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January 24, 2021

Heavy surf capsizes junior sailing class at Santa Cruz Harbor

SANTA CRUZ—Five young people were rescued from giant surf Sunday after their sailboats were knocked over during a High Surf Advisory at the mouth of the Santa Cruz Harbor.

The incident started when two groups of six small sailboats from the Santa Cruz Yacht Club’s Junior Sailing Program were overpowered by towering surf between the rocky jetties that define the mouth of the harbor around 4:30pm.

“As they were coming back into the harbor they got caught by a set of waves,” said Harbor Master Blake Anderson. “There was a High Surf Advisory in effect. We had one of the biggest swells we’ve seen in a few years, between 15 and 16 feet at times. Thankfully everybody was okay in the end.”

Scores of rescue workers flooded the harbor area in such numbers that Santa Cruz Police had to shut down surrounding streets. At one point a countywide call was sent out to summon all available rescue swimmers and lifeguards.

Anderson gave great praise to a group of surfers near the capsized boats who charged in and played a huge role in the successful rescue.

One of them was Shane Skelton, a long time surfer from the area who said he knows the harbor break and conditions well.

“We were all pretty aware of what was going on when we saw the class coming out of the harbor,” he said. “One of my friends even shouted out to us to be prepared for what might happen. We were waiting for them to come in. When they did come in we were on it real fast. I actually caught a wave toward them. I said ‘go, go, go.’ The kids were pretty prepared; they were in wetsuits and life vests. It was about getting them onto our boards and getting their boats out to sea out of the way. We all just divided up and grabbed the kids.”

Santa Cruz Fire Chief Jason Hajduk said five kids, ages 7-12, ended up in the surf, though the initial call was for as many as 20 young people in the surf. Skelton said he saw at least one instructor dumped into the waves.

No injuries were reported, Hajduk said.

Anderson said the entire sequence of events is under investigation.

“It’s no heroics; it’s what  we do with anyone,” Skelton said. “Surfers are lifeguards, in a sense. It was a wild experience.”

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