Emotional paddle-out for beloved Ballina man
MORE than 200 people gathered at Ballina on Sunday for a memorial paddle-out in honour of much-loved local Raz Burtonwood.
Mr Burtonwood, 69, was reported missing on February 16 when he didn't return from his usual morning ocean swim at Lighthouse Beach.
The search was suspended after four days.
The Ballina Lighthouse Surf Club member was known to be a strong swimmer and a well-respected man in the Ballina community.
He was also well known as a high school teacher at Ballina High, rugby league player, rugby union player, outrigger canoeist and runner.
Don Opie knew Mr Burtonwood for 26 years.
He said about 80 people participated in the paddle-out at Speeds Reef, with another 200-300 people watching from the beach or the headland.
There was a two-minute silence for Raz, during which dolphins surrounded the surfers.
"There is a little bit of sparkle that has gone out of the area," Mr Opie said.
"He would speak with enthusiasm and relish about his daily swim.
"He was willing to remain his own person; other people wished to be in his company.
"His comment was often that 'what you see is what you get'.
"I can't imagine the loss for the family, but (also) for the people in the community... the more time you spent with him, the more you loved him."
Mr Opie said Raz's well known saying was "I wouldn't be dead for quids".
He said it reflected how much he fully appreciated his life.
"His footprint on the planet was very small," Mr Opie said.
"He hated waste."
A memorial for Raz will be held at the Ballina Seagulls Rugby League Club on March 12.
In a statement, his three children - Che, Kye and Jemma - paid tribute to the many people involved in the three-day search for their father.
"We were completely blown away and deeply moved by the huge effort put in by so many groups and individuals in the search for Raz," they wrote.
"We send a heartfelt thank-you to you all. The professionalism and determination were clear to us.
"We so appreciate the respect, empathy and support we have been given at this tragic time by so many in the Ballina community and realise many or you are sharing our grief."
They also took some solace in that Mr Burtonwood was lost doing something he loved.
Not only was he regarded as one of the best swimmers in the surf lifesaving club, but he also was known to bodysurf in the line-up with boardriders at places such as Lennox Point.
"We like to think that Raz is out there now still catching the big ones and looking out for everyone," his children wrote.
"The beach and surf will always be a happy place for us because we are enjoying it with him."
The memorial service will be held at Ballina Seagulls Rugby League Club, Bentinck St, on Tuesday, March 12, at 3pm.
The family asks those attending to make a donation to the Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Life Saving Club in lieu of flowers.