Friends and family are struggling to come to terms with the death of 19-year-old Liam Alexander Taylor, a beloved fixture in the Cambria surfing community who died Friday afternoon riding waves in one of his favorite spots off Moonstone Beach.
A friend surfing with him that evening recalled conditions that weren’t anything out of the norm, making the loss of the avid surfer and trained lifeguard who went by Alex all the more inexplicable.
“It feels pretty surreal,” said Chase Tatham, who grew up surfing with Taylor.
Taylor’s stepfather, Brad Crampton, said the family feels an “incredible emptiness.”
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“For him to be gone, I just never would have thought this could happen, especially on a day like this,” Tatham said.
Taylor died after suffering severe neck and head injuries in the waters off Moonstone Beach, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office. Taylor got caught in a close-out wave about 4:40 p.m., Tatham said. The wave pounded Taylor against the sand floor, knocking him out.
Tatham, describing waves about 6-feet tall, said it was extremely surprising and upsetting because Taylor had surfed much “bigger and crazier surf.”
“He was a very experienced surfer,” Tatham said. “It feels pretty surreal. It definitely hasn’t sunk in.”
Two friends surfing within feet of Taylor, Johnny McElgunn and Mason Smith, pulled him out of the water and administered CPR, said Tatham, who was waved over while surfing farther down the beach. Taylor had no pulse, and fire officials from the Cambria Community Service District’s Fire Department arrived within six minutes.
They took over the rescue effort, eventually reviving Taylor, though he remained unresponsive. He was taken to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, where family and friends gathered.
Taylor’s mother, Shelley Triggs, spent time by her son’s side, speaking to him, though Taylor wasn’t responding, Crampton said. Taylor was pronounced dead at 8:15 p.m.
“He was unconscious, but maybe he heard her,” Crampton said. “That was good for her, too.”
He was very experienced surfer. It feels pretty surreal. It definitely hasn’t sunk in.
Chase Tatham, friend
He will be remembered for being “really sensitive and kind to people,” Crampton said.
Crampton said that he’d known Taylor for 12 years, living together for nine. Taylor was born in the Los Angeles area, but grew up in Cambria, graduating from Coast Union High in 2016. Crampton watched him grow into a tall, skinny young man of about 6-foot-2, 140 pounds — earning him the nickname “Skinny.”
The family has been left with an “incredible emptiness” and that they have a “long way to go” to heal emotionally, he said.
“I just hoped he’ll be remembered for who he was, somebody who was really a positive influence in the world and a great person because of his brightness and beauty,” Crampton said.
Tatham said he’ll remember Taylor for his smile, which he flashed often.
I just hoped he’ll be remembered for who he was, somebody who was really a positive influence in the world and a great person because of his brightness and beauty.
Brad Crampton, stepfather
McElgunn, Smith, Tatham and Taylor formed a tight-knit circle of Cambria surfing friends.
Tatham said Taylor was attending Santa Monica Community College, but he was home for the summer and worked as a lifeguard in Cayucos. They “tried to surf every day if we could,” Tatham said.
“If it wasn’t for the friends, I’m not sure we could have restored his pulse,” said Emily Torlano, Cambria CSD’s fire captain. “They did everything they could. They did their best.”
Taylor also was a volunteer member of a North Coast ocean rescue team, Torlano said. He went through extensive training, including in CPR, to help distressed swimmers and prevent potential drownings at sea.
Tatham said Moonstone Beach is known to have shallow depths at the base of waves. The accident happened a few hours before high tide.
A memorial of surfboards at Moonstone Beach was erected Saturday to remember “Skinny.”
“Hope that you find the best waves up there,” someone wrote. “Love you man.”
The Sheriff’s Office said an autopsy will be conducted this week to determine the manner and cause of death.
Tribune editor Dan Itel contributed to this report.