Death of a Wave Warrior

Eric Soares' Sudden Death Stuns Kayaking Community

By: Conor Mihell
Photos by:

Sea kayaker Eric Soares lived on the edge, surfing towering waves into sea caves and amidst rock pillars of the rugged California coast. He pioneered the design of rough water sea kayaks, shaping boats that matched his high intensity style of paddling and setting the stage for a new genre of ocean playboat. The paddling community watched and read about his exploits in awe, admiring his courage and calm, near-cosmic connection to the rugged boundary between sea and land. Soares, an author, instructor and co-founding member of the Tsunami Rangers, died suddenly on Wednesday due to complications following a ski accident in Lake Tahoe this week.

According to a post by Tsunami Ranger colleague and friend John Lull on Soares’ blog, the Half Moon Bay, Calif. native took a fall while skiing with his wife, Nancy, and suffered a minor injury. A doctor’s checkup following the crash revealed an aneurysm in his aorta, and Soares was flown to the medical center at Stanford University. “He actually had been moved out of ICU to a regular hospital room on Wednesday, he was feeling fine, and they were even considering releasing him by Friday or Saturday,” wrote Lull. “An operation (or two) may have been necessary, but they thought there was time. Evidently there wasn’t and maybe an operation wouldn’t have been successful.

“In any case, the aneurysm must have blown and that was the end,” continued Lull. “Nancy had talked to him and he was feeling well and in good spirits just prior to that, so it was very sudden.”

It wasn’t Soares’ first close call. Less than a decade ago he underwent two high-risk aortic dissections. “When Soares awoke 11 hours later, his fists were clenched, as they had been throughout the surgery,” wrote Mike Kord in an August 2005 article for Canoe & Kayak magazine. “He was in fight mode.”

Soares was a survivor, tough and optimistic. Clearly, that’s how he’ll be remembered by the legions of paddlers he inspired. “Soares operates on another level,” wrote Kord. “Where others see the impossible, he sees fun, like paddling the 25-foot monster waves that appear as suddenly as lightning off Pillar Point. When others cower, Soares radiates an immovable energy that defies everything, even, at times, Mother Nature.”

Watch Soares in action:


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  • Doreen Murgatroyd

    Not having heard about the Tsunami Rangers, I looked them up. They look for adventure on the high seas – they face big waves. Others learn from their experiences.

  • L. Kenneth Fink, Jr.

    A tragic event for me and for all of the sea kayaking pioneers who knew and loved Eric and the Tsunami Rangers. They were unique in the early days of paddling. They entertained us with their exploits on the water. Who can forget the “Sniveler’s Slit?” I have sorely missed seeing Eric and the others as we all aged or went to fewer paddling events. I always figured Eric would outlive me.

    My condolences to all for our collective loss.

  • john ennis

    On a scale of 1 to 10 Eric Soares and the rangers shot way beyond the top and although not known widely outside of paddling circles encouraged others not to be afraid of pushing the envelope and finding they are capable of doing more then they thought they were. Something that today in the United States Of Obesity many of the sit on your ass generation totally avoid.

  • Ethan

    Sensei Eric may you rest in peace. You always had a energetic personality, and always lived had optimistic life style. You will be in all of our prayers. You will always be remembered.

  • Michele

    I can remember back to when Eric was twenty-something and had just purchased his first kayak, which he stored in the long, narrow hallway of our small, two bedroom apartment in Sacramento. I had to squeeze around it, with baby in tow, to get to our bedroom, which was a daily task I found agitating, but one that never bothered Eric. He was a man with a vision. His dream was to learn to maneuver his new, second hand kayak in rough water. Remembering back to my days in Germany, I thought he was talking about rivers. No, he said; he wanted to ride the ocean. I can remember the first day Eric hoisted his new toy atop his camouflaged VW bug and we drove to a public beach at a small lake in the Sierra foothills. Eric lugged his new kayak to the water’s edge, then sat on the beach reading a beginner’s manual on kayaking while I played with our baby daughter on the beach. Eric then climbed into his kayak, pushed off a little ways into the water and began his first attempts at rolling his kayak over. It took him many, many attempts before he had his first success at getting his kayak upright again. Eric spent a lot of time upside down underwater before he had his first successful rollover. I kept a keen eye on my new husband for fear he was going to drown himself trying to get his kayak upright. Eric was growing increasing frustrated and tired in his efforts. I wanted him to stop, to just relax, paddle around the lake and have fun, but he would not give up. Once he was underwater so long, I was ready to abandoned our baby on the beach to jump in save him. I will never forget the anxiety I felt waiting for him to pop his head out of the water or the feeling of being divided, deciding whether to jump in after him or stay with the baby. Just when I couldn’t take another moment of waiting, Eric emerged upright in his kayak for the first time. I will never, for the span of my lifetime, forget that huge, big grin on Eric’s face when he finally got that first kayak upright in water. That was beginning. A year later I would be standing on the beach in Santa Barbara watching him ride the waves in his kayak where he looked out of place amongst the other surfers who would shout at him to get out of their way. On the beach, he would record words he wanted to use to describe the different maneuvers and experiences he was having out on the waves. He was making up words that didn’t even exist. I told him he couldn’t do that; that no one would understand what he was talking about, but he said he would publish a little key to accompany any article he might write that would translate the words he was using. In time, Eric and I would go our separate ways, as he chose to ride his kayak headlong into a vision he was spinning in his head. He saw it all before it happened; that his dream unfold just as he imagined it would has kept me standing on a forever beach in absolute awe. Eric was truly a remarkable man. He will be deeply missed by all who knew and care for him. In my heart, I imagine that Eric is now riding the ocean waves with his father in a blue sea afterlife. God bless them both and all those who enjoy frolicking in the waves with their kayaks darting in and out of what Eric dubbed the “rock gardens.”

  • Stephen Verchinski

    Their constant training as well prepared them for some incredible epics..

    I have them and others as constant reminders to GO…and get out. Your biological system may or may not give you the years you wish take each day and do.

    Eric’s best contribution was to share his adventure sense with others. Honor him and do the same.

  • kim warnock

    every one is going to miss that great BIG smile

  • robert weiss

    michele- thanks for sharing and my condolences.

  • Serena Soares-Russell

    Having the same last maiden name, and always wanting to have taken a class with him at Cal State East Bay. I am totally in awe of his talents and exploits. He was obviously very adventurous and lived life to the fullest. I admire his high energy and enthusiasm for what things that meant a lot to him. When I read about his life & the Tsunami Rangers I think of these words
    “the sea is where we come from and back to the sea we must go”……….can’t think where I read that but is seems so appropriate now. Thanks for all the memories Eric.

  • Moulton Avery

    Eric was an amazing, wonderful, and irreplaceable man who, simply by living his own life on his own terms, inspired so many others, like myself, to do a better job of living theirs.

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