“Legendary waterman” Tamayo Perry killed in shark attack while surfing off Oahu in Hawaii

An accomplished surfer and occasional actor died after sustaining fatal injuries in a shark attack off the island of Oahu in Hawaii, authorities said. Tamayo Perry, 49, was also a professional lifeguard for City and County of Honolulu Ocean Safety.

Perry was attacked while he was surfing near Goat Island on Sunday afternoon, Shayne Enright of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department said Sunday at a news conference that was streamed by CBS affiliate Hawaii News Now.

Honolulu Ocean Safety and the city’s fire, police and emergency medical services departments responded to Mālaekahana Beach on Oahu’s North Shore just before 1 p.m. after a caller reported seeing a surfer who appeared to have suffered shark bites and was fatally injured, Enright said.

Lifeguards brought Perry to shore by jet ski and paramedics assisted with the death pronouncement, Enright said.

Perry, who worked as a lifeguard on the North Shore, began his career with the Ocean Safety department in July 2016, Enright said.

Ocean Safety personnel posted shark warnings in the area following the attack, Enright said.

Hawaii’s Tamayo Perry surfs while practicing for Da Hui Backdoor shootout at the Pipeline Masters on Oahu’s North Shore, Hawaii on January 2, 2019. BRIAN BIELMANN/AFP via Getty Images

Honolulu Ocean Safety Acting Chief Kurt Lager, also speaking at the news conference, said Perry was “a lifeguard loved by all.”

“He’s well known on the North Shore. He’s a professional surfer known worldwide,” said Lager. “Tamayo’s personality was infectious, and as much as people loved him, he loved everyone else more.”

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi echoed those sentiments, describing Perry as a “legendary waterman” who was highly-respected. He called the death “a tragic loss.”

Perry initially made a name for himself in Hawaii and beyond in the early 2000s, when fellow athletes began to take note of his distinctive skills, particularly when it came to free surfing the North Shore pipeline, Surfer Magazine reported after his death. He went on to forge a career in Hollywood, making appearances in the film “Blue Crush” in 2002 and the fourth installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise in 2011. Perry also appeared in a 2011 episode of the TV series “Hawaii Five-O.”

John Sullivan, an actor who worked with Perry on “Hawaii Five-O,” called Perry the “nicest guy on Oahu.”

“He broadcasted positivity wherever he went,” Sullivan told CBS News on Monday.

Deadly shark attacks doubled in 2023 compared with the previous year, according to the International Shark Attack File, a database that keeps track of shark attacks reported around the world. One of the two fatal incidents reported in the U.S. last year happened in Hawaii, although shark attacks overall occurred most frequently in Florida.

“He was insanely respected”

Perry and his wife, Emilia Perry, operated the Oahu Surfing Experience, offering surfing lessons. According to his biography on the business’ website, he surfed professionally for over 15 years, highlighted by winning the Pipeline Master trials in 1999.

The Pipeline off Oahu’s North Shore is famous for creating a tube that surfers ride for as long as they can. But it’s also the most deadly wave in the world, killing some of the world’s best surfers, Buckley said. Surfing it became Perry’s specialty, he said.

Surfers either focus on competitions or what they can do outside of those meets.

Perry “was never like somebody that was going to contend for a world title,” said Brendan Buckley, the editor of Stab Magazine, a website devoted to surfing. “He was more of the type to just kind of hunt down big, crazy waves and have that documented.”

“For a while, he was one of the top, top, top people out there,” Buckley added. “He got some of the craziest waves of his era. He was insanely respected by obviously everybody there and everybody around the world for what he did.”

Perry said on his website that he took to heart lessons learned from a near-fatal accident while surfing the Pipeline years ago.

“The lessons I’ve taken from that event have inspired me to my goal of instilling proper surf etiquette and safety into those whom I teach,” he wrote.

Emilia competed as a professional bodyboarder in western Australia before moving to Hawaii when she was 18. She and Tamayo met when she was bodyboarding out to a Pipeline wave.

“A few years later, I picked up a surfboard, we got married and there was no turning back,” she wrote. “The vast amounts of ocean knowledge that Tamayo has ingrained in me over the years is priceless.”

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