I don’t know if you could actually call it ‘morning’ when I pulled up alongside the dark parking lot at 6:00AM today. The sky was black and still sparkling with stars as a cool breeze blew in from off the ocean. We were down in Palos Verdes again hoping to try another site, Malaga Cove. My dive buddy Chris and I looked over the bluff down at the black water. There was a decent swell rolling in but with the darkness we couldn’t tell water visibility. The shore diving book we both refer to (link) had stated that Malaga Cove diving is pretty black or white.
When conditions at Malaga Cove are good, they’re usually great. When they are poor, however, they’re often terrible. Malaga Cove is rarely in between.
With that thought in the back our heads we knew we were in for a good dive, or maybe no dive at all.
Being the stubborn type of divers that we are, Chris and I suited up, got the gear ready and headed down. Chris had bought a little foldable dolly that fit our tanks with BCD’s on and made the walk down the path much nicer. I think I’ll be investing in one of those for some of these PV “hike to dive” sites! The sun had just risen as we were finalizing gear and heading towards the ocean, so we could now see that the water looked a bit murky and the diving might not be all that great today. Nevertheless we pressed on. Kelp littered the rocks around the beach making for a slippery walk down to the water. We waded in and began to battle the surf. (It’s sure amazing how big waves can look nice and small from a bluff 100 feet above the ocean!) Mostly the waves weren’t a problem, they were smallish, with a large wave rolling in every few minutes. I think our first clue that we shouldn’t have dove was the number of surfers around. There were even surfers in the water before sunrise, catching the swell off of Haggerty’s just south of Malaga Cove.
The visibility in the surf zone was ZERO. I could not see my hand 5 inches in front of my face, and once when I looked up for the oncoming waves I realized I had been spun around and was now swimming towards shore. Some of the waves were strong, but most weren’t bad. I nearly lost my fins when a huge wave rushed over me and tried to literally pull them off my feet. Thank goodness the clip fasteners are strong! By the time Chris and I were far enough out of the swell we had used about 500 psi of our air, and felt like we’d been through a nice workout. The visibility seemed to be clearing a bit, but I still couldn’t see my fins on my feet while looking down.
Out of pure hope we decided to descend to see if it was any better, or at least be able to decend enough so we could avoid more surface swimming. We went down into the pea soup like water and with in seconds Chris was a mere dark outline, then gone. I moved towards where he should be and he re-materialized. Looking down I noticed another dark shape taking form and figured it was a boulder. Keeping a hand out I came upon it pretty quickly only to realize it was actually the sandy bottom. We were at least 150ft out in the ocean, barely outside the surf zone and it was only 9ft deep! Christ was right there next to me, and with one quick look at each other we both signaled, “up”. So that was my first attempt at Malaga Cove. One quick descent for less than a minute, not even enough for the computer to save as a dive. We swam back in, making it out safely without getting too tumbled by the waves and headed back up the hill. From the gazebo that overlooks the ocean we surveyed the scene again. With the sun fully up, we could see the murky brown soup we swam through and some slightly greener water where we descended, no clear spots anywhere.
It sucked to be up at 5:00am and not get an actual dive in, but thats the way it goes in California. You can find some of the most pristine diving and beautiful creatures and features in these waters, but we also get big swells and bad visibility more often than not. I figure if we hadn’t gone we wouldn’t know what to look for next time. Every time I’m in the water it’s a learning experience and today I learned that Malaga Cove involves a very long surface swim to get decently deep water and will only be attempted with about a 1 ft swell and no brown water visible from the bluff!
So lately I’m 2 for 2 with craptastic diving. The wave models and weather show that the swell will be smaller and the sun warm and bright this weekend, and I have a full schedule of training with the Rescue Diver Course so hopefully everything is able to proceed as planned.