Was it the big, bright, seemingly 24-7 smile?

Maybe the bright, charming, respectful attitude?

Was it the beach-style shirts, shorts and flip flops – the constant sand between his toes?

Think it could have been the boyish way he approached life?

What do you think about his love and respect for Mother Nature and his passion about the ocean?

However you think of Paul West, a big part of the memory is his board and a particular day’s coastal swell.

“Paul was surfing,” said Bobby Holland Jr. “Everything about the sport, he exuded.”

West passed away last week near his Neptune Beach, Fla., home. The 1978 First Colonial High School graduate was 63.

He had found the love of his life and the couple had a real estate company and two young children.

The four were out to dinner.

West was best known for his love of the hometown East Coast Surfing Championship – the longest continuous-running surfing completion in the world and the one West served as surfing director for more than 30 years.

When it came to surfing competitions, there wasn’t too many places in the world where West couldn’t go and be recognized.

Like everyone, West had a few detractors. But finding someone who didn’t love knowing him is akin to picking the right numbers and winning a billion bucks in the lottery.

It’s too difficult to do.

I first met West when I was a young reporter sent to cover the ECSC. It didn’t take long before I was spending the entire week, going to meetings and writing daily copy – all because of West.

He accepted me and taught me everything he knew – from being a surfer, or an organizer, judge or announcer.

West was inducted into the ECSC Legends Hall of Fame in 2012 at the event’s semi-annual induction ceremony and 50th anniversary.

Because of West’s caring oversight and advice – and my devotion to covering the sport – we were inducted together.

(That’s me with West in a picture before the ceremony began at the Virginia Aquarium).

George Desgain was one of the ECSC originals and marveled at West’s approach to organizing and running the event.

“A great problem solver,” Desgain said. “At a USSF team trials event, we were asked to judge. Paul got permission to drive several SUVs and a couple of trucks onto the sand. The sun was setting quick, so we turned on all the lights on the vehicles so the surfers could see the waves and we could see them to judge.”

West was instrumental in bringing the professionals to the ECSC and the idea turned the contest into a world-known event instead of a national amateur name.

“The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Paul is his bigger than life presence,” Jodie Woodward said. “He captivated the room.”

West had to work hard with Kevin Gaydosh, who, for years, was responsible for advertising the event, working with the press and tending to the array of problems an event like ECSC always encounters.

“For the past 35 years I’ve been fortunate to call him a friend,” Gaydosh said. “This loss is as wide as it is deep to me.”

I spent some time looking at pictures from “back in the day” when I was being accepted by the group and learning how to better cover it. I held a couple of leftover trophies he gave me whenever we went out for a quick meal and a long talk.

I remember walking up the stairs to the judges’ scoring tent and being greeted by that huge barrel chest and bigger smile as I introduced myself.

“Oh man, we know you,” I remember him saying, sticking his bear-sized hand out for a shake. “There’s food and drinks up here all the time and any questions you have, just ask.”

I had plenty. West took the time to answer them all. 

I met all the right people in the ECSC because of West and we’re all pretty tight knit.

We’re all also in a lot of pain.

Life’s journey has thrown us a curveball and taken one of the true greats in the sport – a man who loved the kids and handicapped and would go out of his way to make sure they were enjoying the show.

A man I’m thankful for getting the chance to know.

West’s services will be held in Florida.

To read more of my work, go to: leetolliveroutdoors.com