Scores of Casey Skudin’s family and friends paddled their surfboards off Lido Beach West on Sunday to celebrate the life of the FDNY firefighter and Town of Hempstead lifeguard in a place that he loved — the choppy waters off Long Island’s South Shore.
Hundreds more watched the flotilla of surfboards from the beach as an FDNY bagpiper skirled mournfully in honor of Skudin, the Long Beach resident who died June 17 during a family vacation when a 2,000-pound tree limb fell on his vehicle in Asheville, North Carolina.
Skudin’s family and friends remembered the 16-year FDNY veteran as a genuine American hero who had saved many lives as a firefighter and lifeguard. Skudin was a devoted father and husband who shared his love of nature and adventure with his family, they said, and was an incredible asset to his community.
“He led such a heroic life, he was such an incredible human, that he just has to be celebrated,” said Skudin’s wife, Angela Skudin, wearing an FDNY cap.
Skudin, who would have turned 46 on June 19, had been on a family vacation to celebrate his birthday and Father's Day when a tree limb fell on his vehicle as he drove his wife and sons Ben, 19, and C.J., 10, up the driveway of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. Skudin was killed instantly.
A funeral was held Friday in Oceanside. His remains were cremated later that day.
C.J., also injured, wore a neck brace at Sunday’s paddle out. Angela Skudin and Ben escaped with minor injuries.
Skudin, assigned to Ladder Company 137 in Rockaway Beach, Queens, was the valedictorian of his fire academy class. He was also a CrossFit coach and had been a lifeguard since he was a teenager and continued as an adult at Lido Beach West.
The paddle out, held on the beach where Skudin worked for years as a lifeguard, had lighthearted moments. C.J. kicked off the festivities with a joke: “Where do hamsters go on vacation?,” he asked. “Hamsterdam!”
Skudin’s cousin, Woody Skudin, said Skudin lived his life with honor and integrity.
“Casey was a patriot who loved his country, his town and family, a rock for his family and community.” Woody Skudin said. “We promise to carry on your legacy. You will be missed greatly by your family.”
Scores of people, flanked by rows of American flags on the beach, walked to the shoreline with their surfboards and paddled out more than 100 yards into the water. The group held hands and tossed a wreath into the middle of the circle while bobbing on the waves.
Angelas Skudin, in the middle of the circle, scattered half of Skudin’s ashes onto the Atlantic Ocean as others chanted “Casey! Warrior!”
“He just loved the water,” said another cousin, Cliff Skudin. “Casey was one with nature.”
Angela Skudin said her husband was aware that his work as a firefighter often put him in harm’s way and that they talked about how he wanted to be remembered if he died prematurely. She said it was inspiring to see so many people — from so many parts of his life — at the paddle out.
“My husband was so many things — he was a lifeguard, a New York City firefighter, CrossFit coach — and all those things kind of meld into one on this beach today,” she said.
“Casey was definitely a warrior,” she added. “He lived a warrior’s life, and he died a warrior so we are just going to do everything we can to honor his memory.”