A dozen children participating in a sailing school off the coast of Santa Cruz had to be rescued Sunday afternoon after a large swell of frigid, choppy water overturned several small boats.
The sailing school was in session at around 4:30 p.m. at the mouth of the Santa Cruz Harbor when a large wave capsized about four vessels, authorities said. About 20 people were tossed into the water, including 12 children, according to the Santa Cruz Fire Department and California State Parks.
No one was seriously injured.
A high surf warning had been issued earlier Sunday advising of potentially dangerous waves that could reach up to 25 feet or higher along the coast, news outlets reported.
Santa Cruz County Fire Battalion Chief Daniel Kline said the agency increased its staffing due to the warnings and was able to quickly respond to retrieve the stranded children. Surfers and rescue teams on personal watercraft and boats pulled the children to safety.
"Came right to the rescue right away and grabbed kids who were in most need," rescuer Shane Skelton said. "And then a few other of us...came in right on the next wave and we grabbed other kids, pulled them away from the rocks and moved the boats out to sea."
Skelton is an experienced surfer. He and his friends put the children on their surfboards to keep them safe until the harbor patrol arrived.
He said given how rough the waves were, he was surprised the sailing school was out on the water in the first place.
"Surfing and knowing the waves and stuff, it's a lifetime of knowledge that we've gained around here," he said. "It's hard to blame them for not knowing, but someone should have known."
Harbor Master Blake Anderson said they have been warning people up and down the coast to stay out of the water and watch out for the powerful waves.
"If you’re thinking about taking your vessel out, contact us first," he said. "I'm not aware that they contacted us. Was it a bad decision? I believe it was a bad decision."
In a statement, the Santa Cruz Yacht Club, which runs the sailing school, said, "The Board of Directors of the Santa Cruz Yacht Club sets safety as its number one priority. We are investigating this incident and will take appropriate actions to prevent situations like this from happening in the future."