OK, SoCal buddies. Here are some tried and true pointers from the ab pros from NorCal. In return, I want to see some posts or emails from you SoCal guys and gals on the how-to's of spiny lobster diving!
Got everything? Ok, time to go to your favorite SoCal swimming pool before
LAY your weight belt with the weights beside it by the deep end of the pool. Put on your wetsuit, boots, hood, gloves, mask, snorkle, fins and jump in. Practice freedives like this first, without weights. Then swim over to the side of the pool and put your weights on ONE AT A TIME until you float at eye level and can breathe through your snorkel when you EXHALE. When you inhale, you should bob up with your head out of the water. This is called "slightly positively buoyant." When you go to the Ocean, you will be "slightly more positively buoyant." That way if you suffer shallow water black out upon ascent, you will float to the surface and possibly survive without drowning if your buddy is rescue trained.
Most first time ab divers go to Anchor Bay Campground. There are tons of ab there, the campground has everything you can possibly forget back home, and you can call in advance and make reservations on your VISA card. You pretty SoCal girls can put on your makeup in the nice bathhouses, and you SoCal guys can wash your long curly hair in the hot showers there. Just remember, no grab-assing in the showers! Act respectable. This is Northern California!
When you get to your freedive site, gear up, throw everything into your ab float, and swim out into the kelp somewhere that it isnt too thick to freedive in. This is a judgment call. Experienced freedivers are better at diving through kelp than novices are. Abs grow on rocks. So does kelp. There is no way around it. Ole Whitey wont bother you in the kelp. And thats where the abs are.
If you dont feel comfortable IN the kelp, then stay just OUTSIDE of the kelp, towards the beach. Ole Whitey will be just outside the kelp on the Ocean side, IF he/she is here today seal hunting. If there are lots of seal haul-outs all around you, then you picked the wrong place to freedive, and this might be a grocery store for Ole Whitey. Dont become a menu item. Go freedive somewhere else.
If I failed to mention that your loop strap for your weight belt strap with detaching gear clip (female end) should be looped through the right side of your weight belt strap if you are right handed, and left side if not, fix that now. Balance your weights equally on either side of your body too. Then clip the marker buoy with the male clip attachment onto your weight belt with the female clip. Hopefully you practiced all this in the pool back in SoCal before your trip up North.
Attach your anchor line to your float with a caribiner, let out the line, attach the anchor or bullet weights to the other end of the rope with the other caribiner, and let it drop. If you let it down gradually it might get caught in kelp. It needs velocity. So just drop it.
Strap on your depth gauge to your non-primary hand. Leave your compass in the dive float. Grab your ab iron and slip it over your primary hand (left or right). Hyperventilate a few times. Relax. Get horizontal on the surface. Surface dive 180 degrees straight down to the bottom of your dive float rope, using your arms and feet both to get down there. Once youre down, its easier to stay down, since the water pressure squeezes your suit as well as clears all the air out of the inside of it. Once at the site of your anchor, start a search pattern. I use an expanding ladder.
When you find a BIG ab, measure it. Then unclip your marker buoy, put the lead weight near the ab and jarr it between a few rocks or something, and let out the line so the marker buoy floats up. By now, you will be out of air, so surface in a controller manner, exhaling into your snorkle so it clears for you. Adjust the line in your marker buoy so that it locks on the buoy at the surface and doesnt let out any more than necessary.
At the surface, relax, breathe, then look for your dive float. Swim over to it, pull up the anchor line, swim over to your marker buoy, and drop the anchor near it but not on top of it.
Begin your hyperventillation routine again. Then when you are relaxed enough, dive back down to your ab, and without touching it, confirm your measurement. Then place you ab iron at the thick end of the ab on the opposite side of the breathing holes. Jamm it in as far as you can. The idea is to get the ab iron deep underneath the ab.
If this is a monster ab, it will fight you. If it sucks down really hard against your ab iron and the rock, which is good, and you cant slip your wrist out of your ab iron lanyard, which is bad, you will die and will become fish food, and the ab will have won, and all the other abs will laugh at you as the dummy who died while ab diving. The humans will cry, and some of them will be afraid to go back into the water.
If you cant pull the ab loose the first time, dont worry. Leave your ab iron where it is, under the ab. Your marker buoy is there to tell you where you left it. Slip your wrist out of the lanyard, surface, relax, breathe, dive back down and repeat the whole process, til you get your monster ab. Then swim up and put the ab into your dive float. Reconfirm the length with your extra ab gauge.
You are there. You have done it! But dont start hollering yet. You dont want anybody to know about your monster ab, yet. Freedive some more. Monster abs have friends. They may be nearby. Continue your search patter. Repeat all as before, after you go down and retrive the lead weight and line of your marker buoy and roll it back up. Always roll up your marker buoy loose, so that it will uncurl easily by itself.
The limit on abs is 4 in possession, 4 per day, 100 per year. You need to keep your ab card in your vehicle, and fill it out, even before you undress. If you dont, Ole Smokey will get you, and he will take your abs away from you. Dont be dumm. Fill out the ab card first thing even while you are dripping wet and still in your wetsuit.
One last caution about hyperventillating "too much." In PADI, we teach that you should take a maximum of FOUR deep breaths and no more for hyperventillating before freediving. This is supposed to prevent shallow water blackout. Well, CO2 build up can still cause shallow water blackout, even if you follow the PADI protocol. Dont freedive alone. Freedive with a buddy.
Your buddy should be "up" on the surface while you are "down" freediving, and vice versa. With my marker buoy system, this works pretty good, and you can work as a team, and bring up 8 monster abs together. You should have freedived together before, in a pool or something, so that you each know approximately how long the other normally stays down. You should be about the same size, so you can rescue each other if needed. To wit: a 300 lb USC football player and a 100 lb USC cheerleader do NOT make good freediving buddies together. [my two favorite teams are Cal and anybody playing against Stanford, unless it is USC. and i especially hate that g-dam horse.
The person "up" should be counting out loud, so that if you are "down" too long, he or she can go down to get you. If you black out underwater and are not trapped, you should float to the surface if you are properly "positively buoyant" like I already explained at the pool. Then your buddy will see your unconscious body floating on the surface, and he or she can then rescue you. Rule Number One in freediving is NEVER FREEDIVE ALONE.
RaiderKarl, PADI D/M
[I raid abs off the Ocean floor ... now you know how too!]
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