Surfers gather at sea for Irwin memorial

Hundreds of surfers formed a circle in the waves off Australia’s eastern coast and cast sprigs of wild flowers into the Pacific Ocean today to honour “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin.

Hundreds of surfers formed a circle in the waves off Australia’s eastern coast and cast sprigs of wild flowers into the Pacific Ocean today to honour “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin.

It was reported by Australian media that a family service for Irwin, who was killed a week ago when a stingray barb pierced his chest as he filmed a TV show, was held yesterday on his wildlife park at Beerwah on Queensland state’s Sunshine Coast.

But Irwin’s manager John Stainton said the reports were conjecture and the family would make a statement on Monday about the funeral.

Brisbane’s The Sunday Mail reported a private ceremony took place Saturday; the Nine and Seven television networks showed footage of an empty marquee and chairs they reported were used in the ceremony.

Details of the funeral have been of interest because of Irwin’s massive popularity. His father, Bob, said the family would hold a small private ceremony with friends but that fans would have a chance to honour Irwin at a public service later.

In the surf memorial, about 300 boardriders, some dressed in khaki shirt and shorts of the kind that Irwin adopted as his uniform, paddled out from Alexandra Headland, carrying sprigs of wild flowers in their teeth.

“They paddled out probably about 300 yards offshore and made a very large circle,” said lifeguard Nigel Morton. “There were several surfers in the centre of the circle that conducted the service.”

A wildlife fanatic, Irwin, 44, was also an accomplished surfer.

The Sunday Mail said Irwin’s family, including wife Terri, received permission from the local council to bury Irwin on the site of his family’s zoo, and that a service was held in his name Saturday.

Stainton wouldn’t confirm or deny that the service had taken place or details about where he would be buried, saying only that more details on the private funeral and burial be made public this week

“I’ve seen a lot of conjecture about a lot of family things this weekend, and that’s what it is,” Stainton said. “These will all be confirmed on Monday when the family will again have something to say.”

The Sunday Mail quoted an unnamed friend of Irwin’s family as saying Saturday’s service was “for family and good friends, people who were close to Steve in recent years.”

“The council gave the family permission to bury Steve at the zoo and we think they’re going to erect a monument there so visitors can continue to pay their respects,” the person was quoted as saying.

A public memorial service is expected within 10 days, when thousands of fans are expected to pay their final respects to the star. One suggested venue is a 52,000-seat sports stadium in the state capital, Brisbane.

The Irwins have two children, Bindi, eight, and Bob, two.

Irwin could have had a formal state funeral offered by Prime Minister John Howard. Instead, Bob Irwin said his son would have preferred a smaller, private funeral.

Meanwhile, hundreds of fans continued their procession to the 60-acre Australia Zoo, where thousands have left flowers, candles, cards and stuffed animals and signed khaki shirts in lieu of a commemoration book.

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