The girlfriend and family of a popular North Devon kitesurfer have spoken to the Gazette and paid tribute to ‘kind-hearted’ Ben Witts.

The 40-year-old father-of-one was fatally injured in a kitesurfing accident at Saunton Sands on Saturday.

His girlfriend Cheylee Howson said she 'did everything she could' to pull Ben from the water and thanked everyone who rushed to help her on the beach.

Speaking to the Gazette, Cheylee said the couple met at a Muay Thai club, run by Bourne Fitness where Ben worked as an instructor.

She said their first date and everything after was 'like a fairytale' and that Ben had a 'beautiful soul'.

Ben Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: ContributedBen Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: Contributed

He nicknamed her Squirrel after a mutal love the TV show Banshee. Cheylee said: "Ben was the most kind, genuine and adventurous person I've ever met with such a beautiful soul and he always had a smile on his face.

"He had an obvious love for the ocean and we regularly took part in beach cleans together. Ridding the ocean of plastic was something Ben was very passionate about.

"Kitesurfing was his number one passion which he'd done for over five years. Any water-related board sports he just adored."

Cheylee said Ben loved music, and would go to any gig if it was reggae or dub-related: "He loved a good dance and few pints of cider," she added.

Ben Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: ContributedBen Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: Contributed

"Ben's biggest dream was to open/own his own kitesurfing business which he did in 2018.

"To achieve this meant everything to Ben and he was so excited for the spring and summer ahead.

"He was so passionate about teaching me to kitesurf so we could do it together and we'd planned to holiday in Egypt this October to kitesurf there.

"Anyone who had the pleasure of meeting Ben will vouch for what a truly amazing person he was. He brought happiness to so many people's lives.

Ben Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: ContributedBen Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: Contributed

"Because of Ben I now know what true love and happiness feels like, we completed each other. He will be so very sadly missed by me, his family and his friends and has left a big void in so many peoples lives."

Last year Ben got back in touch with his son, Bradley.

Bradley said of his father: "I love him so much, and he will always be doing what he loves the most, and I'll always be there for him."

Ben's brother, Julian, and his dad, Keith, said he would be be sorely missed and he was loved very much.

Ben Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: ContributedBen Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: Contributed

Ben's love of the great outdoors started when he was growing up, and his family ran an outdoor activity centre of their own.

According to his North Devon Kitesurfing website, Saunton Sands was one of his local kitesurfing haunts, though Woolacombe took the top spot in his heart.

Ben's friend Phil Parry paid tribute to him as a friendly face who loved being in the water.

"He always wanted to be running his own kite school and he achieved that goal last year," he said.

Ben Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: ContributedBen Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: Contributed

"He was looking forward to the new season. It's heartbreaking really.

"Ben was very involved with the local kite scene and he enabled so many people to achieve their goals of going from never kiting before, to being able to kite on their own.

"He was also a surfer and paddleboarder and was someone who was always wanting to push themselves further."

Ben was also a qualified personal trainer and instructor at Bourne Fitness, and it is understood from tributes paid to him on Facebook that he had a background in martial arts.

Ben Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: ContributedBen Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: Contributed

Campbell Bourne, of Bourne Fitness, said: "We are deeply saddened by the loss of Ben and our thoughts are with Ben's girlfriend, and his family.

"Ben was a wonderful person, and a kind and supportive instructor.

"He had been with the club for over two years, and taught two of our classes every week.

"He was well respected and liked among all our members, and helped us build a little community within the gym.

Ben Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: ContributedBen Witts died in a kite surfing accident on Saunton Sands on Saturday. Pictures: Contributed

"Ben will be deeply missed by everyone."