For Debra Maruca’s family, time stood still waiting for her to be rescued after she was caught in the surf at Cowell Ranch State Beach.
Maruca, who was at the beach at about 11:25 a.m. on Thursday with her husband, parents and children, let her dog off the leash to play on the secluded beach. It wasn’t long before her dog, a pit bull named Ralph, got caught in the waves and Maruca ran after her.
“I went after her and it (the waves) got me and it was a lot stronger than I thought,” said Maruca, who lives in La Honda and is 40 years old. “I tried to get out of it, but before I knew it I was up to my knees and then I went down.”
Ocean conditions that day resulted in large breaking waves with swell heights estimated at 11 to 14 feet. At some locations along the local shore, wave heights exceeded 25 feet.
Maruca was swept out about 100 yards from shore. Ralph was able to scramble back onto the beach safely as the family dialed 911.
“I knew just to relax. I did not try and swim through it at all,” Maruca said.
Multiple agencies responded to the scene, including Pillar Point Harbor Patrol, Coastside Fire Protection District, the Coastside Volunteer Fire Department, California State Parks and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.
Maruca’s husband, David, said his wife was out in the water for about 40 minutes before she was brought to safety.
“There were moments I thought she was gone,” he said.
Crews from the Harbor Patrol were able to get to Maruca on personal watercraft and ultimately brought her to shore. Rescuers said she was just at the point where she was going underwater.
“When they brought her to the beach her arms were just dangling,” David Maruca said. “I just held her head and kissed her forehead.”
Maruca was then transported to Stanford Hospital, treated for hypothermia and later released.
“I remember waiting in the hospital. I just wanted to see my dog and make sure she was OK,” she said. “… That’s my dog.”
Reflecting on the incident a week later, Maruca said she advises people to know the weather conditions, keep their dogs on leash, and if all else fails to remember to float.
“My head still hurts a bit, but I am going to be just fine,” she said.
Both Maruca and her husband said they are thankful for the first responders for acting quickly and saving her life.
State Parks Santa Cruz District Operations Superintendent Terry Kiser said staffing is limited at remote state beaches. He wants everyone on the beach during high surf conditions to keep a wary eye on the water and keep all dogs on leash.
“There is a personal responsibility here. People need to respect the ocean,” Kiser said. “Be aware of the weather conditions and check online if there are any questions.”