Monday, April 12, 2004

Flowers, pictures and other items covered a bench at Pohaku Park in Kahana yesterday as family and friends gathered for a memorial service for Willis McInnis.

Easter tribute for
Napili shark victim

More than 100 friends gather to
remember surfer Willis McInnis

KAHANA, Maui » A surfer who died last week after a shark attack was remembered yesterday as a spiritual leader among friends and a man who was unafraid to say, "I love you."

On Easter, when Christians celebrate Christ's resurrection, more than 100 people gathered at Pohaku Park near the surfing site known as "S-Turns" to pay tribute to Napili resident Willis McInnis.

McInnis, 57, was surfing Wednesday morning on a 10-foot board in murky water 200 to 300 yards offshore when a shark mangled his right leg.

A friend helped him get close to shore as he clung to his surfboard, and several people carried him to the beach after he lost consciousness.

But all the help could not save McInnis, who died shortly afterward.

McInnis was a member of Hui O Pohaku, a surfing club that helps to maintain the park and sponsors an annual keiki surfing competition.

Standing about 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing more than 200 pounds, with tattoos on his arms, McInnis could be an intimidating figure.

But gathering in a circle during a Hawaiian-style funeral service with ukulele music in the background, friends recalled a man who was not afraid to show his love and the spiritual side of himself.

"Let's share that moment, that joyous moment," said Glenn Kamaka, a friend.

Anita Larson, center, ex-wife and close friend of Willis McInnis, hugged friends Linda White, left, and Diana Whitehead yesterday as they watched surfers paddle in after paying tribute to McInnis at Pohaku Park in Kahana.

Members, who both laughed and cried during the service, said they were not there to mourn his passing, but to celebrate his love and life.

Hui President Bert Kukahiko recalled how McInnis was the "main man" who led the group during informal religious services at the park every Sunday.

McInnis' son Clay Fraser said his father was an independent spirit who lived life to its fullest and enjoyed people.

Washington state childhood friends Jim Beem and Carl Bern said McInnis was an adventurer, and they were not surprised when they heard he had gone on a 2,600-mile motorcycle tour across the United States last year.

Bern and Beem recalled that McInnis also did a motorcycle tour to Alaska in the 1970s.

McInnis had a knack for making friends, Beem said.

"He was the type who would go into a room with angry people and they'd come out laughing," Beem said.

McInnis' brother Larry said his mother made sure Willis went to Sunday School, and although he did a lot of soul searching and later studied various religions, he eventually returned to Christianity.

Willis' son Mark said his father loved living on Maui and had taught him how to surf when he was 14, a sport he now also enjoys.

McInnis, a former project manager for a time-share company in Bend, Ore., found a home at the park, friends said.

Larry McInnis said his brother would rise often at 6:30 a.m. and sometimes spend 10 to 15 hours a day in the ocean.

"He lived out there," he said.

After the service, accompanied by a couple of lifeguards on Jet Skis, Hui and family members paddled surfboards and rode on canoes out about 200 yards to spread some of McInnis' ashes in the ocean.

Then, the canoes paddled south to Kaleialoha in Honokowai to spread more of his ashes in an area where a similar service had been performed for his mother.

Plumeria flowers drifted out to sea from the park as onlookers watched McInnis' last journey.

Kamaka said McInnis' legacy was one of love, and for those in attendance to go home and tell their family and friends, "I love you."


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