Diving on the North Coast takes training

Great Dive Trips at Bargain Prices with the Sea Divers

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Posted by on April 13, 2005 at 20:53:57:

Diving the North Coast’s frigid, low-visibility waters takes a hearty soul, proper training and the right gear.

Although unpredictable and rough conditions prevail much of the year along California’s northern stretches of coastline, spearfishing, abalone diving and underwater photography await those willing to brave the cold.

Humboldt Skindivers, a North Coast dive club whose members regularly dive this area, as well as travel to warmer parts of the globe.

The club offers an annual Ab Grab and Divers Dinner events for its members, in addition to package deals on their annual all-inclusive dive trip to Cozumel, Mexico.

Humboldt Skindivers President Ben Hylton said he has about 35 members in the dive club, which has been around since 1955.

“(Cozumel) is a good deal for the money and the diving is great,” Hylton said.

He said beside the infrequent trips outside of the North Coast, most of the club’s, as well as individual member’s diving, occurs around the Fort Bragg area in Mendocino County, where he said abalone diving and spearfishing are excellent.

“In the Eureka area, abalone diving is spotty,” Hylton said. “Plus the visibility isn’t too good.”

People in the club come from a diverse background, which includes retirees, professionals and one scuba instructor.

The group meets the third Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at Chan’s Restaurant in Arcata. More information about the club can be found on the group’s Web site at www.perrybw.com/SCUBA.html.

Scuba divers who want to fill their tanks locally will have to make a trip to the area’s only scuba tank-filling facility at Eureka’s Pro Sports Center.

Co-owner Scott Ostrom said the store, which now offers clothes to bikes, as well as scuba diving and free diving equipment, began as a dive shop in the 1960s.

After finding it tough for the store to make money year-round with only four months of dive season business, he and his partner were forced to expand to include other sports merchandise.

Ostrom said the store offers dive equipment to the entire North Coast dive community of abalone divers and rock pickers, scuba divers and also the gold dredgers, but abalone divers typically make up the majority of his store’s dive-related business.

A good chunk of his clientele are what he calls “traveling divers” who buy their equipment here, but dive elsewhere in warmer waters.

He said his background in diving is in competitive spearfishing.

In recent years the sport has declined in popularity he said because it isn’t as politically and socially acceptable.

Ostrom said spearfishing locally, because of the low hunting pressure in the rugged North Coast waters, has remained more acceptable.

One of the latest trends in diving Ostrom has been following is the use of kayaks.

He said that although different kayaks work differently for the many purposes, most are easy to learn with just a limited familiarity.

Ostrom has operated scuba diving classes through the store in the recent past, but because of a temporary lack of a scuba instructor, he has suspended the classes.

Humboldt State University has a scuba diving training program, which includes beginning- through advanced-scuba classes, as well as leadership diving, underwater photography and scientific diving minor options.

HSU dive instructor Richard Alavarez said the dive program typically sees about 150 students go through the various dive program courses each year.

Since the addition of the diving minor programs, Alvarez said there has been a noticeable increase in participation in the classes, including a few students who chose to attend HSU for its unique diving class offerings.

Alvarez said the bulk of his dive students are focused on scientific diving and are hoping to apply their HSU diving experience to their marine biology and other science majors to get jobs with government agencies like the California Department of Fish and Game.

“We had a diver last year who finished up her advanced dive certification and went straight into work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” Alvarez said.

He said most students are usually successful at finding some way to make a living doing scuba, although he admits the training doesn’t necessarily lead to lucrative jobs.

“People aren’t always in it for the money,” Alvarez said.

He said diving the North Coast’s 50-degree water is significantly more rigorous than diving elsewhere in warmer water, Alvarez said, and visibility is usually less than 15 feet.

Alvarez said that on the North Coast, divers are dealing with rough and cold water, as well as low visibility.

“Most people who learn to dive here find it an easier transition to go to clear water and warmer conditions,” Alvarez said.

He said his primary focus for the dive program is to prepare people for the environment, as well as teaching people how to safely enter the water from the beach and to swim to the dive site to conduct the dive.

He said although safety is the always the foundation of what he is trying to build upon, he also adds specific underwater photography and scientific survey training skills, as well as a good awareness being an environmentally conscious diver.

“My primary goal is to make safe divers,” Alvarez said. “People who will make the proper decisions when faced with a difficult situation under the water.”

Alvarez said he really enjoys watching people that begin the program as novice swimmers, who progress to be confident divers that are able to enjoy the beauty of the underwater world.

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