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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, June 28, 2004

Town to honor missing surfer

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Patricia Marcher knew exactly what was in the odd-shaped package she received at work last week.

The word "evidence" written all over it was the first clue.

Courtney Marcher was last seen surfing at Velzyland on the morning of April 4. Her board was found three days later.

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Wrapped in brown paper was the 6-foot surfboard her daughter, Courtney, was riding at the North Shore break Velzyland the last day anyone saw her. That was nearly three months ago.

No one knows what happened to the 22-year-old, who moved from Satellite Beach, Fla., to Hawai'i in February to pursue her dream of becoming a professional surfer. And maybe no one ever will.

"It was a weird day," said Patricia Marcher about receiving the package. "But I was very happy to get it."

That board, an emotional reminder for her family and friends, will be at the center of a memorial service for Courtney Marcher on July 16 at Satellite Beach, best known in the surfing world as the hometown of pro surfer brothers C.J. and Damien Hobgood.

Courtney's brother, Christian, will paddle the board out to one of her favorite breaks, known as Mark, and, if conditions cooperate, catch a wave in her honor.

It's going to be exactly the kind of service she would have wanted, Patricia Marcher said.

Her favorite reggae band will perform at the beach service. And Glenn Klugel, who shaped the now-famous white board with stars along its rail, is organizing a surf contest that, they hope, will become an annual event.

"We want to celebrate her life at the beach where she always surfed," said Patricia Marcher. "We're going to have food and music, and everyone is coming together. The community is just going to go crazy."

But the small beach town won't have complete closure.

Courtney Marcher's surfboard, found by fishermen at Ka'ena Point, yielded few clues about what happened to her. Its leash was severed, but investigators can't conclusively say how it was cut.

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Nothing conclusive has turned up in Courtney Marcher's disappearance. Police have suspended the search for her body, and tests are still being done on the leash, which was found severed but still attached to her board, said officer Phil Camero with the Honolulu Police Department's Missing Persons Detail.

Tests on the surfboard, however, have been completed. Police looked for shark bites, blood or any markings that would indicate something suspicious.

"Nothing was found," Camero said.

Courtney Marcher was last seen at about 8:45 a.m. April 4 in the water at Velzyland. Her surfboard was found three days later by fishermen at Ka'ena Point, about seven miles from the surf break.

Police said they believe Marcher, who had a history of seizures, ran into trouble in the water. That day, according to North Shore lifeguards, wave faces reached heights of about six feet.

Officers don't believe she was a victim of foul play.

That's an explanation Patricia Marcher can accept.

"At first I was very concerned that she was taken," she said. "But I can tell you, Courtney would have gone kicking and screaming. ... They would have had their hands full.

"But I get these feelings," she continued, her voice a little more hushed. "I can't explain them ... I just feel OK about it. I would love to see her and talk with her again ... but I'm very much at peace with it."

Two shark experts have examined the leash to see if they could identify the unusual striations on it. But even that hasn't resulted in anything conclusive.

"From what I saw, it wasn't possible to say for certain what had happened," said Randy Honebrink, state Shark Task Force member, who examined the leash in April. "There wasn't enough to suggest that a shark had bit it."

He said the marks on the leash were "too unnatural" to be from shark teeth. And similar striations were found elsewhere on the leash, possibly indicating they were a result of the leash stretching, he said, the way a rubber band cracks when it's stretched.

Had it been a shark bite, it would have been a clean cut, he added.

"Rarely you have just the leash to go on," he said. "You would suspect something on the board as well, some tooth marks. But there was nothing like that."

Another shark expert, however, did say the marking resembled shark teeth, Camero said.

According to Honebrink, Courtney Marcher's leash was compared to one snapped off a bodyboard in February 1992. Bodyboarder Bryan Adona's body was never found, though his board washed ashore at Waimea Bay. A chunk of it was missing and shark teeth markings were evident.

"That one was just a clean cut," Honebrink said. "It just didn't look anything like the Marcher one."

Velzyland isn't typically known for sharks — at least, not more than other surf spots, Honebrink said — and no one reported seeing any that week.

Marcher's disappearance still haunts the tightly knit community on the North Shore.

"There's still an open-ended question mark about what happened," said former roommate Vincent Bechet, 33, who has moved out of the house he had shared with Courtney Marcher. "We all think that something happened in the water, but there's no real closure because they still haven't found a body, you know. Sometimes we think about it, but otherwise it feels OK. I think most of her friends have dealt with it now."

And so has her mother, who has never tried to surf because of her fear of sharks.

"She was so determined and so happy and going for what she wanted," Patricia Marcher said. "What better way to go than doing what she loved."

Reach Catherine E. Toth at 535-8103 or ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.