Huge crowds gathered at Seaford on Monday to honour Khai Cowley, 15, who became the third surfer to be mauled to death by a shark in the waters off the South Australia state in recent months.
Khai’s heartbroken father was among devastated family members paying tribute to his “beautiful boy” as the local council said more than 500 guests were set to attend the moving vigil.
Mourners carried the 15-year-old’s coffin through a guard of honour, with Khai’s younger brother Jett walking ahead holding his surfboard.
Jett paid tribute to “the best big brother ever”, while Khai’s father, Tim Cowley, said: “It’s so cruel that he’s been taken from us at such a young age.”
Telling of Khai’s love of surfing in the south, Mr Cowley said: “Most of the time it was beyond my ability, leaving me no choice but to sit on the beach and watch my beautiful boy do what he loved.”
Mr Cowley was on the beach when Khai was brought to shore following the attack, helplessly watching as emergency services were unable to revive him.
Speaking through tears, he added: “We miss you so much. You filled our lives with so many beautiful memories. I’m so sorry it went the way it did.”
Local broadcaster 7NEWS Adelaide reported the teenager’s aunt, Lauryn Barley, said, “Khai, your infectious smile and sheer joy for life was contagious.”
Native flowers, shells and photographs of the teenager with his friends decorate a wooden bench facing the water.
The beach was lined with flowers and touching messages from Khai’s surfer friends, with one reading, according to MailOnline, saying: “Forever in our hearts Khai. It has been a pleasure sharing the waves with you over the years and I will miss you so much. Forever a much-loved bowl rat.”
The City of Onkaparinga council had issued a notice for Khai’s funeral, described as a “Celebration of Life” service set for 11am local time.
It read: “Council has been advised that a gathering of more than 500 guests is anticipated to honour and remember the 15-year-old – who was a cherished son, brother, grandson, nephew, friend, surfing and football club teammate, and student – alongside Khai’s favourite wave, the Bowl, at the end of Seaford Road, Esplanade.”
It added: “We thank you for your kindness and understanding for the family and their guests as they prepare to farewell their beloved Khai at his favourite beach.”
South Australia Premier Peter Malinauskas said there have been 11 fatal shark attacks in the state’s waters since 2000. The fact that three of those fatalities occurred since May is “startling and is of concern,” he told Nine Network television.