On Monday, Latitude 38 reader Edward Stancil sent us a link to a story about a shark attack off Point Reyes. Sadly, we’ve since learned the victim was much-loved foiling kite surfer Felix Louis N’jai, who had attended a camping wedding with friends on Saturday before several people took a Sunday swim the next day. According to KPIX Channel 5, Marin County firefighters responded to a call that three men had gone for a swim about 25 to 50 yards offshore when an apparent shark attack occurred. After an extensive search, N’jai’s body has not been found.
Felix was a regular and accomplished kiting competitor on the Bay, with a large, admired presence in the kiting community. He took third place in the 2022 Ronstan Bridge to Bridge, and eighth this year.
We spoke with fellow kiteboarder Geoff Headington, who shared a couple of memories of Felix: “We trained together and referred to each other by the nickname ‘coach’ since we were always helping to uplevel each other’s abilities. Felix was an incredibly upbeat, energetic and happy personality who was always a huge positive influence at any gathering on the water — or anywhere. Felix has a wide circle of friends from many different spheres. He was always pulling people together and invited me regularly to Thanksgiving football scrimmage despite my never being able to attend. He’d also rent a restaurant in Cole Valley every year where everyone would sing Christmas carols. He’d always say to us, ‘See you in church,’ which, to him, meant the church of the world, or see you in your community.
“He had a nickname and personal relationship with everyone. When a crowd of friends were asked if they thought Felix was their best friend, a large majority would raise their hands.
“Another quiet passion of his was an effort to become the kiteboarding Olympic representative of his native country, Gambia. He kept it quiet, but it looked like he was on track to make it happen, and I was hoping to join him as ‘coach.’ He kept it on the down low in case it all didn’t come together, but he’d been working on it for two years and was planning to be in France in 2024.”
We also spoke with 5O5 sailor Mike Martin, who described Felix: “I loved the guy. He was a huge presence in the Bay Area kiteboarding scene. He always had a big smile and was a genuine character who made our community feel better. It’s a terrible irony that we’ve done so many crazy things sailing the Bay and he’s taken from us while just off a beach. He was a truly, truly great guy to all of us.”
Geoff said there was an impromptu memorial at Crissy Field on Monday, attended by the groom, who was swimming with him when the attack occurred. He said they had a regular swimming ritual in the Bay, and the groom was one of the friends who decided to join for the Sunday swim after the wedding. The groom was there with the kiteboarding group on Crissy Field to grieve and share the moment with everyone’s mutual friend.
It is exceptionally painful for both family and the kiteboarding community that knew and loved Felix so well. It’s always difficult to see news reports contain a reference to how incredibly rare shark attacks are. There are swimmers, kite- and windsurfers, surfers and many others who swim regularly off Bay Area shores. Attacks rarely occur, and a fatality is even rarer. This is, however, the “season” when great white sharks congregate along the Northern and Central California coast; most sightings are between September and October, before white sharks migrate toward Hawaii in December, and return in August.
According to KPIX, Dave Ebert, the director of San Jose State’s Pacific Shark Research Center, said: “They tend to hunt where they have an advantage. If you think about the surf, you know, the sea lions can’t always pick up on stuff because of all the [wave] activity. And that’s where whites will often attack.”
The loss of Felix Louis N’jai is devastating. He was a bright light amongst his circles of friends, and he will be sorely missed by everyone who foils and kites the Bay.