Advanced abalone freediving: seahunt's way, the first place to look for a dive instructor

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Posted by CalAbDiver on August 06, 2001 at 08:56:29:

In Reply to: Diving with Seahunt posted by Eric S on August 05, 2001 at 21:22:54:

On Sunday of this past week, I had to opportunity to freedive for abalone with Mike B. [aka "seahunt" on this dive board]. Mike is a Southern California valley kid who went to college here in Northern California, so he knows where all the great abalone spots up here are, secret hide-aways that we dont tell most other people about.

One such spot that is no great secret, just hard to get into, is Sea Ranch Resorts, where Mike and his lovely wife Debbie were vacationing this past weekend. It was an "abalone vacation" for them, and Mike took home 8 big red abs back to Southern California with him on Sunday night, the product of two days of hard abalone diving. Debbie is the owner of 4 of them, of course, a gift from her strong swimming breathhold freediving spouse.

Strong swimming is somewhat of an understatement when describing Mike. At six feet two and 295 lbs you would not guess that this guy shoots through the water like a sea lion. Seems like he can hold his breath about as long as that too. I was worried about him coming up from SoCal and possibly freediving alone without a buddy, so I offered to join him here, so that he would not be diving alone. Turns out he is stronger and in beter shape than I am, having been a swimmer and diver his entire life. Still, I believe Debbie was glad he had buddies with him that day in the Ocean, and even Mike will tell you that diving with a buddy or two is tons more fun than diving alone, or so it seemed on this particular day for him.

We made our rocky shore entry together at a very small cove, no bigger than a little pool formed by the curving of the rocks in the intertidal zone, which spot Mike had found by surveying the shoreline before we got there. It turned out to be a pretty good rocky entry, as rocky entries go. We entered around low tide on this Sunday morning. Notice, I did not say "beach." This is not Southern California. This is The North Coast.

Swimming out, there was a chute between the nearshore rocks that protected you somewhat from the surge and breaking waves out to sea. The rip current formed from the wave action propelled us forward out into the open water of the Ocean, with just a little kicking by us. Coming back, it would be a little more difficult to swim against this rip, but a strong swimmer would not experience much trouble, as long as you held onto the surface fronds of kelp when the rip pulled against you from the wave action of the surge.

Mike loves to freedive, deep and long, and so he swims out past where the abalone are, into deep water, 35 to 40 feet deep, then he begins his breathhold dives and searches there. He then works his way back into the shoreline, slowly, meticulously, so that no big abs can escape his view.

The Ocean water here was fairly clear, with vis in the 15 to 20 foot range, since this area of the North Coast is not directly near any large rivers that spill their silt out into the sea. Underwater, the view was spectacular, with a sandy bottom in the 25 to 40 foot range, including rocky pillars and grottos covered with strawberry anemonies and sea stars and urchins all over.

In the time it took me to get my bearings and choose an underwater pillar to begin my search for abs in 15 to 20 feet of water, Mike already had his first large ab from diving deep out further. I didnt see any large abs where I was freediving, one which barely looked legal, which I had already decided before going in that was the size I was not going to take. I guess the really big ones were all out further, where Mike was.

Mike got his limit of 4 large abs fairly quickly, at which point the wave swell was picking up and starting to become dicey. One huge wave broke between where Mike and I were diving, crashing into me and my float, and dragging the float back almost all the way to shore, into the surf zone. I swam back in to retreived it, then swam over to Mike and our other freediving buddy, and it was fairly clear to us that it was maybe time to head back to shore.

The rip did not give us much of a problem on the return swim, we just dealt with it. I would not bring any weak swimmers here to this spot. This was and advanced entry and exit, not recommended for tourists.

It was great cooking up an ab together with Mike and Debbie after we got back to their resort home and dried off. Mike has a secret crushed macadamia nut recipe with various spices principally basil & sage & other seasonings, together with olive oil and butter. I cleaned the ab while he cleaned the sea urchins that he had also retrieved during our ab dive.

We had a great meal after which I packed up and headed home to San Jose and Mike and Debbie got ready to pack and head for the airport and their flight back to Southern California. Mike wrapped his abs in several layers of freezer bags, so that they would not leak on the airplane!

For the record, "uni" which is sea urchin meat tastes a bit like avocados, just a little bit milder and slightly sweet. Like any other delicacy, it tastes good, but you could not make a meal out of it. Abalone is much, much better! And freediving with great friends who are powerful swimmers in the clear blue waters of The California North Coast is better still.

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