Katherine Diaz, one of El Salvador’s top surfers, was killed while she was training for a qualifying tournament for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, officials said.
The International Surfing Association — the world’s governing authority for surfing — issued a statement Saturday after the 22-year-old’s death, saying she “embodied the joy and energy that make surfing so special and dear to us all.”
“She excelled at the international competition level, representing her country with pride at both the ISA World Surfing Games and ISA World Junior Surfing Championship,” the organization said. “We send our heartfelt condolences to Katherine’s family, the surfers of El Salvador, and to all those in the international surfing community whose lives she touched.”
The surfer was struck after entering the water on Friday 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. “Her friend went flying because of the force of the lightning ray and it knocked down my surfing board. Katherine died instantly.”
Diaz was preparing for the ISA World Surfing Games, which will be held from May 29 to June 6 at La Bocana and El Sunzal beaches in El Salvador. The top seven women at the event who have not already qualified will 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 funeral for Diaz was held over the weekend and pictures show her coffin was 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 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.”