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Katherine Diaz Hernandez

Katherine Diaz HernandezKatherine Diaz, born in El Salvador, was a world-class surfer and a top notch chef who was preparing for the olympic games that were held in Tokyo, Japan.

"Katherine embodied the joy and energy that makes surfing so special and dear to us all, as a global ambassador of the sport," a spokesperson for the International Surfing Association said of the surfer, whose brother, Jose Diaz, is the president of FESASURF.

"She excelled at the international competition level, representing her country with pride at both the ISA World Surfing Games and ISA World Junior Surfing Championships.

"Katherine was a girl very passionate about sports, she was very motivated and happy for the event that was approaching," they said in a statement.

I first saw Katherine in a YouTube video shot by A woman traveling the world with her husband, Curt. She shot the video while watching surfers on the beach at El Tunico Beach in El Salvador. I saw Katherine in this video walk to the waters edge and enter the surf. She had a presence in this video that made her stand out. Her energy and presence came across on the video and was remarkable.

I kept thinking of this incredible surfer with such a presence afterwards and a couple of days later I returned to YouTube to see whether her name was mentioned. What I found was an emotional YouTuber distraught about the death of a female surfer she had seen in the previous week.

She had shot a tribute video of the same girl I had seen in her other video where she talked about the amazing quality of the girl who died a few days before after being struck by lightning. She confirmed my thinking that this young beautiful surfer was very special.

Katherine Diaz was in the water at El Tunco Beach in southwest El Salvador in March of 2021 when she was struck by lightning.

'The Paddle Out' - a traditional ceremony was held in her honor at El Tunico Beach on the Tuesday after her funeral.

El Salvador's National Institute for Sport (INDES) said: "We raise a prayer for the eternal rest of her soul and we express our most sincere condolences to her family."

Katherine Diaz Hernandez"On El Tunico Beach that day Katherine had come over to hug her a good friend and just as soon as she finished hugging her, the clap from the lightning was heard," Diaz's uncle, Beto Diaz, who says he was on the beach with her, told a newspaper in El Salvador.

The International Surfing Association (ISA) 2021 Surf City El Salvador World Surfing Games were set to be held from May 29th to June 6th at the La Bocana and El Sunzal beaches.

They were to act as the final qualifying tournament for Tokyo 2020, where surfing will be making its debut Olympic appearance.

"Our heartfelt condolences to Katherine's family, the surfers of El Salvador, and to all those in the international surfing community whose lives she has touched."

Citing the Salvadoran Surf Federation, "the sky was clear and the lightning came from an unforeseen storm that did not seem to carry much electrical intensity either."

The surfer was struck on a Friday afternoon at El Tunico Beach, about 10 miles from the capitol of San Salvador, according to local media.

Her uncle Beto Díaz, who is also a surfing coach, told ElSalvador.com that he went with her and she was meeting a friend to practice with.

"Katherine got close to hug her friend, and as soon as she hugged her, you heard the lightning," he told the outlet.

Katherine Diaz Hernandez"Her friend went flying because of the force of the lightning bolt and it knocked down my surfing board. Katherine died instantly."

The top seven women at the event who have not already qualified were to earn a place at the delayed Tokyo Olympics, where the sport will make its official Olympics debut.

Jose Diaz, her brother, posted a photo with her on Instagram, saying "you'll forever be in our hearts. God decided to take you now. We miss you already." A post shared by Bamba Diaz, Katherine's brother.

A funeral for Diaz was held over the weekend and pictures show her coffin surrounded by trophies and a surfing board.

Rosa Amelia Hernández, Diaz's mother, told ElSalvador.com that despite her daughter wanting to be cremated, they buried her across the ocean where she died.

"I could not cremate her remains, but I made sure that she would rest in front of the sea, because the sea was her life," Hernandez said.

Yamil Bukele, the president of the Salvadoran Sports Institute and brother of the country's president, mourned her loss on Twitter.

"It's a great loss for our sport," Bukele tweeted. "All our solidarity for our surfing family. I'm with you in your pain."

Katherine Diaz HernandezDiaz was preparing for the May ISA World Surfing Games—a qualifier for this year's Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

In addition to being a surfer, Diaz was a chef, the Associated Press reported, who had opened her own business in El Tunco.

Surfers in El Salvador are planning to hold a “paddle out” Tuesday to remember Katherine Díaz Hernández, one of the country’s top surfers who was killed by a lightning bolt while on the beach to go surfing.

Surfers usually sit atop their boards at a distance from shore at paddle outs, and in this case they plan to share memories of Díaz Hernández, who participated in international competitions.

The 22-year-old was training Friday at El Tunco beach when people on shore witnessed her get hit by lightning.

They attempted, but could not revive her. Even paramedics tried to revive her at the scene but they were also unsuccessful.

Díaz Hernández started surfing at the age of 9, and was also well known in El Tunco for her skills as a chef.

Right before Christmas, Katherine Diaz was beginning to step up her training for the Olympic surfing trials, she gathered with some friends for what her brother José called a “spiritual reunion.”

Katherine Diaz HernandezThe gathering of women were handed lined paper and asked to draw a picture of themselves in the future. But Díaz didn’t use her imagination to draw the medal platform in Tokyo.

But instead, she drew herself riding a huge blue wave under a bright sun with a lone fluorescent-yellow thunderbolt streaking toward her.

Four months later, standing on the beach holding a surfboard under a bright sun, Díaz was killed by a single lightning strike under clear blue skies.

El Salvador’s most promising female surfer was just 22. Katherine Díaz had drawn a picture that would depict her own death.

“She knew what would happen to her,” her brother José “Bamba” Díaz said last week, standing in front of the tiny cafe his mother runs just a few dozen paces from the beach where her daughter died.

Next to the small diner someone has painted a stark, mostly black-and-white mural of a reflective Katherine with her eyes closed and her long black hair draped over one shoulder. “Kathy” is painted in thin white italic letters across the bottom.

The mural, one of two beachfront memorials to Díaz, is near the end of a long, narrow corridor of shops and restaurants leading to the rocky shore between El Sunzal and La Bocana, the location where last week’s final Olympic qualifying event was held.

Katherine Diaz HernandezIt was the competition Díaz was training for and as surfers passed, some reached out silently to touch the painting. Another mural of surfer Katherine Díaz overlooks the beach at the ISA World Surfing Games in El Salvador.

“She was the Bryan Perez of the girls,” said José Díaz, referencing El Salvador’s men’s national champion, whose own Olympic ambitions came up just a little short.

“She was just 22 with her whole life ahead of her, but with a stroke of destiny she died doing what she loved most.” - El Salvador president Nayib Bukele stated about surfer Katherine Díaz.

Díaz was paddling against strong societal currents in a country where women athletes are not afforded the same opportunities and respect as their male counterparts.

That made her both a trailblazer and a role model when she became the first female to represent El Salvador at the ISA World Surfing Games and ISA World Junior Surfing Championships.

“I knew her since she was a baby. It has been a great loss,” Marcelo Castellanos, Perez’s coach, said of Katherine’s death. “It hurt the whole team a lot. She was very young and she definitely had the talent to one day compete in the Olympics.

“I think that we all, in some way, dedicate this event to her and we know that she is with us, accompanying us.”

Katherine Diaz HernandezDíaz came from a family of surfers: Her brother, president of the Salvadoran surf federation, was a competitive surfer and is now a coach and judge, while an uncle, Beto Díaz is also a coach.

Growing up at the beach, she first climbed on a board at the age of 9 and dreamed of going to the Olympics “since she was a little girl,” her brother said.

That dream became possible in 2016, when the International Olympic Committee approved surfing as an Olympic sport, then moved a big step closer to reality when the International Surfing Association announced it would stage the final qualifying event off La Bocana and El Sunzal, in the waters Diaz had surfed her entire life.

Unfortunately COVID-19 delayed the Games, and the final qualifying event, for a year - which is how Díaz found herself at La Bocana, her favorite beach, reaching out to hug another surfer at the water’s edge a little after 4 p.m. on a mostly clear Friday in March.

The lightning strike - the only one that occurred that day, said witnesses, hit Díaz with such intensity that it killed her instantly and tossed the friend she had just hugged several feet through the air.

Her uncle, Beto Díaz, who was standing nearby, had his surfboard knocked from his hands due to the sound percussion of the strike.

At the opening ceremonies of the World Surfing Games, as the qualifying event was called, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele eulogized Díaz as “a great Salvadoran surfer.”

“She was just 22 years old with her whole life ahead of her, but with a stroke of destiny she died doing what she loved most,” he said.

Katherine Diaz HernandezThen, turning to the 256 competitors who were standing just a few feet from the spot where Díaz was struck, he continued: “You will now ride her waves, feel the sun she felt, walk in the sand she walked. So please enjoy everything.”

For at least one listener, the speech brought home Díaz’s importance in her homeland. “How often does a president talk about surfing?” Bamba Diaz said.

Katherine’s sister Erika spoke at her funeral. “We were very close,” she said - “Katherine was a girl full of energy, with a free spirit who made each day feel worthwhile. Unfortunately she left us. She died doing what she liked the most, on her favourite wave.”

Her brother, Bamba Diaz, has posted several tributes in the wake of her death.

“Sister, we will always carry you in our hearts,” he wrote. “God decided to take you now. We already miss you. Love forever.”

Perhaps that was tribute enough. But a few days later José Díaz was asked if his sister would be remembered beyond the president’s speech.

“Definitely,” he said. “People do not forget legends.”


Katherine Diaz Hernandez Katherine Diaz Hernandez Katherine Diaz Hernandez
Katherine Diaz Hernandez Katherine Diaz Hernandez Katherine Diaz Hernandez
Katherine Diaz Hernandez Katherine Diaz Hernandez Katherine Diaz Hernandez

Katherine Diaz Hernandez



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