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Monday, May 25, 2015

Caves and, Caverns, and Cathedrals! Oh My!

Everytime I see the movie Sanctum I vow to never go cave diving. There is nothing more terrifying as a scuba diver than to watch an air-related problem happen in an overhead environment. If you sever a hose under “normal” circumstances it is dangerous, but miles deep into a cave without a bailout bottle? It is deadly. Now, I know Mr. Alister Grierson has to keep us on our toes so we cannot help but sit through his entire movie, and so maybe all of the scenes are not 100% accurate, but even in real life there is no debating that cave diving can be extremely dangerous, even for experts. The film has a number of very accomplished cave divers in it as “dive doubles” for the actors. Agnes Milowka was the dive double for the characters Jude and Victoria. She was a recognized cave diver and author of numerous articles on technical diving and cave exploration. She was definitely an expert in the field but she died in 2011 after running out of air in a cave system in South Africa. Freak accidents happen and, when the surface is accessible, there are options, such as doing an emergency swimming ascent for which there is no guarantee you will survive, but at least you have the possibility. In a cave, if you run out of air, no matter how experienced you are, death is imminent.
So, everytime I see Sanctum I say I will not dive in a cave, but the reality is I have been in overhead environments. Technically speaking you need a special certification for overhead environments but dive charters sometimes take advantage of the fact that the definition of a cave is a bit vague. There are caves, caverns, cathedrals, swim-throughs, etc. but sometimes they become one-in-the-same. I have entered “swim-throughs” where I could not see the other side so I had to trust that my divemaster was taking “through” and not “into.” I have swam around “cathedrals.” I have swam into “caves.” For me, the caveat has always been I will go in if I know and am not far from my way out. But, if given the opportunity to dive the Cenotes in Akumal, Mexico, where you follow a guide into an amazing “cavern” system full of otherworldly structures, would I likely throw that caveat out the window? There are many divers like Agnes Milowka who are technical divers and going into caves is their forte. Why do something so dangerous? I cannot speak for all divers but for me it is the thrill and the opportunity to see structures and life that cannot be seen anywhere else. 
So, to go into a cave/cavern/cathedral or not to go into a cave/cavern/cathedral? I cannot tell you what the best decision is for you, but for me, as with any dive, I will prepare as best as I can and then trust my intuition. As divers we are always training. If we have an interest in overhead environments, we get as many specialty certifications as we can and then gain our experience appropriately. We do not go into an advanced environment if we have not dove the basic environments first. Then,we trust our guts. If we do not feel good about a dive we do not get in the water. As scuba divers we are thrill seekers. I will say no to caves every time I see Sanctum, but perhaps I will inevitably not be able to resist the promise of beauties I have never seen.

Friday, April 24, 2015

By Serendipity or Fate

By serendipity or fate, Sky, Jake, and I found ourselves riding out to the magnificent Molokini Crater off the island of Maui on a private charter. We were going to dive the back wall of the crater, a dive Sky and I had wanted to do for the past 2 years. Our captain confirmed our enthusiasm when he told us Molokini is unrivaled in terms of visibility and biodiversity. Our excitement grew as the sun rose, warming the boat deck, as we drew closer to the remnant of a volcanic crater.
We pulled up to the outer rim and descended 60 feet into the beautiful and mysterious deep blue. The hauntingly beautiful whale songs permeating the water immediately overtook us. It was as if there were 20 whales and they were 10 feet from us, but, looking out into the deep, I could not see them. I was wearing less weight than I normally do and so I had to swim down, rather than sinking, but at the bottom I was perfectly neutral. It was a very freeing sensation. From the bottom I could look up to the surface where Jake and Sky were descending and see them as clear as if we were not submerged. We followed our divemaster to the edge of the crater, enjoying the 150 feet of visibility and fields of coral. On that short swim we saw a white tipped reef shark, probably 10 or more eels, two octopuses, and clouds of colorful tropical fish. It was incredible! At the edge we caught a current which swept us out around the back of Molokini to about 97 feet. It truly felt like flying as we soared over 350 feet of water along a submarine wall full of life. On our drift, we witnessed an interesting symbiotic relationship between an eel and two bluefin trevally. At first it looked as if the fish were chasing the eel or vice versa, but on closer examination and some expertise from our divemaster we discovered they were hunting together. We surfaced from that dive absolutely stoked with huge grins on our mask -impressioned faces!
After some chatting we decided on Pu'u Olai, aka Red Hill, for our second dive. It was shallower so we could maximize our bottom time and our captain and divemaster told us it is a quintessential Maui dive. We descended to around 40 feet and spent 50 minutes going to all the hangout spots of Maui’s best marine life. We saw Hawaiian lionfish, honu, chirping domino damselfish, a tiny goby that only lives on wire coral, parrotfish, squirrelfish, trumpet fish, moorish idols, goatfish, frogfish, unicornfish, and many trigger and wrasse species. We then ended our dive with a magnificent swim-through that was home to a huge school of squirrelfish and a 7-foot white-tipped shark. It was a thrill to be surrounded by fish and to be checked out by a relatively big shark. He swam circles around us and got close enough we could see he had a hook and line dangling from his mouth, an encounter he must have had with a fisherman (or a fisherman’s catch!).
Both dives were amazing and I would probably venture to say they were the best dives I have ever done. I say that because I feel this was the way diving is meant to be, a personal experience. We had the boat to ourselves, we got to choose our dives with help from the experts, our captain and divemaster were funny, friendly, and knowledgeable guides, and we had two gorgeous dives with fantastic visibility and new and interesting marine life.     

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Road to NAUI Instructor

There is something about spending a significant amount of time underwater doing complicated skills without a regulator in your mouth that really gives you an appreciation for being able to breathe whenever you want to. We all know the number one rule in scuba is never hold your breath, and I never have, but in the past few months there have been multiple times when I have thought to myself, “whelp, I’m out of breath, I hope I get that reg in my mouth pretty quick here.” Whether I was doing an equipment exchange, which involves swimming the length of the pool with your buddy, except your buddy is only wearing their wetsuit and weight belt, which means you are dragging their blind butt the length of the pool buddy-breathing the whole way; when you get to the deep end you must take all of your equipment off (mask, fins, BC, etc.) and give it to your buddy (all while buddy-breathing) and then they have to drag your blind butt back to the shallow end. Or, if I was doing a skin ditch and recovery, which involves swimming down to 8 feet in your skin gear, taking off your mask and fins, weighting them down on one breath, then coming up and momentarily catching your breath. Then, swimming back down, putting your fins and mask back on, clearing your mask and coming to the surface, while clearing your snorkel on one breath. To say the least, I really came to see the value of air.
It would make sense for me to say my instructor certification was harder than I thought it was going to be but, to be honest, I never really thought about it. There is nothing I enjoy more than scuba diving. I think it is a thrill, and I knew I wanted to become a scuba instructor so I could show other people this amazing sport. When the opportunity to go through an instructor training program presented itself, I jumped. The course was a blast but it was difficult, and it should be. Scuba diving has risks and thus not just anyone should be able to be a scuba diving instructor.
In order to be a quality instructor you must be able to teach but not just teach. A quality instructor must be able to engage the students in the information, make them laugh, make them oooh and awe, and make them want to know more. A quality instructor must be able to break down a skill into a simple and explicit description. She must be able to clearly demonstrate the skill, but she must also have an arsenal of alternate ways to guide the students through the skill because one way of explaining will not work for everyone. A quality instructor must have an acute awareness of everything going on around him. He must be able to run one student through a skill without removing his eyes from the other students for more than a moment. In addition to these skills, a quality instructor must be prompt and organized. She must have an understanding of the environment in which her students will be learning. She must engrain a deep respect for the water into her students and make sure they understand the risks they are taking. He must be approachable, kind, and able to coach his students through issues they may encounter during the course. Being a quality instructor requires a lot and that is why becoming one should not be easy. 
My cohorts and myself, throughout our instructor course, learned these necessary skills and many more (including how to blow bubbles even when you are totally and completely out of air), but we are not done. We will always be learning and improving and we will always strive to know more. Scuba diving is a dynamic sport, and there will always be more skills to learn and new equipment to understand. So, in order to be quality instructors, we must be dynamic as well. As scuba divers we of course hope to eventually evolve gills and thus no longer have to teach scuba diving skills or run out of air while doing equipment exchanges and skin ditch and recoveries, but, until then, we scuba diving instructors are ready to instruct!   

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My New Year's Resolution

As a scuba diver, whenever I find water, I always find myself thinking, “I wonder what’s down there.” Our planet is 70% H2O and, salt or fresh, whenever I get to a body of water I start imagining what could be living down there. Is there coral or kelp or rock out croppings? Is the visibility 5 feet or 500 feet? Are there fish or mammals? What are the currents like? I recently traveled to Italy and spent a day in Venice. Our group was allowed the opportunity to take a gondola ride, which was lovely. While gliding around the canals Sky and I noticed there were hydrocorals growing right beneath the surface of the water and a few crabs here and there. I was tempted to jump in and free dive down to see what else lived in the depths of Venice. I started daydreaming about a tiny underwater city of a new highly-intelligent species of fish who walk upright on their fins and are planning world domination (this may have stemmed from watching SpongeBob in Italian the night before). Unfortunately, as far as I could tell, diving is not allowed due to the boat traffic and water quality (something about raw sewage...). 
There are tons of gorgeous dive sites that have been explored and are open to scuba diving but also so many more locations yet to be discovered. In his TED talk about life in the oceans, Oceanographer Paul Snelgrove said, “We know more about the surface of the Moon and about Mars than we do about [the deep sea floor].” It is reassuring we as humans have not touched every inch of this earth, but it is the mystery of not knowing that fuels my curiosity. I am not a marine biologist or an anthropologist, so I will not be leading the exploration of the deep sea floor, but I want to see as much of our underwater world as I can. I am almost 22. Say I dive until I am 82, which is probably pushing it. I have 60 more years of diving. If able to travel to a new location every year, I have 60 places to visit in the whole world. That is both exciting and a little sad. The prospect of visiting 60 new places and scuba diving all over the world is thrilling. The revelation, with a busy life, it isn’t humanly possible to see everything is disappointing. 
I have a lot of intentions for my life but having a series of amazing experiences around the world has always been at the top of my list. Then I fell in love with scuba diving and my travel goals started to orient around diving. I still have places I want to see where scuba diving is not the main activity, like taking a safari on the African savanna, but, because our planet is 70% water, if I follow the water I see much of the world. Following the question “I wonder what’s down there” leads me around the planet. My New Year’s resolution is to see somewhere new, and I want my New Year’s resolution always to be to see somewhere new.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

DEMA: Why Do We Dive?

A rebreather with intense safety features, a regulator with a coated spring, a volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic, and a man who is fighting paralysis with help from the ocean - last week is now a blur of seminars, new products, travel destinations, and fascinating people. From the moment I stepped onto the DEMA floor on Wednesday morning until I walked out of the convention center doors for the last time on Saturday evening I was busy. I was busy because there is so much happening in the scuba industry; unless I was able to get one of those time-turners from Harry Potter I could not possibly see everything. The enthusiasm level was high in the Las Vegas Convention Center as the scuba industry gathered to shared everything new and exciting to our water world.
        I was struck by how important this scuba diving world is to me but how proportionally so little of the public knows about it. A rebreather that monitors every aspect of my dive and alerts me via a flashing light and a vibrating wrist strap to any impending problems is significant to me because it is the safest rebreather I have seen, but it wouldn’t be of much interest to most of my neighbors on my street. A regulator with a coated spring and a groove system that keeps it from freezing is extremely interesting to me because I would someday like to dive under the ice in Antarctica, but to most people walking down The Strip this regulator (or any regulator) would be a foreign object. An island approximately equidistant from New York and London that is volcanic in nature and is giving divers the opportunity to see creatures uncommon to most shores sounds like the perfect adventure to me, but it remains a big rock to most. The man who lost the ability to do the things he enjoyed due to a paralyzing crash on a snowmobile, but who is able to stand on his own two feet underwater without help, brings tears to my eyes, because I know the power of the ocean, but it is just a cool story to someone who does not know how healing water can be.
       One of the main things I observed at DEMA is everyone who loves scuba diving enough to be at DEMA wants nothing more than to share our great sport with anyone who will listen. Most of the world’s population does not scuba dive, or, if they are certified, they dropped out of the sport after their basic course. Why is that? The question I heard more than once throughout the four days of seminars was, “What is our main motivation to scuba dive?” It seems like it should be so simple, but I found the answer to this question is as important to the scuba industry as is the answer to the meaning of life to a philosopher. Of course scuba diving is fun, but what problem in our lives does scuba diving solve? Why do we talk any listener's ear off about why they should learn to dive? There is no question we enjoy dipping our heads below the surface of the ocean, but why?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Diving Wreck Alley

It is difficult to properly describe the slow dawning that is descending onto a shipwreck. Even in the best of visibility there is a moment when the ominous shape below you materializes into something recognizable. The dark shadow becomes the bow of the ship and the ghostly silhouette becomes the mast. It is in that moment you wonder at the perplexing nature of seeing a human-made object underwater. It is thoroughly amazing to see how the ocean has adopted these giant pieces of metal. Kelp makes home on the gun deck, anemones climb high above, clinging to the main mast, and fish spiral in and out of territory they have claimed in the captain’s quarters. A marine ecosystem is created on an artifact that used to house people. Even though it is unlikely, you can’t help but get a creepy feeling there might be a few skeletons scattered about under the layer of life.
This weekend I was in San Diego with a group from Pro Scuba diving the Yukon, the Ruby E, and the Naval Ocean Systems Center Tower in Wreck Alley. The first dives we did were on the Yukon, a 366’ Canadian Destroyer that was sunk “intentionally” on July 14th, 2000. I say “intentionally” because the ship was gutted, made diver friendly with cutouts and swim throughs, and loaded with explosives to be sunk on the 15th. During the night it flooded and made its own way to the bottom, landing on its side rather than on its hull as intended. The wreck is truly impressive due to its size and condition. We did four dives on the Yukon, which was the perfect amount to be able to see the whole ship. My favorite of the four dives was one that started by descending onto the stern. It was beautifully covered in anemones of every shade of pink and purple. It looked like a float out of the Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade. It was incredible how intentional the array of colors looked.
The next dive we did was on the Ruby E, which is a 165’ coast guard cutter that was sunk in 1989. It was fascinating to see differences between the Yukon, which has only been underwater for 14 years, compared to the Ruby E, which has been at the mercy of the sea for 25 years. The Ruby E was much more grown-over and delicate. We were warned before descending we should not touch the ship, as it would likely crumble. On this wreck the anemones were just as, if not more, amazing than on the Yukon. They were every shade of pink, white, purple, and orange. The whole ship looked like a carefully manicured garden. I also enjoyed that the Ruby E is significantly smaller than the Yukon. On the Yukon Sky and I passed another buddy team from our group occasionally but on the Ruby E it felt like a party at 80 feet, with our whole group being visible from any point.
Our last dive was on the Naval Ocean Systems Center Tower, which was the only actual “wreck” we dove. It was built in 1959 as a research station and was knocked over in a storm some years later. I believe the captain of our boat best described it when he called it a scuba diver’s jungle gym. It looks like just that with the supports of the tower being perfect for swimming around and through. It was particularly fun to swim through the octagonal hatch that would have been used to lower equipment down into the water from the tower. I also got a kick out of swimming past the staircase used to enter the tower. The tower was covered in life. We got the pleasure of seeing two small horn sharks, which was a species I had never seen before, as well as a huge mussel and a scallop (which my buddy opened up an ate under water). This dive was a great way to end our run in Wreck Alley.
For anyone who loves to explore a new type of dive environment I definitely recommend making the trip to San Diego. We booked our trip with Water Horse Charters and I was very pleased with their operation. The crew was extremely helpful and knowledgeable. I was particularly impressed with Anita, who was on our boat both days. She was very kind and considerate, and it was evident she had a lot of experience. She ran a tight ship, insisting on safe scuba diving practices, which I really appreciated. All of the dives were fun and exciting and I surfaced from all of them grinning. I don’t know if it’s the pirate in me, but I thought diving Wreck Alley was the perfect adventure.   



Photo by Skylar Merritt

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Note to the Newbies

I got certified in January of 2012, which really was not that long ago. I find it amazing how little detail I remember from my basic class. I remember my first time breathing under water and how weird and cool it felt. I remember feeling like I was flying along the bottom of the pool.  I remember getting in the ocean for the first time and how excited I was to see pink anemones. I do not remember the struggles of putting together my scuba gear for the first time or pulling on that thick wetsuit. I do not remember the amount stress that comes with practicing rescuing a skin diver or scuba diver off the bottom for the first time. I do not remember the balancing act of trying to figure out how to control my buoyancy.
These past couple of weeks I have been a teaching assistant for my first basic scuba class. The students just finished their two weekends of pool sessions and now they are headed to the ocean. I feel I can say they all had a lot of fun in the pool and definitely enjoyed themselves, but I have seen a fair amount of frustration too. Scuba diving is not easy, and all of the things those of us who have dive experience take for granted are hard to learn. It is inevitable that you will set up your tank only to find that the BC is on backwards and your regulator is facing the wrong way. It is inevitable that you will forget to count or do your rescue breaths in the anxiety of rescuing a scuba diver for the first time. It is inevitable that you will land hard on the bottom of the pool when you are learning to descend. All of these things improve with practice and none of us did everything right the first time either. 
So, basic students, these are my words of encouragement. You will get it. Before you know it you will not have to struggle setting up that tank; it will just be habit. You will be running through the steps of the rescue counting and breathing in sync. You will be descending with ease and coming to a gentle stop. Scuba diving is an amazingly fun sport and with these skills you will have the opportunity to experience incredible things. Pretty soon scuba diving will be about those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, not about the steps to getting there. I can honestly say, after a little over two years of diving, I cannot remember the frustrations of my basic class. I can remember the excitement of being introduced to a world that has allowed me to be engulfed by a school of fish, shake hands with an octopus, swim through a shipwreck, be within ten feet of a six-foot swell shark, ride currents over brilliant coral reefs, swim through rock formations out into a great expanse of blue ocean, lay on the bottom of the Pacific watching the sun shine through the kelp as it moves with the gentle waves, and meet numerous interesting, adventurous, and bodacious people who share my passion. It won’t be long and I promise you will feel the same way.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Been a Tad Sharky

They dropped down to one-hundred feet and alighted on a ledge. Neither planned to be at that depth for too long, but they wanted to take in the view. The great ocean expanded out in front and down below them in a subdued, stunning expanse. Sitting on the ledge, the filtered light suddenly became a bit dimmer, like when you are reading a book outside and a cloud drifts in front of the sun. All they saw next was the one eye and a massive form, swimming slowly by. It circled around and next came straight on at the pair, stopping, its snout less than two feet from them. Knowing at that depth their time and air was limited, they knew they must ascend. When the creature once again circled off, they turned and hugged a pinnacle all the way up. Neither had the nerve to look back, but they both knew somewhere, down below them, there remained an eighteen-foot great white shark.  
This was the experience of members of our dive community a couple weeks ago at Point Lobos. My first thought after hearing their story was, “Is that awesome or terrifying?” The part of me who knows that, at that depth and with that behavior, the divers probably were not in any real danger, is extremely jealous of such an amazing experience with such an ominous creature. The part of me who has that famous Discovery Channel video, of the great white shark leaping out of the water to crunch the baby seal, playing over and over in my head, is peeing my pants at the thought of an eighteen foot great white at Point Lobos. Now I am hoping if I am ever faced with that situation the logical me will take over, but who knows?
There have been a number of shark encounters in Santa Cruz County in the past few weeks. There was a great white sighted off of Seabright State Beach eating a seal, and a man may or may not (there are rumors the guy made it up) have been attacked by a shark at Manresa State Beach. Sharks are amazing creatures. Eating seals is what they do and it seems most shark attacks on humans are a case of mistaken identity. As divers we are less likely to be mistaken for a seal than a surfer. We also spend most of our time in the ocean at a depth which is not where great whites hunt. Either way, awesome or terrifying, or both, it’s unlikely most of us will ever encounter great white sharks unless we seek them out. I am no expert but, from what I have heard, the encounter at Point Lobos was strange behavior for these animals. The shark was probably just really curious as to what these weirdly-shaped bubble leakers were doing. He probably wrote about it in his blog . . .

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Swimmer Who Dives

Can you imagine swimming twenty-five miles? For perspective, that is eight-hundred and eighty laps in a standard swimming pool . . .  I think most of us would be intimidated at the prospect of swimming one mile, so twenty-five is both absolutely ludicrous and extremely impressive. Two people swam that distance in the past few weeks, one at the end of August and the other at the beginning of September. On August 26th Patti Bauernfeind swam from the harbor in Santa Cruz to San Carlos Beach in Monterey. She accomplished this feat in an amazing thirteen hours. On September 5th Kim Rutherford swam from Monterey to the Santa Cruz Harbor in a mind-blowing 22 hours. Both of these women completed the swim conforming to the English Channel Swimming Association rules, which meant neither wore a wetsuit and they had no physical contact with boats or other people for the entirety of the swim. When scuba diving in Monterey Bay we bundle up in a 7mm wetsuit or drysuit and sometimes come out a tad chilly after a forty-minute dive. Can you imagine being in the ocean for 13 to 22 hours with no wetsuit? These women are studs. They became the second and third to have ever completed this swim. Women have dominated the swim across the bay, being that no man has ever completed it within the English Channel Swimming Association rules.
Two members of Scuba Squad, who are both accomplished open water swimmers, spoke at August’s squad meeting. They made the point that open water swimming is helpful to scuba diving. Swimming ability is a benefit to scuba diving. The better swimmer you are the more enjoyable your diving experiences will be. The fitness associated with being a swimmer allows you to have better air consumption, which means longer bottom times. It also makes surface swims less painful, which means you can dive further from shore in the sometimes deeper and clearer water. Being an open water swimmer means you will be less tired at the end of a day of diving because you are exerting less effort per dive. These are all great perks. I think the point they made that resonated with me most being a diver who swims or a swimmer who dives is you are as familiar as one can be with the ocean and you are comfortable in that environment. In my experience, the more comfortable the person is in the water the better diver they will be. Diving is an equipment-heavy sport and there are multiple things you need to be aware of during a dive. The more important ones include monitoring your air supply and maintaining your buoyancy. If you are preoccupied with the anxiety that comes with not being comfortable in the water your ability to monitor your life support is dulled.  
As divers, I feel we have a greater appreciation for the two women who made the twenty-five mile swim than maybe someone who doesn’t frequent the bay. We know what the water is like, just at a different depth. We are all ocean enthusiasts and understand the thrill of accomplishing something amazing in the ocean.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Busted

Sunday was a beautiful day at Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove. The ocean was calm, clear, and turquoise blue and the sun was shining. Divers were going out  and coming in with smiles, chatting about the excellent conditions. Families were scattered across the sand as parents monitored children playing in surf and jumping off the cement walkway. I was standing out on the walkway watching kids jump into the water and waiting for a pair of Scuba Squad divers to come in so I could get an “okay” from them. Looking down in the water, something caught my attention. It was a white buoy with about ten dead fish attached. As I was trying to figure out how the buoy could have killed the fish, my divers came swimming in. After getting their “okay” I pointed down to the dead fish. One of the divers, who is also a spear fisherman and whom we will call The Neoprene Crusader, went over and looked. He pulled his head out of the water and without hesitation said, “That is so illegal.” It was then I realized what was going on. The fish were the catch of a spear fisherman, and, while normally our response would be “great catch, dude,” on the east side of Lover’s (where we were) it is illegal to catch anything. Our conversation caught the attention of a man and what looked to be his grown son standing near on the walkway. The Neoprene Crusader yelled, “Are these your fish?” The man said they were his and when The Neoprene Crusader informed him of his illegal move the man began to defend himself (in not the most polite way).
The Neoprene Crusader and his buddy, whom we will call Nemo, got out of the water and headed up the walkway, but before he left he asked me to take some pictures of the situation. I got pictures of the fish, the men, and their spearfishing gear. By the time I was done The Neoprene Crusader was already back, still in his wetsuit but with his cell phone to his ear. Seeing what was happening the two men hurriedly packed up and began walking toward the parking lot in their wetsuits and with their yellow gear bags. The Neoprene Crusader and I followed. We trailed the two men to the parking lot where they met up with a woman, but realizing we were still behind them they all continued through the parking lot and up 17th Street. We followed. The Neoprene Crusader was having some trouble getting Fish and Game on the phone. We were determined to get a license plate so even if they eluded us they could be found. We walked a few blocks up 17th and then the woman turned around and headed back toward the beach. We walked a bit further and The Neoprene Crusader said I could go on back but that he’d be willing to follow them for miles. I agreed because I wanted to check in with the rest of the divers.
I headed back toward the beach, but on my way past the parking lot I got curious. Where had the woman who was with them gone? I walked through the parking lot, and low and behold, there she was getting into a car. I took down the make, model, and license plate number. When I got back to the divers everyone was curious as to what was going on. When they heard the situation they agreed with the cause and wanted to help. I asked Nemo for The Neoprene Crusader’s phone number and  texted the car identification information to him. Shortly after, The Neoprene Crusader called and said he had gotten ahold of Fish and Game and he was headed back toward the beach. I of course thought that meant the chase was over, but I was wrong. The two men had split up and The Neoprene Crusader was following the one with the fish, who was now booking it back to Lover’s West.
With this information another member of Scuba Squad, whom we will call Harbor Seal, went off to scout out the situation as they came down 17th. We watched, and no sooner had he headed off, when here comes the man with his yellow gear bag with The Neoprene Crusader a few blocks behind. Harbor Seal fell in on the other side of the street so now both men were in pursuit. The man with the yellow pack headed down the steps to Lover’s West. While passing the parking lot for, The Neoprene Crusader noticed the game warden’s truck parked but the wildlife officer was not in it. He told Harbor Seal to watch the guy to make sure he did not dump the fish. He ran off, still in his wetsuit, to find the officer. Harbor Seal, in Brad Pitt/Ocean’s Eleven fashion with sunglasses and all, leaned against the rock wall and covertly peered over the edge to keep an eye on the culprit. The Neoprene Crusader located the officer and, with the three of us being witnesses and the pictures I had taken, the guy was so busted. The officer brought him over to his truck and not long after the other man came over to share in the punishment. The men were charged $500 per fish and threatened with jail time. They walked away with a $5000 fine.   
I left the beach that day very proud of the group effort made by Scuba Squad members. Rules are in place for a reason. Whether you agree with the rules, of course, is completely up to you, but if you choose to not be amenable to them you risk the consequences. Do not mess with Scuba Squad.     

Thursday, August 14, 2014

That Feels Nice

Central Coast divers these past few weeks may have noticed something different and unusual. It probably wasn’t something that hit you right away, but was perhaps a slow dawning. First you probably noticed your fingers or toes were not tingling with cold, or that your head felt a little too warm, and then maybe you considered the idea of diving without your gloves or hood. These factors would have caused you to look down at your computer and to see the temperature was a shocking 60-something degrees.
On July 23 the buoys in Monterey recorded the highest-ever ocean temperature in the time period since 1987 when records began being kept. The temperature was 68 degrees Fahrenheit, which is crazy when the average temperature diving in Monterey is in the mid-50s. If you talk with fisherman you will find it is not uncommon to have warmer ocean temperatures a ways out in the bay because we have a warm surface current coming up from the south that passes by in deeper water, but the temperature closer to shore is always significantly colder. The change in water temperature close to shore has been attributed to the missing northwest winds that generate the cold-water upwelling. The winds push the warmer surface water away, which causes colder water to replace it. When these winds are not present the warm surface water does not move and is not replaced by colder water. I keep hearing these temperatures cannot last long and the winds will return soon, but it has been nearly a month now and last weekend divers reported temperatures at 63 degrees.
The warm water is nice for divers but the marine life is not used to these temperatures. Creatures that require a cold environment will not stick around very long if they can move to colder water that is closer to their normal natural environment. Animals that do not have the ability to travel will adapt or die, which is a scary proposition. The health of the ocean depends on the normal cycles and when they change for long period of time the animals cannot keep up. Personally, I love the warmer temperatures. I tend to get cold and it has been extremely nice the past couple of weeks to be able to do hour-long dives and not get cold at all, but this drastic change does not come without consequences.   

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Buddy Love

The equipment you use must be in good working order, the dive site conditions must be safe to enter, your goals for the dive must be set and your training must compliment your goals. These are all elements to consider when it comes to planning a safe and fun dive. If all of these considerations are met then you have a good start, but there is another aspect that is extremely important and I feel, sometimes, is over-looked: you must have a safe and compatible dive buddy. Not having a safe and compatible person to dive with can be anywhere from inconvenient, if you and your buddy do not have similar objectives for the dive which causes your dive to be an unenjoyable experience, to outright dangerous, if that person does not have safe diving practices.
I have been lucky in my dive lifetime because I currently have a wonderful dive buddy and have dove with great buddies in the past, but I have heard the horror stories about buddies who are not so lovely. One buddy-related issue I have heard many times is the “buddy” being too focused on his or her own agenda to be a valuable partner. This situation either ends in the diver spending the whole dive trying to keep up with said “buddy” or it ends in the loss of said “buddy” and, in the best situation, a successful lost buddy procedure and, in the worst situation, an unnecessary search for a diver who was not in need of rescue but who failed to noticed their buddy was gone. The most recent story I heard involved a diver partnering up with two other divers to form a trio. When the diver became low on air, which means all divers should go to the surface, she was sent to the surface to then struggle alone in a monster current back to the shore. I had these stories in mind when, last Sunday, I was helping to couple up divers into buddy pairs.
Last Sunday was this month’s Scuba Squad club dive and I was part of beach support. At club dives, if a diver arrives without a buddy we help them pair up. Scuba Squad is an excellent resource because all of the members are safe divers so there is no risk of pairing a diver up with someone who is reckless, but you can never be sure the two divers will be compatible. All of the necessary considerations were met and everyone seemed to enjoy the dive, but it was difficult to tell, just by observing, if buddy satisfaction had been achieved. After the dive, while reading Facebook comments, Cheryl said, “There is a lovefest going on on Facebook.” I asked her what she was talking about and she said everyone who had gone diving that day was posting comments saying how much he or she enjoyed diving with his or her buddy. This, above all else, confirmed for me that the club dive was a success, because even if your equipment is working great, conditions are perfect, and your dive goals are met, loving your buddy is the best way to ensure a great dive day.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

If it looks cool, I’m sold.

Some guys want a pure black wetsuit in all SCUBAPRO fashion and some want a yellow stripe here and there, and some girls want a reg that can be fitted with a purple cover plate or that has a colored shiny finish and some girls want “a stealth, rugged, nylon fiberglass case and a dark anodized aluminum ring.” I have been working at Pro Scuba for about two months now and there is one thing, in particular, I have noticed. Despite Dave’s advice in his basic scuba courses, that fit and comfort should be your prime concern when choosing gear, color and style are what really hook someone on a product. A customer will find a mask that has zero gaps, hits all the right places on his or her face, and seals nicely on an inhale, but the fact that it comes in a black and bronze frame with a mirrored lens is the clincher. I’m not saying they will throw the fit and comfort rule out the window but they might choose the second best fitting mask or wait a week for the preferred color to come in over just choosing a neutral mask.
At the shop we just got in the new G260 Tactical second stage and, as you may have gathered from the name, it is just cool. It has all the incredible features of the normal G260, including the air balanced valve, diver adjustable inhalation effort, diver adjustable VIVA, superflow hose, super comfort high flow mouthpiece, and the left/right hose attachment that the techies love. Those components mean you will have the maximum air availability at maximum depth and can customize as needed, which is what you want as a diver. But, here is what got my attention: it has a stealth, rugged, nylon fiberglass case and a dark anodized aluminum ring and a stealth design knob and nut. Those elements mean it is strong and abrasion resistant, but from the moment I heard the word “stealth” I had to see what it looked like. It did not disappoint; with its black nylon fiberglass case and anodized aluminum ring it epitomizes _________. If James Bond were going to choose a regulator it would be this. It also has the added bonus of coming with the swivel attachment, which means as you move your head you are not inhibited by your regulator hose, and that attachment on its own costs over $150. I thought I held true to choosing gear based on Dave’s rule of fit and comfort, but I must say this regulator proved me wrong. If it looks cool, I’m sold.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

There is a Phenomenon Surrounding Divers

If your sport is basketball you can pretty much play at any time and not have an increased risk associated. The rain could be pelting down and yes, you would get wet and you might have to watch your footing a bit more to avoid slipping, but it isn’t any more life- threatening to play basketball in the rain as it is to play with blue skies. Basketball does not require you to monitor the weather days before you go to the court to be sure it is a good b-ball day. The same can be said for the majority of sports. I have watched football games on TV being played in blizzards and the players seem to be having a blast. They slip and slide around a bit, but the game goes on without any more injuries than is normal for the sport. There is no such thing as frequent days where you cannot go play football or basketball because if you did you would put your life in jeopardy.
This is not the case with diving. Our fun is at the mercy of the ocean and, by extension, the weather. It would be nice if the ocean cooperated and was always flat, calm, and clear and if the weather was always mild, but that is not how it works. I would be willing to bet most divers have CDIP or some similar site bookmarked on their computer and that the weather channel website shows up frequently in their search history. We all know the routine of refreshing the CDIP page on a daily basis hoping the green seas that indicate seven to fourteen foot swells will somehow magically go back to that deep dark blue color we all love. Some days are better than others for diving. There are days when you just plain cannot dive because of the rough ocean and the inclement weather, and if you did get in the water you would be risking serious injury.
Sunday was one of those poor dive days. I had been watching the charts all week hoping green would become blue but I had no such luck. The dive was scheduled for Point Lobos, which is normally an absolutely gorgeous location. It is one of the favorites of Central and Northern California divers because it often has great visibility and the marine life tends to be huge because Point Lobos is a marine reserve. It was going to be a treat to be able to do a boat dive at Lobos because we could dive sites that are inaccessible from shore without a kayak. We arrived at the site and the water was green and murky inside Whalers Cove, which is where you enter the water and swim out to the boat which then takes you to locations around the perimeter of the reserve. On the outside of the cove waves were crashing against the rocks and sending spray into the air twice the height of the rock. Hoping the appearance of the ocean was deceiving and we would descend into some calm, we all swam out to the boat and rode around to Blue Fish Cove. In the past month or so there have been a number of videos of the four Giant Pacific Octopuses who have taken up residency in Blue Fish, and so we were all quite hopeful we would have a run-in with one. Members of the group were starting to turn as green as the ocean with the rocking of the boat so we jumped in almost immediately after the boat anchored. The depths were calmer than the surface and the visibility was about fifteen feet, but the life seemed to have fled the rocking seas. We saw a number of jellyfish, a monstrous cabezon, and a few pretty nudibranch but nothing like the normal menagerie of Lobos. It was a chilly forty-minute dive and then we found ourselves back on the boat. 
Despite these conditions, Sunday was great and I believe everyone left happy. We had a fun group of divers, a helpful boat crew, and we were able to get in safely, and that is all it takes. It is thrilling to have an amazing dive day but there is a phenomenon surrounding divers and that is this: we like to be in the water. The visibility can be terrible and the water freezing and the life nonexistent and we would still be happier in the water than out of it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

There Was No Escaping, Or So I Thought

The 55-degree water began its assault on my booties, slowly creeping into the cavity around each foot. As I walked in further, the ocean continued pressing its way into my wetsuit. It started at the bottom, filling to the top as I got deeper. When my hands were in they too felt the cold sneak in around each finger. The water slinked in through the edges of my hood, trickling down my neck. Pretty soon I was surrounded, with my eyes behind my mask being the only dry portion of my body. My wetsuit, boots, and gloves fought a hard battle to keep the water out, and succeeded to a certain degree, but there was no escaping the water once I was submerged in it, or so I thought.
I descended into the chilly depths wondering why I purposefully plunge myself into this inhospitable environment, but then I remembered. The sun was shining down through the kelp bouncing light around like dancing water sprites. Rockfish were nestled in their crevices surrounded by strawberry anemone. Nudibranch with their vivid colors clung to the rocks. Every once in a while a ling cod with it’s prehistoric-looking fins would swim off and alight on a rock far enough away from me to feel safe. An adorable harbor seal darted around pretending he wasn’t interested in what I was doing in his habitat. Jellyfish swayed with the water and drifted off with the tides. Every time I brave the cold I am rewarded with a look into a world where I don’t biologically belong. I get to see creatures that are accessible to some people only through the glass of an aquarium. The cold is a lingering thought throughout every dive, but it is drowned by the excitement of getting to be a mermaid for an hour.
Last Saturday I went with Dan and Alison, who are both Training Assistants at Pro Scuba Dive Center, to the DUI Drysuit Demo at Breakwater. Imagine my surprise when I was waist- deep in the ocean and was toasty. Coddled in a fleece onesie and protected by a trilaminate outersuit I was completely dry and warm. It was a bit of a challenge to figure out my buoyancy, as I was now essentially one big air bubble, but, as it was at first with a BC, I’m sure with practice it would get easier. Drysuit diving was a completely new experience from what I associate with scuba diving in Monterey Bay.     
Most of my diving experiences in Monterey and Carmel have been similar to the one I described. The sights are stunning and the marine life is amazing so I deal with the cold. I have gotten used to that refreshing shock of 55-degree water seeping into my booties. The cold is a necessary evil to see the beauty that can be found diving on the central coast, or so I thought.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Diving in 1970

Can you imagine paying $44.95 for a custom made wetsuit? In the 1970 May issue of Skin Diver Magazine you could find an ad and order form to buy a custom wetsuit with a jacket and pants for $44.95 from Central Skindivers. Wetsuits 44 years ago were two pieces held together with a diaper-esque flap attaching the two pieces with rivets in the front. Underwater cameras were really booming and the majority of the new diving products for that year were camera-related. Products included the “Hydro-Blitz” underwater strobe system and an all- aluminum housing for the Kodak K-100 camera. As of February 1970, NAUI was just coming out with a “new plastic embossed certification card.” It was “blue and gold with a full color NAUI Qualified Scuba Diver crest and embossed with the diver’s name, total scuba course hours, date of certification, NAUI registration number and the instructor’s NAUI number.” The BCD as we know it did not exist. The popular buoyancy compensator also known as a “horse collar” resembled the life jackets on airplanes that slip over your head, only with these you did not “pull firmly on the tabs to inflate” because they had to be manually inflated. Tanks were fastened to a metal plate attached to your back similar, in some ways, to technical diving rigs now but with no padding or added floatation. The newest speargun, the S.M.G. Mark II, was just being released. The advertisement read “some people still think you need rubber bands for underwater power . . . some people still think Columbus was wrong!” This speargun used “sub-ammo” instead of rubber band power. All of the masks pictured in the magazine had a circular frame that covered most of your face, giving the fish a great view of your forehead. It was an interesting world of scuba diving in the 1970s . . .        
            Technology makes our diving experience much easier and, more importantly, safer than diving in the 1970s. Wetsuits are extremely comfortable and universal to the point most people do not need to order a custom suit. Plus, they are much more stylish with the removal of the diaper. Underwater cameras have evolved significantly. They are much smaller and more streamlined (you could fit five GoPros in the aluminum housing for the Kodak K-100) and offer more settings than you could possibly ever use. I do not know anyone who manually inflates his or her BC. That is a component reserved for if your gear malfunctions. We maintain our buoyancy with the push of a button, and the technology exists to make a BCD that inflates and deflates on its own, depending on your orientation in the water. Spear guns are still extremely popular but personally I never hear the word “sub-ammo” used to describe their power. Masks are fitted and cover the correct part of your face, leaving your eyes centered in the mask and your forehead off display. Feel lucky divers of the 21st century; diving these days, in the grand scheme of things, is pretty darn easy.