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Surfer killed in shark attack off Santa Cruz coast was passionate about the sport

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WATSONVILLE — A 26-year-old man killed in a shark attack off a Northern California beach was an avid surfer who customized surfboards for a living.

The Santa Cruz County coroner's office identified the victim of Saturday's attack as Ben Kelly.

Kelly was surfing near Manresa State Beach on the northern end of Monterey Bay Saturday afternoon when he was attacked by a shark of unknown species, California State Parks said in a statement.

The attack happened within 100 yards (91 meters) offshore, and a witness flagged down a lifeguard patrolling the area, authorities told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

At the time, the beach was closed to visitors to maintain physical-distancing norms during the coronavirus crisis, but swimming and surfing was allowed in the water. As a safety precaution, authorities closed the water 1 mile (1.6 kilometres) north and south of the attack until Thursday. Signs have been posted warning beachgoers about the attack.

Monterey Bay drone photographer Eric Mailander told KRON he has observed dozens of great white sharks swimming near the shoreline in recent days. He said he counted 15 sharks while out on his boat Saturday morning.

None were showing signs of aggressive behavior, Mailander told the news station.

On the website for his business, Ben Kelly Surfboards, Kelly explained that began shaping surfboards as a boy because it gave him a creative outlet and fueled his love for surfing.

“You should feel stoked each time you enter the water and comfortable on your own board,” he wrote.

The Sentinel reported that on Kelly's company Instagram page, Aly Thompson, who said she was a resident assistant with Kelly in 2014 at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, posted a comment saying that she is devastated.

“I can’t imagine all that your family, Katie, and all those who loved you are holding right now,” Thompson wrote. “It was an honor to know you and to experience the capacity and ferocity you loved others with. Our year as RAs together was an absolute joy, and I am thankful to have known and experienced life with you in it. Praying for peace that surpasses all understanding and sending so much love.”

On the same post, Jeremy Pedron wrote that he is heartbroken.

“Ben you have always been of the truly kindest & sweetest individuals out there,” Pedron said. “Your love of others always has a felt impact on your community. Your family is in our prayers and our hearts sad. God take care of him for us he deserves the best.”

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