Florida Man Who Paddleboarded Dressed as Jack Sparrow Remembered as Local 'Icon' After Death

Rachel DeSantis
Florida Man Who Paddleboarded Dressed as Jack Sparrow Remembered as Local 'Icon' After Death

For the locals in Crystal River, Florida, it wasn’t unusual to see Captain Jack Sparrow leaping into the water from a tree above, or completing a headstand as his paddleboard floated along.

Of course, this Jack Sparrow wasn’t played by Johnny Depp, but by Joshua Hensley, a 43-year-old local man who became a fixture on the waterfront for paddleboarding while dressed as the beloved Pirates of the Caribbean character.

Hensley — whose body was recovered from the waters of King Bay by authorities on Monday, the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office said — was fondly remembered by members of his community as a fun-loving free spirit quick to offer a smile and a photo opp to any child who asked.

“He’s kind of become a staple, because he would just be on his paddleboard at any given moment and he would be in full Jack Sparrow attire,” local Ryan Downs tells PEOPLE. “Our town, we spend a lot of time on the water, going down the river, and then you look up, and there he is in a tree, jumping out of a 45-50 foot tree.”

Downs says he first met Hensley when he was working at a radio station, and Hensley helped promote his company’s local PirateFest.

Joshua Hensley | Citrus County Sheriff's Office

“He was really good about taking pictures with kids, and he was all about family, you know, he’s got a couple kids himself,” says Downs. “He was just really good about working with nonprofits, like we would bring him to events and he would come up on stage.”

Local Pamela Rutzebeck tells PEOPLE she was drawn to Hensley’s natural charisma, and had bonded with him over the years over their shared love of the water, animals and their families.

“He was passionate about his children. He took an interest in helping my grandson, who has some special needs, to be better at paddleboarding and would let him follow him around out there and taught him some tricks on his board,” she recalls. “It gave him a lot of confidence knowing that Captain Jack had his back out there … Having had the pleasure of knowing Josh was a true honor for me.”

When he wasn’t making kids smile, Hensley operated Big Foot Paddle Boards, where he designed custom boards and kayaks for customers.

RELATED: Man Known as Jack Sparrow, for Dressing Like the Character, Found Dead After Going Paddleboarding

Downs says that he was far from a “crazy” person who simply wore a costume, but that he tapped into the marketing side of things, and used the persona to promote Big Foot — and also because he “just got a kick from all people because he got such a great reaction.”

A Facebook tribute page called “Remembering Our Crystal River Sparrow” was flooded with tributes from people who loved seeing Hensley out on the water, and who remembered him for his kindness — and silly spirit.

RELATED VIDEO: Johnny Depp Surprises Sick Children Dressed As Captain Jack Sparrow

“He sure could make you laugh,” one woman wrote. “I was at Clearwater Beach with several teenage foster kids. It had been a very rough day. He found us and started messing with the kids. It turned our whole day around. He will be missed by all that knew him.”

Another man shared a video that featured his daughter paddling on a paddleboard while Hensley stood behind her in a headstand.

“Josh was so kind.. my daughter Trinity loved him,” the man wrote. “He would always give her a board to cruise around on. She fell in love with paddle boarding ‘cause of Josh.. she was always practicing his tricks and told him she was working for him when she turned 15.”

Local Shawna Lambert shared a photo to Facebook that featured Hensley, dressed in his Sparrow garb, leaning down to give her young nephew a high-five.

Joshua Hensley | Ane Lambert

“[My nephew] is terrified of strangers and hates being touched, so this moment was incredible for all of us,” she wrote. “He was so excited to meet a real pirate.”

Lambert tells PEOPLE that Hensley had a “genuinely happy and giving heart” and was “always ready to make people smile.”

Christopher Chiccino tells PEOPLE a similar story, saying Hensley was able to pull his shy daughter, Emma, out of her shell, even giving her a special pirate flag as the family went kayaking.

“Josh took his time and made my daughter feel comfortable enough to talk to him, and then he pulled out the flag and got down on her level and told her it’s a real pirate’s flag, and to take care of it,” he recalls. “She talked about and played with that flag all day, and still does today. She has brought him up many times since that day, and we followed his Instagram together.”

A friend also shared a loving tribute to the Facebook page, recalling a moment just last week in which Hensley brought dinner to a homeless woman and her baby as he washed his clothes at the laundromat.

“An example of everything a man should be, and more,” the friend wrote. “What a legacy he leaves behind. Inside and outside, a beautiful beautiful man.”

Joshua Hensley | Citrus County Sheriff's Office

A spokesperson for the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office said Monday that Hensley was reported missing after Hunter Springs Park Rangers saw him paddleboarding around 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The park rangers grew concerned on Sunday evening when they noticed his car had been parked in the Hunter Springs lot overnight, and on Monday, his body was located in the waters of King Bay.

Authorities believe he was heading to Shell Island to watch the sunset when he disappeared, dressed, as always, as Jack Sparrow.

Rutzebeck says the wind was particularly strong the day Hensley went missing, and she had warned him to stay safe after he announced on Facebook he was heading out on the water.

“We’re all just waiting for closure now, I believe,” she says. “He was so skilled on his board, [it’s] just so hard to understand all of this.”

A celebration of life has been scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. ET, where Hensley’s loved ones plan to remember him “for the amazing man he was.”

“When this happened, it was just instantly, it was an icon gone,” says Downs. “I don’t think any of us knew how big of a staple he was until we got that news.”