Chesser, Todd

Garrulous and quick-witted pro surfer from Hawaii; described by Surfing magazine in 1995 as "the greatest non-rated surfer in the world"; a big-wave virtuoso by the early '90s, and a big-wave fatality in 1997.

Chesser was born (1968) in Florida, and moved to Hawaii with his mother, Jeannie, at age three, after his surfer father was killed in a car accident. Jeannie became one of Hawaii's top-rated amateur surfers, finishing fourth in the 1973 United States Championships, fourth in the 1980 World Championships, and fourth again in the 1984 Championships. Chesser finished fourth in the final ratings for the 1990 Professional Surfing Association of America tour, but didn't have the temperament for competition, and decided instead to make a career as a big-wave rider and a globe-trotting photo-pro.

Chesser also wrote the occasional surf magazine article, and in a 1994 issue of Surfer he described, in a fairly nonchalant voice, his recent near-drowning after getting caught inside by a 25-foot set at Himalayas, an outer reefbreak on the North Shore of Oahu. For another Surfer article on big-wave danger, Chesser  said that "if you know the basics, the danger is minimal."

On February 13, 1997, Chesser was scheduled to fly to Maui to stunt-surf a death scene for TriStar's big-wave drama In God's Hands. But the surf was good in Oahu, so he stayed home, and at 9:00 A.M. paddled with two friends into the lineup at Outside Alligator Rock. Chesser drowned two hours later, after getting caught inside by a 25-foot set. He was the third surfer to die in big waves in just over two years: in late 1994 Hawaiian surfer Mark Foo was killed at Maverick's, and Donnie Soloman of California died at Waimea Bay in 1995.

Chesser was remembered as fun-loving and cynical, with a penchant for streaking. He died, engaged to be married, three days before his 29th birthday. Chesser appeared in more than 20 surf movies and videos, including Just Surfing (1989), Momentum (1992), and Under the Same Sun (1994).