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Photo of a paddleboard in the sea

Paddleboarder's Tragic Death Reminds Us of the Importance of Wearing a Life Vest

Tafari Campbell drowned after falling off his SUP at Martha's Vineyard.

Tafari Campbell, the personal chef of the Obama family, has died in a paddleboarding accident in Edgartown Great Pond in Martha's Vineyard.

On Sunday, Campbell was out with at least one other friend paddleboarding close to shore. The unidentified fellow paddleboarder later told the police they saw Campbell loose his balance and fall off his board. They reported that Campbell briefly struggled to stay on the surface before disappearing under the water.

The witness tried to swim to him but "did not reach him in time," Massachusetts State Police said in a statement, MassLive reported.

The witness then swam to shore and alerted someone who called 911, according to the report. After Martha's Vineyard police and fire agencies responded to the call, crews searched for hours Sunday night and resumed the search on Monday morning.

Campbell was later found dead by the Massachusetts Environmental Police in 8 feet of water, 100 feet from the shore. An initial probe into the tragedy reported that there was nothing to suggest the death was suspicious.

According to the New York Post, the witness reported that Campbell was not wearing a life jacket, nor was he tethered to the board—both of which are very common among people recreationally stand-up paddleboarding, particularly when you're sticking close to shore.

However, as paddleboarding gains popularity, drowning deaths are increasing. According to the US Coast Guard's Recreational Boating Statistics, in 2022 there were 17 paddleboarder deaths, 16 of which were from drowning. Fifteen of those drowning victims were not wearing life jackets at the time of the accident.

Drowning while paddleboarding became such a risk that in 2008, the Coast Guard issued regulations regarding paddleboards, listing them as "vessels." As such, all people using paddleboards must have a life jacket with them (preferably on).

Campbell had been visiting Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts where the Obamas have a home, from his home in Virginia. Campbell had worked for the Obamas at the White House and then joined the family as their personal chef afterward. where he became a "beloved part of our family," according to a statement by the Obamas.

Campbell leaves behind a wife and two children.

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