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Surfers honor teacher lost in snowmobile accident

Surfers swim into the ocean at Smith Point

Surfers swim into the ocean at Smith Point Park during a memorial service for teacher Kristen Bednar, 30, of East Patchogue, who was killed after a snowmobile crash while visiting Vermont for New Year's, her family said. (Jan. 10, 2010) Credit: Ed Betz

Minutes after paddling ashore from the frigid Atlantic waters, Michael Bednar shared the lesson he learned from his late wife, Kristen.

"Just remember to live life to the fullest, because one day you might not be able to," Michael said. "Every day, that's how she lived."

>> PHOTOS: Surfers mourn LI teacher

Michael was among about 100 surfers who gathered off Smith Point Sunday to remember Kristen Bednar, who died on New Year's Eve after suffering head injuries in a Vermont snowmobile accident. She was 30 and lived with her husband in East Patchogue.

The surfers - friends who knew Bednar, an avid wave rider, from the beach - gathered at noon to perform a traditional surfer memorial called a "paddle out."

The group, all in wet suits, formed a circle on their boards about 50 yards off shore and shared memories. Michael Bednar then broke the circle and tossed a wreath and his wife's ashes into the ocean.

The water temperature off Fire Island hovered in the low 30s Sunday, and the 12-mph winds made the 27-degree air temperature on land feel like 17, according to the National Weather Service.

But Warren Zufall, a friend of the Bednars, had no doubt that Kristen Bednar would have been in the circle Sunday if someone else had died.

"Even if there were 8-foot-high waves today, she'd be right there in the middle of all these guys," Zufall said.

>>VIDEO: Click here to watch mourners paddle out for Kristen Bednar

Surfers said they remembered Bednar, a teacher at Birch Lane Elementary School in Massapequa, as an aggressive surfer and a vivacious personality.

Christine Kromhout of Center Moriches said the surfers organized the paddle-out service because "we feel her in the ocean."

About 20 people watched the service from the beach, where family and friends set up a memorial with crosses and a fire.

One of the onlookers was Bednar's uncle, John Soldano of East Islip.

"This was her lifestyle," Soldano said. "It's what she enjoyed."

>> PHOTOS: Surfers mourn LI teacher

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