Crews suspend search for legendary big-wave surfer 'Ace Cool'

Friends hope for the best as search for legendary surfer 'Ace Cool' continues
Published: Oct. 29, 2015 at 3:25 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 1, 2015 at 1:38 PM HST
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Alec Cooke
Alec Cooke
Gail Howell
Gail Howell

NORTH SHORE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Search-and-rescue crews suspended their search for former professional surfer Alec Cooke on Saturday night, after finding no sign of him in waters off the North Shore.

The Honolulu Fire Department called off their search at 6 p.m. Saturday; the Coast Guard followed shortly thereafter.

By Friday afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard said they had covered 5,900 square miles.

Investigators say Cooke, 59, was last seen Tuesday, when he left his home in Waialua about 4 p.m. to go surfing on the North Shore. Cooke's girlfriend, Gail Howell, reported him missing the next morning when he didn't return.

Emergency responders found a surfboard near the Waimea River Thursday. On Friday, Howell confirmed that it belonged to Cooke.

"He's always been a really great swimmer, a great surfer," Howell said as she held the board, which sported a decal with Cooke's nickname, "Ace Cool."

Friends of the legendary surfer said they were hoping for the best, and recalled a man who was never afraid to push the envelope.

Cooke made a name for himself chasing big waves in the 1970s and 80s. That included tow-in surfing and even jumping out of a helicopter into a monster wave off Kaena Point.

"That helicopter drop at Kaena Point was crazy," said HIC Surf Announcer Beau Hodge. "He knew he was gonna eat and wipe out so he had an oxygen pack with him."

Cooke was last seen at about 6:30 Tuesday night, when he went into the water at Waimea Bay after sunset. Friends said it wasn't unusual for him to do that.

"He paddles out with a big glow stick on his back and he's got a light and basically he goes out at nighttime in big surf," said longtime friend Rich Jensen. "Because nobody else is out there, so I guess he's got it all to himself."

Those close to Ace Cool are now preparing for the worst.

"If this was the way you're going to go, this is the way he would go, surfing the big waves at Waimea," said Howell. "it's his live, you know. He just loved it."

"He's done all kinds of crazy feats through his life, but he's always gotten away with it, that's the wild thing," said Jensen. "He's always pulled it off, but it might have caught up with him this time."

In 2000, Cooke won eighth place in the first ever tow-in surf contest at Maui's Jaws.

Early Wednesday, investigators found Cooke's truck in the parking lot of Missions of St. Peter near Waimea Bay. His dog and keys were still inside.

Pauli Mendoza, a surfboard shaper who's known Cooke for more than two decades, said he was shocked when he heard Cooke was missing.

"He's a guy with enough experience he would be able to read currents and tides. For him to go disappearing like this, it would have to be an accident of some sort," he said. "He was an avid Waimea and outer reef surfer with a lot of experience under his belt."

Mendoza said at this point, as the search continues, his only hope is that "Ace Cool" is OK.

"Ace was always a good guy. Always had something good to see," Mendoza said. "He's been a member of this community for a lot of years and I just hope we find him safe."

Meanwhile, Howell appeared to be prepared to bid farewell as she took his board home.

"Hold him in your memories and think the best of him," she said. "Remember the best, the way he was. Just keep on surfing and do what you love, that's all I can say."

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