Katherine Diaz: who was the Olympic hopeful surfer struck by lightning in a freak storm on an El Salvador beach?

Diaz’s family have paid tribute to the surfing pro who was training for a Tokyo Olympics qualifying event - “the sea was her life”

Olympic hopeful surfer Katherine Diaz has been tragically struck and killed by lightning in a freak El Salvador storm.

The surfing professional had only just entered the water on El Tunco beach, around 10 miles south of the country’s capital, when she was struck during a training session.

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A Spanish newspaper reported that a sudden change in weather had caught those on the beach by surprise and attempts to revive the 22-year-old on the beach were unsuccessful.

“The sky was clear and it was an unforeseen storm that did not seem to carry much electrical intensity either,” the report in AS said as tributes poured in for the popular surfer.

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Who was Katherine Diaz?

Diaz was preparing for an Olympic qualifying event - the ISA World Surf Games - in El Salvador in May when she was tragically struck by lightning.

Katherine Diaz "embodied the joy and energy that make surfing so special" said the International Surfing Association. (Pic: Instagram)

She was hoping to compete at this summer’s Tokyo Games, which will see surfing make its Olympic debut, after it was delayed in 2020 due to Covid fears.

Diaz had competed regularly, most notably the ISA World Surfing Games and ISA World Junior Surfing Championship, in pursuing her dream of surfing at the Olympics.

It is reported that she was also a chef who had opened her own business in El Tunco.

How will Katherine Diaz be remembered?

The sport’s governing body, International Surfing Association, paid tribute on social media.

An Instagram post read: “It is with a heavy heart that the ISA has learned about the passing of El Salvador’s Katherine Diaz.

“Katherine embodied the joy and energy that make surfing so special and dear to us all, as a global ambassador of the sport. She excelled at the international competition level, representing her country with pride at both the ISA World Surfing Games and ISA World Junior Surfing Championship.

“We send our heartfelt condolences to Katherine’s family, the surfers of El Salvador, and to all those in the international surfing community whose lives she touched.

“We will never forget you.”

A funeral for Diaz took place in El Salvador on Sunday (21 March) where flowers, flags, photos and her surfboard were pictured next to her coffin.

What has the family of Katherine Diaz said?

Her uncle Beto Diaz went with his niece Katherine to El Tunco beach on the day she died.

“Katherine got close to hug her friend, and as soon as she hugged her, you heard the lightning,” Mr Diaz told ElSalvador.com. “Her friend went flying because of the force of the lightning ray and it knocked down my surfing board. Katherine died instantly.”

Her brother, Jose Diaz, said in a post on Instagram: “You'll forever be in our hearts. God decided to take you now. We miss you already.”

Katherine’s mother, Rosa Amelia Hernández, said her daughter wanted to be cremated but the family decided to bury her across the ocean where she died.

Rosa told ElSalvador.com: “I could not cremate her remains, but I made sure that she would rest in front of the sea, because the sea was her life.”