Remembering Ellen DeBondt

Washington resident remembered for brilliant smile and passion for paddling

Ellen DeBondt, an avid member of the Washington paddling community and co-organizer of the annual La Push Pummel surf kayaking and SUP gathering, rides a wave during the late February 2011 Pummel event. DeBondt was killed a week later, March 6, in an auto accident. Photo: Rob Casey

By Rob Casey
Published: March 10, 2011

A little over a year ago, paddlers Ken and Ellen DeBondt sold their Seattle house and moved to a rural home perched on a steep cliff above the picturesque Salt Creek Recreational Area on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington state. Active in sea kayaking, surf kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, and stand up paddling, the home of their dreams was located above a popular surfing beach with access to the wild and scenic Strait of Juan de Fuca. Ellen continued her work as a nurse while Ken worked as a guide and instructor at local paddling shop, Adventures Through Kayaking.

Ellen and Ken DeBondt at La Push, late February. Photo: Rob Casey

On Sunday, March 6, Ellen’s pickup truck was stuck head-on by an alleged drunk driver who crossed the center line on Highway 112, not far from the DeBondt’s home. Ellen did not survive the accident. The 24-year-old woman who hit Ellen is an alleged repeat offender, who had stuck and killed a pedestrian in 2007 and had a prior DUI.

Originally from Hawaii, Ellen met Ken in the late 1990s during the annual La Push Pummel, a winter surf kayaking gathering known for its pounding shorebreak and huge storm waves. The couple married on the beach at La Push and went on to become the organizers of the event to this day.

Ellen was known for her brilliant smile and on the water for her pure stoke while surfing the beach below their house on the red homemade stand up paddleboard Ken made for her. Originally an artist by trade, Ken also shaped his own wave ski and has done so for others. The couple’s sticker-covered Volvo is a classic on Peninsula’s roads, with one sticker in particular: “Born Right the First Time.”

An account has been set up at Sound Community Bank for Ken DeBondt; contributions can be made in Ken’s name (account 10544240). Contributions may also be made at any Sound Community Bank branch, or by check to the Port Angeles branch. Contact Tammi Hinkle for any questions or info relating to this account (

2011 La Push Pummel story and images on »

Photo: Rob Casey

Photo: Rob Casey

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  • Shari Yee

    Posted on Fri Mar11, 2011, 1:27 AM by Jennifer Hahn
    We lost a wonderful and wild soul. Let’s live our days brighter having known Ellen…if only by these photos. They speak of waves of passion for life…and the wide waters of home. Thanks Rob.

    Posted on Fri Mar11, 2011, 8:44 AM by Craig
    On the way home from the Hoebuck Hoedown this year I had the pleasure of spending a night with Ken and Ellen in their beauiteful cabin overlooking the strait. One thing stood out ot me. No television or entertainment center of any kind. They didn’t need it. They had each other and this wonderful place and that was enough!Since that time they have both been an inspiration to me to try to get better at surfing and to enjoy this wonderful state in which we live. I will always miss her ever present smile and will continue to let her memory inspire me! Craig Haelsen

    Posted on Fri Mar11, 2011, 12:04 PM by Shirley
    When my parents are ready, I know they will read and appreciate this article. Thank you for mentioning her sticker covered Volvo! Ellen loved telling us the stories of the people they met because of it.’Born right the first time’ is one of our favorites too. My parents got such a kick out of that car…even though I think my mom might have refused to drive in it (and my dad wondering why not drive in it)…that and the fact the back seat was all for her beloved dog, Rio. Thank you, Shirley

    Posted on Fri Mar11, 2011, 12:56 PM by Jock Bradley
    Ken and Ellen not only epitomize the best aspects of the sport of kayaking, but also stand for all that is good in people. On Sunday, we lost a wonderful person that graced not only the kayaking community of the NW, but more importantly – the people that she cared for professionally. My heart goes out to Ken with hope he will somehow find peace in such a devastating and unwarranted loss. For those of us who have known Ellen’s smile, compassion and joy: a vibrant and shining light radiates no longer. jock bradley

    Posted on Fri Mar11, 2011, 1:08 PM by Matthew
    Awesome article Rob! I have had the pleasure of surfing both kayak and SUP with Ken and Ellen for awhile, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more happy couple out in the waves! Ellen having so much fun on that big red SUP board inspired me to buy one…she was happy no matter what she was riding, be it on large swell, or small. RIP Ellen! May you forever have the sun on your face, and the perfect wave at your back!

    Posted on Fri Mar11, 2011, 5:23 PM by Steve Burkett
    Very nice article! Ellen was dear to my heart. She made everything just a bit more wonderful with her amazing smile, energy for fun, love of the outdoors, and her love of sharing. These things she imbued into everyone she came into contact with. I will always miss her. Steve Burkett

    Posted on Fri Mar11, 2011, 8:21 PM by Kate Whitman
    Ellen taught me how to kayak. In fact, she taught many of us. We would follow her down rivers like scared ducklings. She gave us confidence with her calming presence and it just made everyone feel like it was all going to be ok. But her lessons weren’t just about kayaking, they were about seeing the possibilities, enjoying the company of friends and living life to the fullest. Ellen will be greatly missed. She was a beautiful person in every way.

    Posted on Fri Mar11, 2011, 10:31 PM by Matt Hudgens
    Ken….my heart goes out to you. I can’t even hardly say ken without wanting to follow it with “and Ellen.” What a bright soul taken early……rip Ellen.

    Posted on Fri Mar11, 2011, 11:12 PM by Elsa Bluethner
    Ellen graced the hearts of everyone she met. She was a beautiful person, always positive, smiling and she lived her life exactly the way one should–the way she wanted to. She was kind, generous, and extremely thoughtful. I still can’t believe she is gone. My heart goes out the most to her husband and best friend, Ken. They were the most amazing couple.

    Posted on Sat Mar12, 2011, 3:05 AM by Gabriele Finn
    Oh, Ellie, you will be missed. Shirley is right, her parents will appreciate this article when they are able to read it. She was a fun, lively, quirky and gentle kid and she never lost that spirit. I’m glad she had so many wonderful people who appreciated and loved her until the end. Thank you, Rob, for the story and photos. Gaby

    Posted on Sat Mar12, 2011, 3:27 PM by sedora
    Speaking for my brother Ken, who is obviously overwhelmed beyond belief, he is indeed completely moved by the intense outpouring of love and concern from you all, family, friends and community. He IS reading all of your messages, and it helps him so much to know that we are all in this together, missing her, remembering her, taking stock of her amazing and profound affect on everyone. Your love and support is really going to do a lot to bouy him through this tramatic time. Being unfortunately also overwhelmed with the insane amount of things that have to be dealt with at a time like this, he hasnt had a lot of time for it to even soak in yet, but that time will come. Your continued support will be very much appreciated.

    Posted on Mon Mar14, 2011, 1:31 AM by Suzanne Shearon
    My college roommate, Lisa Pettit, posted on her fb page about the death of Ellen. When she posted this article, I had to read it. What a beautiful tribute to an absolutely beautiful and genuine woman! I’ve been reeling lately, having lost a great friend. Verd was married to my best friend from high school and the father of seven. He fell thru his barn roof trying to remove snow on Jan. 31 at age 46…a senseless loss, just like Ellen’s death, brought on by a drunk driver. To you, Ken, I offer my deepest sympathy. I have no answers or heartlifting insights. In some small way, I feel your pain, but most of all, I pray for your peace. May the love and support of your friends and family be your stronghold during these days of grief. May your dear Ellen’s soul rest in peace. Suzanne

    Posted on Wed Mar16, 2011, 1:39 PM by Robert Stride, Jr.
    Our beloved Ellie always had a smile for others and a genuine heart of humility, empathy, and servitude. She brought out and only saw the best in others. She truly lived life and adored her husband, family and friends. Ken, and entire DeBondt and Wilson families, we offer our deepest sympathies and pray for God’s peace and comfort. “Aloha Ke Akua Pau’ole”….”The Blessings of God Always” Much Aloha, Stride Ohana

    Posted on Thu Mar17, 2011, 8:26 PM by Uni
    Ken, we are thinking of you during this tough time. I didn’t know Ellen well, but the little I did know is she was a a wonderful, and caring person. We send you, your family, and friends much love. RIP Ellen.

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  • Andrew

    Hi Ken – I had a dream about you last night so I looked you up.
    I’m very sorry to hear the harsh news. My thoughts are with you.
    Keep surfing!

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