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One Last Wave With a Fallen Hero

San Francisco Firefighter and avid Linda Mar surfer Anthony Valerio, who passed away earlier this month from injuries sustained in a fire, was remembered at a paddle out last week.

Off shore winds, glassy and head high. A perfect day to surf Linda Mar. But on this morning hardly anyone was thinking about surfing.

Just before sunrise on June 15, friends and family gathered to say goodbye to fallen San Francisco Firefighter, and Linda Mar surfer, Anthony “Tony” Valerio.

Valerio and Lieutenant Vincent Perez passed away earlier in the month battling a three-alarm blaze in San Francisco. On Friday, June 10, thousands of firefighters, politicians family and area residents officially said goodbye to the two in a funeral wake and mass held at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The morning tribute at Linda Mar would be much more low key.

“He really loved surfing and would really want this,” said Jacqueline Samsel, Valerio’s sister.

As the sun came up, the feeling on the beach was more of a celebration as surfers, fellow firefighters, family and friends remembered the man.

They gathered in the south parking lot, talked a little story, took some photos, shared tears and hugs, held an impromptu safety briefing and then headed down to the south end of the beach to paddle out. In front of the boat docks, some dawned orchid leis and others clenched bundles of flowers in their teeth. 

Once everybody made it outside of the surf line, including members of Valerio’s family, the group formed a circle, joined hands and told stories of his life, mostly all humorous. Of course, he was a surfer. And as each story concluded the circle would raise their joined hands and yell “Aloha” in his remembrance.

Like firefighters, there’s a strong brotherhood amongst surfers. The paddle out circle, a tradition adopted from the Hawaiians, is how the surfing community honors both life and death. Valerio had a true sense of Ohana, the Hawaiian word for family. This morning he brought together all the members of his Ohana. 

Valerio was an avid surfer for nearly thirty years and would make his way down to Linda Mar to surf as often as he could. He was born in Ft. Manmouth, NJ, but grew up in South City only a few minutes drive to his home break.  

He not only excelled at surfing but also was an avid scuba diver, hang glider and all around athlete. He loved to travel and also mastered the art of sourdough bread making. Valerio was praised by all for his compassion, kindness and patience on and off the job. Known to family and friends as one of the happiest people you could ever meet, his passion for life was contagious. His life was an adventure, filled with friends, family, and interests, said his sister Jacqueline. 

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the flowers were tossed into the middle of the circle and the water was splashed to the sky as the group hooted and hollered Valerio’s name. 

After the tribute finished, a set rolled in and many stayed in the water to ride one more wave with Tony. 

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