An off-duty Suffolk County police officer surfing at Gilgo Beach is being heralded as a hero after rescuing a fellow surfer whose surfboard fin impaled her leg.
“For me, it was just an ordinary day out there surfing; the waves were great, it was beautiful,” officer Craig Capobianco said about July 28.
The Lake Grove resident noticed a female surfer near him — “she was surfing, super talented” — and saw her take a wave and nosedive.
“As she resurfaced, she looked at me and immediately I knew something was wrong,” Capobianco, 24, said. “Her face was pale, and she yelled over to me that she needed help.”
The fin of Mia Imbesi’s board had gone through her right leg above the knee.
“I didn’t even really feel that much pain at first,” she said. “I was getting back on my board and I saw the blood . . . and saw my leg’s open.”
Capobianco paddled over to her and swam with Imbesi, 24, of Huntington, back to shore.
“We paddled in together, side by side, which was great, because people saw something was wrong,” Imbesi said.
Immediately, beachgoers ran over to help. Capobianco and a paramedic wrapped Imbesi's leg in gauze and applied pressure. She was taken to a nearby hospital where she received 54 stitches.
Imbesi, who surfs regularly at Gilgo, said she has “complete faith in humanity because everyone on the beach . . . all rushed to the scene and all helped me.”
Capobianco has been with the Fifth Precinct in Patchogue for about 18 months after serving four years in the Marine Corps and a stint in the Costa Mesa Police Department in Southern California.
He credited his EMT and combat lifesaving training for being able to immediately assist.
On Aug. 7, Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer presented Capobianco with a heroism award for his help at the town beach.
“It’s very rarely presented, but we felt it was very important to recognize you for what you did that day,” Schaffer said at the Town Hall ceremony.
Capobianco also was honored on Aug. 9 — along with officers from the Marine Bureau and New York State Park Police who carried out rescues — by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart.
Capobianco says it’s the job of first responders to help people every day without expecting recognition, rendering aid in overdoses and in accidents and when people are victims of crimes. This time, he just happened to be off-duty and on a surfboard.
“I never expected to be here," Capobianco said during the Town Hall ceremony . "I’m truly grateful for it. I’m humbled.”
Imbesi, mostly homebound for at least nine weeks, is taking a positive view of the incident.
While the cut was down to muscle, she said the fin missed her arteries and she didn’t lose much blood. She said she needed antibiotics to prevent infection but hasn’t been on pain meds.
“I can hobble around on crutches,” she said. “I got really lucky.”
She said she was grateful for Capobianco’s help and, now, his friendship.
“He’s been checking up on me, which is really nice of him,” Imbesi said. “I’m hoping in nine weeks that we’ll go surfing together.”
She said, although she isn't scared to surf again, “I’m probably going to take more safety precautions.”
As for the surfboard that caused the damage? “There’s not a scratch on the board,” she said.
- Gilgo Beach in Babylon Town is a popular surfing spot.
- The barrier beach is off Ocean Parkway, accessible via the Robert Moses Causeway to the east and the Wantagh State Parkway to the west.
- Lifeguards are on duty at the beach in the summer during regular hours.