Adam Neal - January 6, 2006 00:00 EST

A shark bite Thursday afternoon near a South County public beach sent an out-of-town surfer to the hospital, officials said.

The 21-year-old man was floating on his surfboard about 4:45 p.m. just south of Round Island Park when the shark bit his right hand and wrist, said John Frazier, lifeguard captain for Indian River County. The shark only bit once and let go of the surfer.

The incident happened while the surfer was by himself about 75 yards from the coast and 15 yards south of the lifeguard tower. An on-duty lifeguard noticed him shaking his arm vigorously while coming out of the water, he said.

The man's name was not released Thursday evening, but Frazier said initial reports indicated he was an experienced surfer from the Pacific West Coast.

"The surfer said the shark was about 4 feet long," said Frazier, adding the species was unknown. "I think he (the surfer) is going to be just fine."

The man suffered three puncture wounds from the shark's teeth, according to Frazier. He was taken to the Indian River Memorial Hospital by ambulance. No one else was in the water or on the beach when the bite happened.

The shark bite was the first in recent years in the county, according to Frazier, although there have been minor cases reported at Vero Beach beaches.

"I can't remember the last time we had one of these in the county," he said, adding surfers who dangle their arms and legs in the water near the drop-off, or where it deepens, are more susceptible to a shark encounter than swimmers in other areas. "These types of quick hit, small bites happen from time to time. No one usually is seriously injured."

People are not allowed to surf in areas watched by lifeguards. The areas are only for swimmers. Surfers typically have to go to an unguarded area.