Yah, that's Me standing on Begg Rock off of San Nic, 65 miles from shore.
CopyRight @ 1997
I saw an ad for dive gear on the back of a Sears catalog. Literature never inspired me so much. That time, it led me to Cal Aquatics. This was the first dive shop in the San Fernando Valley. The story as I know it is... Herb Hughs was an engineer that liked diving. This is a guy diving in the 60's on the Southern California Coast. I bet that he saw some stuff. I'd like to put some of his stories in here. Anyway, it worked out that they opened Cal Aquatics with his wife Shirley, managing it. Well, it may have been his hobby, but I guess that it was her business. She ran it memorably as both a dive shop and a business.
I was 15 at the time. I got my mother to drive me across the valley. In the long run I think back that I must have driven these poor people crazy. I had enormous energy and much of it came out of my mouth. At that age, I was also bigger than most adults. I doubt that Shirley knew what she was getting into when she signed me up for Jim Badger's basic NAUI scuba class. This was taught in the original "hole in the wall" shop, before they moved into their custom built shop in the 80's. We had this exhaustive 19 hour class, or was it 20? Hey, there was a lot less to learn back then. There were no BC's. No submersible pressure gauges. Classroom work was straight forward enough and pool sessions gave us a feel for the equipment. Then we were at Zuma Beach one morning to snorkel. Now I started this with bad ears and the doctor's recommendation that I never dive. I just didn't know how to clear my ears. It was about 15 feet deep with a sandy bottom, but I couldn't see that and didn't really know it was there. After about 5 tries, I saw the bottom. We were supposed to pick something up, but all I saw was sand. I went up and told them this. They said "right" and I was a diver... sorta.
Next was the boat trip. I had been ocean fishing some for a few years, but had never gone near the Channel Islands. We went on the SeaBee out of Port Hueneme. It is about a 50 foot boat and quite comfortable for the 2 or so hour trip out to Santa Cruz Island. Most divers were asleep somewhere. I, of course, was buzzing around with boundless energy.
The cove that we anchored in was about 40 feet of calm clear water in which we could easily see the bottom. The plan was that we play follow the leader for a while with the instructor, then we were supposed to buddy up and go. The high point of the exercise was when the instructor led us to where we would find ourselves coming up right under a large purple jellyfish. Snorkeling through the kelp forest is always beautiful, and at that time the diving at Santa Cruz was almost pristine.
I've always liked hunting, for all my clumsy and humble beginnings on this trip. Wayne and I were diving at the manly depths of 35 feet when I saw a scallop. I guessed that it was worth taking. I pulled out my knife and stabbed and pried and stabbed and pried and turned it into little bits of fish food. I got better. I mention that because I have seen other first time game takers and their first effort often seems to lead to this same Seawater Fish Chowder that I had made.
Now I were a diver.
For the next 4 years I was frequently on the SeaBee, The Sea Packer and the Sea Ventures. These were all similar boats based in Ventura County, north of LA. A due south heading from the harbor, would likely make you hit the tip of Anacapa Island. Usually, the boat went a few degrees west and went to Santa Cruz Island. The exotic trip was to go on up the back side of Santa Cruz Island and then cross over to Santa Rosa Island. This was pristine diving and at times I was able to make a trip just about each week. This was a NAUI crowd.
At this time I was also constantly diving in the sand at Zuma and the rocky kelp reefs of Malibu. I used scuba, but in many ways, I preferred free diving. The area is not deep. My neighbors had taken up diving, so I often had a ride. Bill's father Dave, would usually be more inclined to the scuba, but Bill was my age and we would spend hour after hour bobbing up and down off the shore. This was the ultimate opportunity for a kid to just endlessly explore.
If I claim skill as a diver, my greatest learning came from
the many hours of free diving that I did. A free diver must learn
a grace and control of movement that scuba divers may never achieve.
Then I started falling in with an NASDS crowd.
Aloha Dive Shop had been open for a few years, but was the ignored child of the main shop in Burbank. Then around 1983, Roddy and Anita Winton took over the shop with some real energy. They got people in that liked to dive. I started spending my time on southern boats like the Golden Doubloon and the Rio Rita. Their destination was mostly Catalina and Santa Barbara Islands, but sometimes they went to San Clemente and even San Nicolas islands.
It's a history thing. Diving has been so much fun and adventure, but it also was a young sport that was amazing to watch as it grew and evolved.
When I started it was an intrepid few who were considered crazy for regularly risking their lives. Early on, LA County had gotten into doing diver certification and had this excellent reputation. Divers were still rather few and in a fringe sport.
Then in LA in the 70's, NASDS seemed to get the idea that there was this great diving and this great big pool of potential divers, both in the same place. They set out to certify them all. Their motto was "Dive with your brain, not your back". They wanted to popularize diving within a much wider group including women and more casual sports enthusiasts. They basically said that diving does not have to be a physically demanding sport. Anyone can do it and everyone should. They mocked the existing industry with a cartoon about Floyd Ridges with his grueling military style certification program and over zealous regulatory laws... It made for a new group of divers. I don't know what was more unusual, that a quadriplegic should be certified or a duck. Both were and I expect that they both enjoyed it. The duck incident and others led to various regulations about certification classes and diver training. Anyway, diving changed, not always in ways that panned out.
A little more history for those who might care. Jack O'neil was employed putting in carpet in airliners. He thought that the neoprene padding that he was using could be fashioned into a suit that surfers could wear into the ocean to keep warm... By the mid 70's, you could mail Harvey's $45 with your measurements, and get a pretty good wetsuit back. But with the development of the sport, the market and the equipment, it was possible to spend much more. It was around 1974 when Scuba Pro introduces the BC. Also, this was when submersible pressure gauges were coming into common use.
What this meant was that the money in diving had gone up, but primarily was generated by new divers buying (and losing) all this neeto equipment. Thick Baily WetSuits with farmer Johns were the NASDS divers uniform. The 3 sided supervision masks sold like hotcakes even though their huge volume made them difficult to clear. They were large and heavy enough, that they were constantly getting lost. So many were sold, that it was about all you could buy for a time. We got over it.
I went north to school in Santa Cruz in 74. You learn more about the challenges of diving up there. Hunting and site seeing is good. Conditions and vis are horrible. On a good day, you can see 4 feet. I used to park my van at Pidgin Point with a pizza and a book on Friday night. In the morning, if it was calm, I would dive there. If it was rough, I would go back to Santa Cruz and go body surfing at Steamers Lane. Rough can mean over 10 foot waves. This is just south of Mavericks, considered one of the biggest breaks in the world. North was the abalone diving of the north coast, south was the more benign diving of Monterey and Big Sur. Oh, I did pick up a degree in Intertidal Biology from the University of California, in between diving and surfing.
I came back to Southern California in the mid 80's. This was the time of The Peace, The Truth, The Encore, The Bottom Scratcher, The Charisma and BUGS. I was a lobster hunting fool. This was the time of the Animals and Bugs-R-Us trips. The boats were bigger and San Nic was an open boat trip. There was more than one skipper on a boat, allowing far more extended journeys. We dove way out at Talcott Shoal off of Santa Rosa, whenever weather allowed and sometimes when it didn't. San Miguel Island used to be too far and too rough. Now it was this beautiful pristine, primeval playground. I wore double 90's, a BC, a dive computer and leather gloves. The divers were good and the swims were long. The halibut hunters swam even farther than the lobster hunters.
I even started going farther, like Hawaii, Belize and Cabo
San Lucus. Here I saw coral and the life of the warmer waters.
In the later 90's I started doing more night diving for
lobsters. I had always done some night diving, but these guys
were devoted. We would swim until 5 AM sometimes. The last dive,
we would drop off and then swim to where the boat was anchored,
perhaps a mile away. In the day, we explored, looking for unusual
diving and new bug sites for the night. I got to repeatedly dive
the deep Horseshoe Reef area off of LA harbor, as I had wanted to
do for years. That is exploring.
Then I went and met Debbie. I guess it had to happen and it has been to the good. Hey, she has taken me to Hawaii twice and she was the one that suggested that I go ahead and buy my present boat, "Huntress". I moved to San Diego and dove on the Lois Ann, as well as other local boats. Learning about this area, it seemed appropriate to get a card for NITROX. Hey, after 25 years of diving, I guess it was about time to get a second certification. I have learned about some neat diving around here at Point Loma and La Jolla. Deb has also given me something else. A couple of great kids that I'll teach to hunt lobster for me when I'm just too old. I have many more new areas around here to explore. Then there is always south of the border. I wonder what this time will be.
Still, nothing cleans off desk dust like some intense diving.
It was a long time ago. I went to the swap meet at the Simi Valley Drive-In Theater and found a beaver-tail wetsuit for $10. I had $10 left and got a tank and a 2 hose, single diaphragm, Healthways regulator. It was an 1800 psi tank with a champagne bottom and a K valve reserve. The backpack was made of cotton straps. Burbank Scuba Repair spiffed up the regulator. Wow! That was some diving! I'll be out this weekend.
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