Fixture in Bay Area SUP community dies after trying to paddle Tampa Bay Saturday

The tight-knit community of paddleboarders is devastated over the death of one of its own. The body of 60-year-old Dan Lukens was found floating near the Pinellas County side of the Gandy Bridge Saturday after deputies say he tried to paddle across Tampa Bay.

They urged him not to go out. Friends were concerned about the weather conditions and whether he had a proper wetsuit to keep him warm.

Now they're remembering him for as a kind-hearted fixture who will be deeply missed.

Lukens had an adventurous spirit and a loving heart, according to his friends, who say he was well-known in the paddleboarding community.

"He's a very awesome guy. Hands down, one of the nicest people on the planet. He would probably give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. Just an all-around caring gentleman," friend Mike Conlee said.

Deputies with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office's Marine Unit got a call Saturday about a body floating on the north side of the Gandy Bridge. A short time later, they found Lukens' remains. 

Dan Lukens on his paddleboard from Youtube video he uploaded Jan. 19

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He had planned to head to Picnic Island after launching his paddleboard from Gandy Beach.

Lukens was also a fixture around the Urban Kai paddleboard shop on Gandy Boulevard. 

"He paddled here with all the people that paddle here, but for me, my bond with him was five animals, five cats that we both loved," friend Kelly Quick said.

Lukens also loved animals. He and Quick helped take care of the cats living in the woods near Urban Kai. Quick met Lukens one day when she was feeding them in the parking lot.

"He offered to start helping me and we became great friends. We would talk every day or text every day as to who was going to care for the kittens," Quick said.

 He was a caring soul Quick and friend Mike Conlee say will be deeply missed.

"It's never easy going through situations like this especially losing someone on the water and we really preach a lot of water safety and get people to understand you need to be safe when you go out on the water," Conlee said.

GoPro video uploaded to Lukens' YouTube channel shows him on his paddleboard back on January 19. 

Saturday, Conlee says he offered Lukens his wetsuit, but he didn't take it and instead says he went out with a wet jacket. Authorities are still working to track down his paddleboard.

"We kind of rely on a buddy system. At the same time knowing if the conditions are out of your scope and outside of your comfort zone then you just don't go," Conlee said.

Friends are asking if anyone finds his paddleboard to please reach out to the authorities so they can get it to his family.

It's still not clear how long Lukens may have been in the water before he was found. He was wearing a life vest. The autopsy results and the cause and manner of his death are still pending.