‘A great man:’ Close friends remember 46-year-old canoer after body found north of Vilano Beach

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — 46-year-old Eiffel Gilyana was a husband, father of three, and someone who loved to paddle.


“Eiffel was a great man, a friend,” Leo Yui said.

Gilyana vanished when canoeing with two other people on Saturday near the St. Augustine inlet. The family confirmed on Tuesday afternoon he was found by fishermen roughly seven miles north in Ponte Vedra Beach.

The Coast Guard said searched 341 square miles of the ocean before suspending the search efforts on Sunday. The agency added he wasn’t wearing a life jacket when he went missing.

After the search was suspended, Leo Yui and members of Task Force Hydro1 continued to look for him.

They described him as a humble person who would put others first.

“As soon as he sees you he smiles at you and approaches you and asks how your day was and how he can make your life better,” Yui said.

Gilyana was the fitness and wellness director at the Jacksonville Community Alliance and was on the board of Task Force Hydro1, it’s a group that helps foster emotional healing in the water for active-duty military, first responders, and veterans.

“The relationships we had built were very deep, the relationships we built in a small amount of time,” Yui said.

Close friends said this hasn’t been easy for anybody and family is now working on memorial services. Yui said that Gilyana and the two other canoers were roughly a mile into the ocean and while difficult, it was a spot they’d been to plenty of times before.

“There’s a place called the sholes, so that’s where we take canoes to surf instead of staying at the shore, it’s a spot where it’s like a washing machine, you get waves from different angles,’ Yui said.

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Yui said Gilyana was in a single canoe while the other two were together.

“I talked to one of them and he’s carrying a lot of guilt, which is understandable, but it’s one of those things that could have happened to anyone,” Yui said.

Gilyana’s death has devastated so many, but loved ones say they’ll always remember his energy and his passion to put others first.

“He created such a huge impact on everybody he came across, we want to continue that,”

Yui told Action News Jax they’re working on what they call a paddle out to remember him and have people attend. Action News Jax has requested the report from FWC and is waiting to hear back.

The JCA released the following statement:

“Dear JCA Community,

“It is with the heaviest hearts and a profound sense of sorrow that we share a heartbreaking update concerning the well-being of our cherished JCA Fitness and Wellness Director, Eiffel Gilyana.

“Today, December 26, at around 1 pm, a heart-wrenching discovery was made in the ocean, approximately seven miles from where Eiffel was last seen. Law enforcement has officially verified that the retrieved body is indeed that of Eiffel Gilyana.

“During this exceedingly difficult time, we humbly ask our community to extend their warmth and compassion to embrace and support the Gilyana Family. If your heart moves you to do so please consider donating to the GoFundMe page or signing up to provide meals for the Gilyana family. For access to all updates and information on how to lend a hand, please click here.

“The JCA plans on hosting a gathering in remembrance and celebration of Eiffel. We will share more details once confirmed. Our thoughts and prayers are with Eiffel’s family, friends, Task Force Hydro1 teammates, clients, and our entire JCA community.

“In profound sadness and solidarity,

Adam Chaskin, CEO”

Task Force Hydro 1 released the following statement about Gilyana:

“Our hearts are shattered with the devastating news about Eiffel,’ expressed Leonardo Yui, Executive Director of Task Force Hydro1. ‘His passion, dedication, and contributions to our organization and the broader community will never be forgotten. We extend our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and all who knew him.’

“The organization remains committed to providing support during this incredibly challenging time. ‘Our primary focus is now on supporting Eiffel’s family and our members. We will continue to collaborate with relevant authorities and will provide pertinent updates as they become available,’ added Yui.

“As the community grapples with this profound loss, Task Force Hydro1 acknowledges the desire for information regarding funeral arrangements and other ways to support the Gilyana family. Rest assured, details about funeral arrangements and any other pertinent information will be communicated as they are finalized and become available.

“Task Force Hydro1 kindly requests that the privacy of Eiffel’s family be respected during this profoundly difficult time.”

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