Succumbed To 15-year Fight
On New Year's Day of 1998, Sunn's friends brought her on a stretcher to the beach so that she could taste ocean one more time; she died the next day at her home in Makaha. She dismissed the idea that with her death she would arrive in paradise. "There's no better place than Makaha," Sunn was quoted as saying by Martin in the Independent. "This is heaven on earth." Two weeks later in Makaha thousands attended her memorial service. Four years after her death, Sunn was the subject of a documentary film, Heart of the Sea. The Rell Sunn-Queen of Makaha award was established as part of the University of California at San Diego Luau and Long-board Invitational, and is bestowed annually on an individual for his or her cancer-fighting efforts.
Sunn was profiled in a 2001 book by Andrea Gabbard, Girl in the Curl: A Century of Women Surfing. Honolulu Star-Bulletin writer Greg Ambrose reviewed it and discussed the tremendous changes in the sport in Sunn's lifetime alone, exemplified by the 2002 film Blue Crush. Sunn was a rarity on the waves in her teen years, Ambrose noted, "but as the 21st century gathers momentum, more wahine young and old are reveling in the ocean's exhilarating embrace, and capturing a larger share of contest prize money, sponsorships, media attention and respect from their fellow wave riders.… Somewhere, you just know that Rell Sunn is smiling as wahine take their rightful place in the ocean."