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Friends Remember Santa Cruz Fatal Shark Attack Victim As Religious, Kind And Genuine

SANTA CRUZ (CBS SF) -- Friends of the respected Santa Cruz area surfboard shaper and surf enthusiast who died after a shark attack Saturday afternoon remembered him as a kind, religious man who was passionate about the sport.

On Saturday afternoon, officials said, the 26-year-old Ben Kelly was out surfing in the waters off Manresa State Beach, about five miles west of Watsonville, when he was the victim of a shark attack.

He was brought back to the beach, but died a short time later of his injuries. Kelly was first fatal shark attack victim in Northern California since an abalone diver was killed near Kibeseliah Rock in Mendocino County in 2004.

A memorial for Kelly with flowers and a broken board were placed in his honor at Menresa State Beach.

Ben Kelly memorial at Manresa State Beach
Ben Kelly memorial at Manresa State Beach (CBS)

Kelly lived in Orange County before he moved to Northern California to start his business making custom built, hand-made surfboards.

Friends said he was deeply religious and philanthropic.

"More than anything to do with surfing, I think he wanted his life to reflect Jesus in the way he treated people," said friend Kyle Pitchford.

Video taken from his website shows Kelly working his craft. He said he was a self-taught shaper.

"When you pursue a career as a surfboard shaper, it's not a get-rich scheme," said Terry Campion, owner of the Santa Cruz Boardroom surf and skate shop. "You do it because you love to ocean and you love surfing and you love the art of building surfboards."

"He really wanted to make it work for you. And if it didn't work for you, he wasn't satisfied," said Pitchford

According to the Manresa State Beach's website, the beach is fully closed from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

But during other times, it is accessible to local residents for activities like exercise and surfing, which was Kelly's passion.

"He was very genuine. I don't know. Just very intentional with every conversation," said Pitchford.

Friends say Kelly leaves behind his wife Katie, who is also a surfer.

"Man, our hearts break for Katie," Pitchford said through tears.

A local photographer spotted about a dozen sharks in the water earlier in the day before the attack that killed Kelly.

At this point, it's unclear what type of shark bit him.

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