Surfer’s Tribute Gives Lost Loved Ones a ‘Last Wave’
Just as the pandemic was unfolding, Dan Fischer lost both his father and his 15-year-old beloved dog in less than a year. Their losses were followed by the death of two aunts and his grandmother. He felt isolated and alone.
“There was profound loss and a lot of grieving. I felt very alone at times. I was reeling and looking for ways to reconnect,” he explained.
Fischer found solace in surfing and says it gave him the opportunity to reconnect with his father who he’d shared many epic adventures.
“Part of what my father and I always shared was a sense of adventure. We traveled, biked and climbed mountains all over the world, so for me, finding that physical connection through nature was really important to me.”
The time on the waves gave him a chance to be present in his grief.
“I’d been surfing for a while and always found peace and healing through the immersion in the natural world. Surfing demands you to be present, to drown out the noise of life and to focus all your energy for a brief moment in time to harness and ride the power of the ocean. The saltwater washing over you really allows the negative energy to flow out of your body and reset.”
Then, one day he had an idea of how to memorialize his dad.
“I was looking for a way to reconnect to him and bring him out on one last adventure. So, I decided to write his name on the board and take him out there. It was a beautiful, sunny day, I was out on the waves and watching the water wash over his name at the front of my board. For the first time since he had passed, I felt connected to him in what we were doing and where I was. And so I had this epiphany that there may be other people out there that were also looking for a unique way to reconnect to loved ones that they had lost.”
That’s when Fischer realized he might be able to help others.
He surfed back in, got out, dropped his board on the sand and ran to his car, got his phone and decided to record a video he posted on TikTok without an expectation that he’d get a response. He put out an open invitation to see if including other names on his board would be helpful to them. He was “blown away by the responses” as the names started to trickle in.
In just a few weeks, Fischer heard from dozens, then hundreds and then thousands of people: parents who had children who had always wanted to learn to surf or loved the ocean or those with loved ones who took bike rides near the water or who took walks on the beach. “There was so much connection to the ocean. There were people whose last dying wish was to make it there and they never got a chance to do that. In that moment, I committed myself to ensuring that those dreams were realized,” Fischer told Solace.
In less than a month, what started as a single TikTok video became an entire project, dubbed “One Last Wave.” With the launch of a fifth board in South Africa in the spring of 2023, he will have honored nearly 10,000 people. He’s heard from thousands of others. He says as more requests come in, he’ll make more boards.
“It was not something I intended, but it struck a chord and resonated. People from around the world were finding such healing in knowing that their loved one was forever memorialized in a place that they loved, in an active way, being out there in the ocean, forever catching waves,” Fischer explained.
Fischer has inadvertently built a community of grievers on his social channels, some of whom have even connected and become friends over their shared experience.
The 42-year-old is now working on the project full-time and considering whether he will tour with boards to different parts of the country.
It has been an emotional project for him as he provides families with a ritual that seems to give them some peace, “It’s been incredible to see the response. To truly understand how much this has helped them is really, really special to me to know that having them out there in the water on the board means so much to people.”
Besides the One Last Wave Project, Fischer also has a long list of exotic places to take his father’s ashes including a return to Mount Kilimanjaro, a favorite mountain they conquered together. “Part of our connection was chasing dreams, pushing limits and adventures … his list allows me to continue doing that and not make it easy for me … (it was) his last gift to me.”
You can follow Fischer on his social channels:
This story was updated in April of 2023 to reflect the growth of the project.