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Officials have confirmed that the surfer who was killed in a shark attack on Saturday at Manresa State Beach in Santa Cruz County was 26-year-old Ben Kelly, owner of Ben Kelly Surfboards.
The Santa Cruz County coroner’s office identified Kelly, who was attacked at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday by an unknown shark species about a mile south of the main parking lot, California State Parks said in a statement.
Kelly was pronounced dead at the scene and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office has notified his family.
According to the “about” section on his company’s website, Kelly is a self-taught surfboard shaper with boards “well represented here at home in Santa Cruz, California” and across the globe in Bali, South Africa, Mexico, Central America, Peru and in Hawaii.
A video posted on his company’s website shows Kelly shaping a surfboard at his Watsonville production studio Paradise Fiberglass.
“What started as a way to fuel my own surfing passion has now become a way to stoke out my fellow surfers, and that is truly fulfilling for me,” Kelly said in his bio. “It’s the way I have found to give back to others.”
On Kelly’s company Instagram page, where he posted a photo May 4 of his latest surfboard project, 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 said. “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 said he was 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.”
Kelly and his wife also had a social marketing company, Authentic Approach.
According to the sheriff’s office, the attack occurred within 100 yards offshore near Sand Dollar Beach. The park is about five miles west of Watsonville.
Raymond Silver, who shot drone footage of sharks for his YouTube channel Stingray FPV, said he went out to some cliffs just south of New Brighton State Beach on April 30 and saw about 10 sharks in total around that area of Monterey Bay and said that his colleague Eric Mailander saw about 31 sharks over several days.
Silver said while he was shooting the drone footage he saw a kayaker and a couple swimming on the beach. He rushed over to the couple first, who were just 500 feet away from one of the sharks, Silver said, and yelled at them to get out of the water.
“They were about knee-deep in water, and one of them was so close,” Silver said. “They said they knew there were sharks, but they thought they would be near the cement ship where they usually hang out.”
Silver called Kelly’s death “tragic.” He said that in the past there have been “plenty of posters up” warning surfers and swimmers to watch out for sharks, but to his surprise, he said he didn’t find them at the closed-down state beach.
“There’s definitely a large presence right now,” Silver said. “This is the most I’ve seen in one spot. Most surfers go to the kelp beds, and the sharks stay away from those. At Manresa, there was a good amount of surf and not much kelp.”
Given that the sharks he saw were about 8 to 12 feet long, Silver said he suspects that most of them were juveniles that tend to travel along the coast to hunt before adulthood, when they go out into the open ocean.
On Saturday, Gabe McKenna, public safety superintendent with California State Parks, said a person flagged down a lifeguard patrolling the area to report the attack.
The water a mile south and a mile north of the attack will be closed for five days, until Thursday, May 14.
Officials are urging people to avoid the area. Signs have been posted at beach entrances and access points warning beachgoers about the attack.
Santa Cruz County closed all of its parks and beaches and banned surfing as part of the shelter-in-place order put in place to stem the coronavirus pandemic. But it reopened them and allowed surfing again in mid-April.
Shark attacks are very rare. According to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum, which tracks shark attacks, there were just 64 unprovoked attacks on humans worldwide in 2019. Three have occurred in California.
In March, a shark bit the board of a paddleboarder near Capitola, narrowly missing him, according to the sheriff’s office.
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