service.”

The World Surf League tweeted condolences to Perry’s family as it mourned the “beloved icon,” who was a member of the league for many years.

His legacy

While the family has asked for privacy, his wife has since set up a GoFundMe fundraiser titled “Supporting Tamayo Perry’s Legacy.” The campaign launched Monday with a goal raising $100,000. As of Tuesday afternoon, it has exceeded $38,000.

His company said that it would announce a celebration of life at a later time.

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