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After apparent Pt. Reyes shark attack, friends mourn kiteboarder

Friends and family identified the man missing in a possible shark attack off Point Reyes National Seashore as Felix Louis Syl N’jai, a native of Gambia who grew to call California home and became an avid kiteboarder.

N’jai, 52, hasn’t been seen since friends saw him pulled underwater at Wildcat Beach on Sunday morning in a possible shark attack, prompting a multiday search in water and on land.

Close friends and family are now mourning N’jai, who had made his home in the Bay Area.

“It’s heartbreaking on so many different levels,” said Awa Dabo, a lifelong friend who grew up with N’jai in Gambia and now lives in the U.S.

“He was full of life,” said Dabo, 52. “He was the type of friend who was always there to support you. He was Mr. Positive — I’ve known him for like 42 years, and I’ve never known him to say a bad thing about anybody.”

Dabo said N’jai was known to friends and family in Gambia as “Syl,” but she often called him “Noise,” “because he was so loud and nonstop,” she said, laughing.

“You don’t really know how special someone is until something like this happens, but with Syl I always knew he was special,” said Dabo, who lives in New York. She visited N’jai in the San Francisco area a few years ago, where she said he worked in the tech industry and was a competitive kiteboarder.

Richard Hallman, a professional photographer based in Oregon, said he got to know N’jai over the last decade when N’jai routinely visited for kiteboarding competitions or trips. He said N’jai was also big into “kitefoiling” — or kiteboarding with the addition of a hydrofoil under the board, which lifts the board out of the water.

“It’s hard not to get to know him,” Hallman said, remembering N’jai as a gregarious person.

Dabo said her lifelong friend loved water sports and anything in nature.

“He was very much into everything outdoors,” she said. “He loved life; he lived it to the fullest.”

Dabo said she still couldn’t believe how her friend was lost, but said it had been a heartwarming to see how loved ones from around the world were remembering him fondly, sharing stories and memories on social media.

Officials said witnesses reported seeing a shark before N’jai went underwater, but a shark attack hasn’t been verified. Shark attacks remain very rare off California, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which tracks human and shark interactions. In the last seven decades, there have been 16 confirmed fatalities related to sharks, according to the agency.

The search for N’jai was still underway Wednesday, although Point Reyes National Seashore spokesperson Christine Beekman did not respond Thursday to questions about the status of the search.

“I’m still hoping at a very minimum they will find [his body], but I’m not naive,” Dabo said.

N’jai moved to the U.S. to attend Pennsylvania State University, and soon after graduating, he moved to Northern California, Dabo said.

“He was in love with California; he was in love with the outdoors … the people,” she said. “That was home.”

N’jai was an only child, and both his parents had died, Dabo said, but he still had a large extended family in Gambia and friends across the world.

“He was loving,” she said. “We told each other we loved each other all the time. … I still cannot believe he isn’t going to call me.”

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