Posted by seahunt on March 17, 2000 at 11:11:33:
Here is one I hope amuses you. Enjoy the reading, seahunt
There is another aspect of California diving that seems quite
unfamiliar to many Californians and most all divers elsewhere.
Do you know what your response to drowning is? Many California
divers do. It's easy to learn here. While the diving is
fantastic and basically safe most of the time, if you are a
local who shore dives, you are going to go when the conditions
are less than ideal and are likely to get into some really
exciting situations occasionally. This is true in Southern
California, but much more so along the popular North Coast.
You had better be smart and strong about then. If you are,
you will get to shore with a changed attitude.
Rough situations can arise quite unexpectedly. Do you
remember the Thursday we got off when President Johnson died?
Of course not. It wasn't memorable for most people (and you
are too young anyway), but it is etched in my memory. That was
the day we were diving at Zuma on a calm 2 to 3 foot day. As
we were coming in, a set of three rogue waves came in that
were easily 10 feet. I lost a mask, got my leg twisted and got
a broken strap on my tank. There was no predicting it or
avoiding it. I did the right thing. I had my regulator in, hit
the bottom and was swimming as fast as I could at the wave. I
still got brained.
In northern California it's completely something different.
Almost all entries are rock entries or maybe rocky beach
entries. If you are really serious, you may have your secret
spot where you enter the water by climbing down a
Before entering, you watch the waves to see how big the top of
the set is likely to get. You also have to look for currents.
In your mind you map the calm areas you want to dive. You also
map exit routes as well. Watching kelp and turbulence can give
you an idea of depth and bottom terrain. Experience counts
here. The only problem is that once in the water, all your
careful planning may mean little. A set of waves bigger than
you expected may appear. Then it is a matter of staying in the
area you have mapped so that you don't get banged on rocks or
end up in a current that may take you into a rougher area or
Aside from waves at the top of a set being bigger, you never
know when someone in Japan or Kamchatka is going to send a
rogue wave your way. Then all bets are off. These
unpredictable waves do not come with the set and may be three
or more times bigger than the biggest normal wave of the
Currents can be deadly and deceptive. That nice channel you
swam out in may contain a nasty rip when you head back to
shore, especially if you enter it right after a big set. That
current going in one side of a cove will take you almost to
the shore before it takes you back out on the other side of
In general, the problem is that when some big waves do come
in, they go roaring across the top of the water and rocks to
the shore. Then all that water has to come back through the
channels and between the rocks. After the waves have passed
and you are a bit stirred up, is when the next hazard comes.
When it calms back down you have to be very alert to where
currents are starting to move.
Really, the hazards are many and sometimes unpredictable,
but these are serious skilled strong divers that can
consistently dive these conditions and have a great
Why, you ask. Well, abalone are another story.
This can make for an odd attitude towards certifications.
No one can teach what it takes to survive in currents, waves
and rocks. Once a diver has had their survival seriously
challenged a few times and have survived it by skill and
strength, they don't feel like they are going to learn much
from a person that would not dare take them out in the
seriously life threatening conditions that they are accustomed
to. Diving in rough conditions is a very personal decision
and personal experience. A major part of classes is to teach a
diver to manage their gear. No class will teach you to manage
your gear while major waves are ripping at it. The most
important thing that a scuba class can teach you is presence
of mind and not to panic. No class teaches how to do this when
you are cart wheeling through the white water and near
drowning. No class can teach swimming control quite like
desperation can. There is nothing like feeling that cold wet
hand start to grab at your spine. While shore diving on calm
days is not usually that difficult, shore diving when it's
getting a bit rough, is not something that a class can teach.
Rough diving is just how the locals do it. You better make
your own 'Survivor Diver' patch, because PADI never
Rocky Diver Northern California Diving and Freediving
web site are some very interesting definitions of some terms.
'Spring Silliness' is described as after waiting all winter to
dive and getting to the ocean on a beautiful sunny day, you go
in the water, even though it is obviously a bit rough. Maybe
it's very rough, but you've waited so long to dive...
'Sacramento Silliness' is the same thing except that it's a
matter of 'yes it's a bit rough, but I've driven 200 miles and
I want to dive'. Both are good ways to test your dive and
survive skills... I guess I just might have some guilt
Obviously, these situations can present minor drawbacks to
diving. The locals don't much mind, though calm days are more
fun and much better for exploring, but sometimes you just have
to dive what you're given. Sometimes, you just go in when
conditions suck. Sometimes, you just do it for the challenge
and exhileration. It's very exciting. Spring is the worst time
for surprises like these. Late summer is the best time to go
for calm water. At that time, it is often as calm as a lake
and offers excellent, beautiful diving for experienced and
novice diver alike. Come to California and 'learn' what you
can about diving.
This is how it can be. Just an aquarium.
Addendum - The California North Coast Diving starts about
100 miles north of San Francisco, basically at Bodega Bay.
There is hundreds of miles of beautiful, remote coastline
north from there. I'll try to put a link to an essay on
Bodega Bay Essay
While the diving up there can be challenging, there are
actually some other locations that tend to offer even more
challenging diving, if you really need it. There is always
Monestary Beach, but more exciting than that even is the
Santa Cruz coast along the south side of the San Francisco
Penninsula. To start with, it's all mudstone and good vis
is maybe 6 feet. It includes the southern half of the White
Triangle. The water is from chill to rather cold. Most of
it the shore runs somewhat east to west and so picks up the
southern swell that has been travelling thousands of miles.
I don't know what the best part of it all is, I just called
it my playground. It is beautiful primevel diving.
For another essay on this area... one more try...
Greyhound Rock, Santa Cruz
Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope the past few
essays have been able to convey something about the great
diving in California, even if this essay was a meant a bit
tongue in cheek. Mostly though, I hope these have been a
reminder to the people that were there. It was so much fun,
it should never be forgotten. More importantly though, it
was our way of life. Take care, seahunt
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