IB Ambrosino Paddle Out Sep 26 No1

Some flowers that were used in the paddle out ceremony Saturday in Surfside Beach returned to the shore. Others were left by community members that came out to honor Cpl. Michael Ambrosino, who passed away in August following complications with COVID-19. Photo by Ian Livingston Brooking.

Cpl. Michael Ambrosino did more than protect the beach.

The sand and ocean were as much about play as they were work.

“He loved this beach,” said Duke Brown, the Horry County Beach Patrol beach safety director. “He always enjoyed being out on the beach, even on his days off. He swam, kayaked, [rode a] paddleboard, and even fished a lot. This beach was a part of his life.” 

Friends, fellow officers and family members gathered on the South Strand Saturday morning to remember Ambrosino, who died Aug. 19 following a struggle with COVID-19.

Ambrosino, whose law enforcement career spanned more than 30 years, was honored with a "paddle out," a ceremony derived from Hawaiian culture and popular within the surfing community as a way to celebrate fellow beach lovers.

The ceremony was fitting for Ambrosino. He was part of the Horry County Police Department’s Beach Patrol during his more than seven-year tenure with the department.

“A paddle out bring us all together both spiritually and physically,” said Kaleo Lani, a Hawaii native who now resides in Horry County and was on hand Saturday to partake in the ceremony.

The ceremony began with a procession from the Melody Lane beach access in Surfside. Law enforcement vehicles from the HCPD and Myrtle Beach police slowly made their way to the Holly Avenue beach access.

When the officers reached the beach access at Holly Avenue, dozens of surfers and friends greeted them.

For people like Phillip Jackson, who has lived in the Myrtle Beach area for nearly 40 years, Saturday morning was about “happy thoughts” and to celebrate the life of Ambrosino.

“It was certainly emotional at times,” he said. “But seeing all the kids and the community coming out and sharing good thoughts about Mike was special.”

Jackson, who is the executive director of the Surf Dreams Foundation, said locals have been grieving the loss of their friend. 

“He did so much for the community,” Jackson said. “He always was there for the beach, the kids and the surfing community.”

People who participated in the paddle out picked up a flower before going into the ocean. From there, paddlers made their way out to sea, where many shared a few words. 

“It was always nice to see him pull up in the morning when you were setting up for an event,” Jackson said. “I would always get out early and he would show up and we would just talk about life. Those were some of the greatest memories.”

After people shared their thoughts, they splashed the water to remember Ambrosino. As that happened, Lani performed a traditional Haka dance on the shore.

When the paddlers returned, emotion filled their faces. Even surfing novices wanted to pay their respects.

“It was the first time they’ve ever been on a board, but they came out to make sure Mike knew they were there,” Brown said. “When everything is over, it's what you left in the area, or on the beach, and he left his legacy down here. People will remember him."

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