Francisco “Paquito” Solorio Jr. was doing what he loved Tuesday morning — surfing a nice swell with friends — near Surf Beach at Vandenberg Air Force Base when he was bitten by a shark and killed.
The 39-year-old Orcutt man was almost finished for the day and headed to shore trailing three of his friends when a 15- to 16-foot great white shark bit him on the left side of his upper torso, causing fatal wounds. His friends helped him to shore where he died.
After examining the bite mark, Ralph Collier of the Shark Research Committee in Chatsworth, said Wednesday that he was positive it was great white shark.
The attack prompted the closure of all Vandenberg beaches by Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander. Armagno said she instituted a closure of at least 72 hours in the interest of public safety.
Hilda Zacarias, a friend of the Solorios, said even though the family is devastated by his death, they were comforted by the fact he was with friends and having fun when he died.
“It was an absolute perfect day out there, so the family is balancing the tragedy with the fact that he was in the water doing something he loved,” Zacarias said.
Zacarias said Solorio was a devoted to his wife, Kasey, and two daughters, Monique and Frankie.
Solorio was born in Santa Maria but raised in Casmalia and Orcutt. Zacarias said he was definitely an “Old Town Orcutt guy” who loved having fun no matter what he was doing.
He was employed at Central Coast Playgrounds, which fit him perfectly, according to his sisters, Rosy Logan, Maria Kagawa and Patricia Solorio, who Zacarias said described him as a “Peter Pan-kind-of man” — always joyful and never wanting to grow up.
He was an avid athlete and a member of the Righetti High School and Hancock College tennis teams. He graduated from Righetti in 1991.
Like many surfers, he began when he was young, just 10 years old.
Solorio was a known figure in the surf community and often frequented Surf and Ocean beaches on the base.
Robin Dunaetz, who owns Surf Connection in Lompoc with her husband, David, said Solorio was well-known in the surf community and often frequented the beaches.
“I know in the past four years there have been more shark sightings. I don’t know if that’s because there are more sharks or there are more people out there spotting them,” Dunaetz said. “That has always been a place guys go surf. Certain times of the year, the conditions there are better than they are in other places.”
Solorio is the second surfer to die from a shark attack at Surf Beach in the last two years. Lucas Ransom, a 19-year-old UCSB student, was killed while boogie boarding in October 2010.
Zacarias said the family — parents Francisco and Consuelo Solorio, brother Roque Solorio and his sisters — have been overwhelmed with support from their son’s friends.
A memorial fund has been established to help the family and Solorio’s daughters. Donations can be sent to the Francisco Solorio Memorial Fund #9502-342252 c/o Rabobank, 519 E. Main St., Santa Maria CA 93454.