SURFERS paddled out to sea to join hands in memory of a member of their community who died earlier this year.

The moving ceremony took place off Southbourne beach in honour of the life of Chris James.

The keen surfer took his life in May.

More than 160 people gathered on the beach on Sunday, just days before what would have been Chris’ 31st birthday.

Nearly 90 surfers from the group assembled on the shore and cheered before heading out on the water. They paddled out a short distance away before forming a big circle and joining hands. They said a few words in tribute of Chris before cheering and dropping a flower lei each into the water.

The memorial paddle-out is a traditional ceremony held by surfers when a member of their community dies.

Surfers around the world practice the ritual, which many believe to be an ancient Hawaiian tradition – although historians have contested this and place the origins of the paddle-out in the early 1900s.

After the paddle-out, the group enjoyed a barbecue by the Southbourne Surf Life Saving Club.

The event also helped raise money and awareness for the mental health charity CALM ­– the Campaign Against Living Miserably.

Chris’ friends and family have already raised more than £8,000 for the charity, and a further £1,209 was raised towards the £10,000 target on Sunday.

Joel Whitmore, a close friend of Chris’ who helped organise the paddle-out, said he was “really pleased with the turnout”.

“When Chris passed away in May, we discussed the idea of a paddle out. Moving forward we thought it would be nice to do for his birthday.

“Paddle outs are very much a surfer community thing where we’ll hang out and enjoy the ocean together.

“We’re raising awareness of mental health and how to avoid something like this happening again. If you can’t spot somebody here who you can’t turn around and talk to if you feel you need to, then we as a surfing community aren’t doing our job properly.”

He added that the paddle-out could become an annual event.

“Even if it’s just a small group who gets together every year to remember Chris it would be nice. “