Diving with Dad.

Last weekend my father journeyed from afar…well Phoenix, to join me for what turned into a non-stop adventurous weekend! It all started with the fact that he, an avid Jimmy Buffett fan and my reason for loving his music, has never been to a Jimmy Buffett concert. So for his birthday (which is in June actually) I purchased a pair of tickets for us, and promised a fun weekend in LA. The concert was fabulous, but the highlight of the trip for me was going to be getting him underwater for the first time in about seven years! (that is not counting the numerous 5ft, 15 minute dives he made out in Saguaro Lake cleaning algae growth off the underside of our ski boat, which I don’t). The last time he actually dove was the first time I did. Back in 2003 on a family vacation to Maui, my sister and I earned our Open Water Diver certifications. On our final open water dives he joined us for a trip out to Molokini and St. Anthony’s wreck, then later we did a shore dive with all four of us (including my mom) on the small reef just off shore from our hotel. Flash forward seven years, and I’ve earned my OWSI rating and put more than 100 dives under my belt and he’s barely been wet.

It sure looks like I have a ton a gear! Mostly because of my camera, and because all my Dad’s gear looks like its actually hanging off me!

Needless to say I was slightly nervous about throwing him right into a Southern California beach dive, especially with a higher surf forecast, but he fell back into diving easily, as he said, “its like riding a bike, once you get back into it everything just comes back.”

We had driven down to San Diego to dive with a friend of his who is a big lobster hunter. He took us out to Swami’s, a beach in Encinitas known primarily for great surfing. I could easily see why, as a nearby reef created a perfect break for the surfers. What this also meant was that just down from the reef, there was barely any waves breaking at all, so we had a very easy entry and exit. Unfortunately, the fact that the beach is known for its reef break, coupled with a larger swell in general, meant that our dive conditions were less than ideal. The reef at Swami’s is fairly shallow, and the large swell moving in from off shore created a big surge underwater and pretty poor visibility. My dad handled this fine however, especially when we got separated about four minutes into the dive. Thats right, I lost my dad after only four minutes. Way to go me! Truth is, I paused for a picture while he and Dan (who was effectively leading the dive) continued to swim, and with the 5-10 ft viz, I lost them quickly. My Dad was a little left of Dan, so when he stopped to check on everyone and discovered I was not there, my Dad continued swimming. I caught up with Dan, but then Dad was gone! Dan and I searched, then surfaced (after what was probably only about 30 seconds as my mind worried over my missing father) and looked for bubbles on the surface. Meanwhile, we discovered later, my dad continued swimming along, thinking us just up ahead, and forgetting the 1 minute search rule we had decided upon before the dive. Finally, after what felt like forever, but was probably only a few minutes he surfaced about 50 yards up from us, opposite of where we were looking for him. Crisis averted we swam over to him and dropped back down. The highlight of the dive was finding a large Moray Eel inside a hole that Dan nearly put his hand down in search of lobster. The Moray poked its head out and started opening and closing its mouth in a fashion that makes you think he’d be hissing or growling if it were on the surface.

Yes, those little black dots in the water are surfers!

Moving on from there we found a couple lobster, however any that Dan was able to grab were too small to keep, sadly no delicious crustacean dinner. The rest of the dive was spent swimming around, exploring the kelp and searching for lobster hidey holes. We surfaced when my Dad finished his air, quicker than the more experienced divers, but not so fast that it was annoying, we enjoyed a nice 37 minute dive. The water was summer warm around 60 degrees at depth, and the only drawback was in the form of the extremely long surface swim to and from the dive site… almost a 1/4 mile! Its definitely a sight I’d like to try again, maybe with a kayak and definitely with less surge and better viz. Mostly though I enjoyed just getting under the water with my Dad again. Next up: Mom. (I think that effort will require somewhere warm and clear).

The rest of the weekend passed quickly with some delicious food, a couple of beers, a movie and a day at the beach spent trying our hand at Stand Up Paddleboarding. After successfully getting through the larger surf breaking (though unsuccessfully losing my sunglasses to a large wave) we managed to get our SUP skills down and paddle down to the Santa Monica Pier and back for a 2 mile trip. We practiced some more, then went in for a long break which included playing in the perfectly sized body boarding waves. Another voyage through the surf and some more paddling, though not quite as far because the wind had picked up creating a lot of chop on the water. Then more food and a beer, showers and it was back to the airport. I had a blast, and can’t wait to get him back underwater again soon! (I think I’ve got him wanting to dive again, hooray!)

A perfect summer day, in the middle of October. Taking a break from paddle boarding, we went back into the ocean for some body surfing.

Dry Post: Heading North.

This weekend I ventured up north to visit my sister. Everything started great until I arrived at the airport, we boarded the plane and began to taxi to the runway. The captain’s voice sounded over the speaker of the small Q400 aircraft; there was “a power plant warning” on the screen and we’d be heading back to the terminal to have it checked. After about five minutes we were asked to de-plane while the maintenance folks worked their magic. Approximately two hours after our scheduled departure time the plane was good to go and we took off for the far north. The far north being Northern California, Humboldt County where my sister has been living for about a year. Knowing my passion for the ocean, the first thing she did was take me right to the beach. Despite the forecasted rain, the sky was bright blue with a few scattered clouds moving lazily along. We drove down to Luffenholtz Beach where she pulled out a box chock full with a baguette, goat cheese, apples, a chocolate bar, cherry tomatoes and a bottle of  red zin. I hadn’t eaten lunch due to the flight delay, and was pretty hungry so this looked perfect. As we pulled up to the beach and began to walk down the path I caught glimpses of the dark coarse sand, and aqua blue water turning white as it washed up on the shore.

Having noticed a few cars in the parking area, she also gave me a quick warning… “oh yeah, this is also sorta the local naked beach.” Exciting. However, unlike the fancy European naked beaches you may be picturing in your mind, this is the NorCal hippy version of mostly old bearded  men, enjoying the rare sunny day in their birthday suits. After passing several, we hoped that the next bend would take us to a bit of privacy, which it did. Neslted into our own little alcove we sat in the rocky sandy and began to enjoy our box of goodies.

The bread, from local cafe Brio was delicious, and the local Cypress Grove goat cheese chevre complimented it nicely. I sat in the warm sand munching away and admiring the astounding northern beauty. I had expected the lush green forests that greeted me immediately after getting off the plane, but the scenery of the beachfront I never dreamed of. The water was a deep aqua color, turning a lighter teal as the depth grew shallow. It was gently rolling into shore, splashing off the numerous rock pilings that were scattered along the coast; stubborn remnants from years of ocean waves pounding away at the waters edge. The air was crisp but the sun was warm, and all along the top of the cliffs were large green conifers, ferns and grasses.

As we slowly made our way through months of catching up and the bottle of wine, we walked around, and climbed along the smaller rocks peering into the clear water as it washed in and out. We dipped our feet into the fridge water as I imagined the life beneath the surface. We talked and talked, and slowly the sun started to move towards the horizon and our bottle of wine ran low. A younger man who had walked past earlier trying to make conversation despite us being completely uninterested in sharing our alcove had walked back over shirtless before being rebuffed again (sorry dude, you were a bit of a creeper). I glanced down the beach in the direction he had wandered to see him now only in a pair of red boxers. Deciding it was time to go before we received another visit I took the last swig of the bottle and we packed up camp. This turned out to be a smart decision because a final backward glance revealed white buttcheeks as he removed the final article of clothing. We made our way back along the waters edge to the path, gave the beach a big farewell look and climbed back up to the car. The sun’s rays danced off the water creating playful sparkles that reached all the way up into the wet sand. Luffenholtz is a beautiful beach, and while sad to leave, it was only the beginning of the trip and I was excited and eager to explore the rest of what Humboldt County had to offer.

Up North: The Monterey Breakwater.

After successfully completing our IE, Shane and I stayed at the Monterey Breakwater to go out for a “real” dive. Neither of us had ventured this far north before and we were interested to see what lay beneath their sea. Monterey is known for colder temperatures than Los Angeles, and for some rough seas. We were warned that our test conditions were probably going to be less than ideal. However, as mentioned earlier, we could not have asked for calmer weather. It was chilly and overcast on land, but the ocean temperatures were in the mid 50’s which, unfortunately, has been normal for us in LA this year.

We were advised by some of the other folks in our IE group to enter from the middle area and swim down along a large pipe towards the Metridium Field. This is a large field of Metridiums, which are basically huge white anemones. While they are fairly common from Washington down through California, for reasons unknown a large patch of them grown in this one location off the Breakwater beach. Now please excuse me, if I go Star Wars on you at some point in this article, as I was unfamiliar with these animals, and my brain immediately changed the name to Midichlorians and I still confuse the words! Yes I know, these massive anemones are not the organisms that create the Force, but my mind wanted to make them so.

We were given instructions and a heading to take in order to find the pipe, and set off for adventure. The visibility was not the best, but it was decent and we dropped down into about 20′ of water and swam out in search of the large pipe that was described to us. First we found a small pipe, and unsure began to follow that down into deeper water. We explored around it as we swam until it abruptly ended. Shrugging at each other the unspoken consensus was, “well lets just dive around and see what we see”. A few minutes later I swam over a large half buried pipe. This had to be what we were originally searching for! I signaled to Shane and we once again were on track swimming deeper and further out into the ocean.

The life up in Monterey is very similar to our home in Los Angeles, though there were definitely plants and fish I hadn’t seen before. We had seen otters playing in the water from the surface and while I hoped and hoped that one would just swim by us on our dive, we had no such luck. While being adorable, I was told that the otters are more of a menace to the dive instructors, as they will get on and inside the dive floats, tossing out weights and rope you may have stored inside and sometimes even popping the float itself. As one person told me, “its annoying when you’re trying to teach and the next thing you see is your float slowly sinking behind your students.” Having not experienced that, the idea made me chuckle. Another creature that was very prevalent up in the colder Monterey waters are Jellyfish. As we began the dive in the shallower waters we’d see a few of these jellies, Sea Nettles, I believe. As we went deeper and deeper, they grew in numbers. There would be times that I’d be studying a rock area, or watching several fish swimming around, then I’d look up to swim forward and stop short as there was a jellyfish right in front of me. At one point in the dive, I looked up as we swam along and the water above me was dotted with jellies, large and small, everywhere. I just wish I had a better camera system that could light the darker water so I could show everyone just how many there were, but my little strobe wouldn’t reach and my photos came out black. There was so many though, that a couple times during the dive I had to stop kicking because I couldn’t see a safe route through them. I knew I was mostly safe as every inch of  me was covered in neoprene. Every inch except for some very important ones in the face region. The last thing I wanted was to return to LA with a face full of jellyfish stings! Luckily neither Shane or I had a run in, and we made it down to the Metridium field safely.

Getting close to the field was supernatural at best. These anemones are so starkly white that the seem to glow under the water, so as we neared, the water lightened and slowly the large blurs began to take shape. They were beautiful. Large white columns that exploded at the top in a burst of small, fine tentacles. The field was exactly that; a huge grouping of metridiums that started abruptly and ended just as quick. It was a large rocky patch absolutely covered in various sized metridiums. Some stood alone, others bunched together in a sort of miniature underwater forest. I would have loved to explore them for awhile, but unfortunately it was a long swim to get there so we had to turn back after a few short minutes and start the trek back to shallower waters.

So we swam back through the masses of jellies as we followed the pipe. Once in shallower depths we explored some of the kelp, though stayed mostly in the rocky reef area until our air supply was up and we surfaced. It was a fantastic dive, and whetted my appetite for more northern adventures, though possibly after a purchase of a drysuit, especially as our dive took place at the end of summer when water temperatures are probably the warmest. Thanks Monterey for the memories, can’t wait to return!

Instructor Examination.

A few weekends ago I trekked up to Monterey, California to partake in the final step to becoming a Scuba Instructor through PADI. My friend and co-classmate Shane and I were driving a couple extra hundred miles because I would be out of town for the IE nearer to us the following weekend, and the next available was not until November. I’m so glad he agreed to the Monterey because it ended up being a great experience.

Here’s how it went down. We packed up Shane’s car with every Scuba related thing we owned. Books, manuals, slates, gear – new and old, odd little accessories, and a couple of tanks each. Then we threw in the odds and ends like ropes and balloons, etc…anything that might be useful during the classroom presentation. A stop at the gas station, and quick bite for lunch and we hit the road. It was a long and fairly boring drive up to San Jose where the written tests and pool sessions would take place. The I-5 runs fairly straight though California farm land, and other than some rolling hills its a wide open landscape. We got into San Jose in the evening, settled into the hotel and did some last minute review and prep for the written exams the next morning.

Bright an early we were up, grabbed a quick breakfast from the hotel (they had a waffle maker in their continental breakfast..best thing ever). We had to be at the hotel where the test was taking place by 7:00am, and we rolled in about 15 minutes before. I walked into the classroom and quickly surveyed the scene… guy, guy, guy, guy….(you get the picture). I was the only GIRL at this IE! At first it made me a little more nervous, but after about a second I went yeah, I’m that awesome. Ha. The examiner was a woman also, Gale Carli, which made me feel better, and actually she was the first ever woman to become a PADI examiner which is pretty cool. We settled in our chairs and after a brief orientation to the IE and what to expect it was test time.

There are two tests in the IE, a Standards and Practices, and a Theory exam. The S&P test is open book; you are allowed to reference your Instructor Manual and Guide to Teaching to help answer questions on ratios, and rules and administrative requirements, etc. Over all this test was straightforward and pretty easy. I sweated on a couple of questions, purely because my mind was trying to over think them, and read between the lines when I shouldn’t have. I ended up missing 2… nothing to sweat at all. The theory exams were similar to the practice tests we had taken during the IDC and our dive master exams from earlier in the year. The major difference was that there were fewer questions which meant that you could only miss 3 on each section in order to pass. Not a big deal, but I tend to make little mistakes like filling in the wrong bubble or  missing a “not” or other key word in the question and marking the opposite answer from what I should. So to counter that I made sure to read each question twice and double check any work I had on the physics problems. I then double checked every bubble against the test sheet to make sure I filled in the proper one. I felt I did well, though I had marked a couple questions in each section that I was a little unsure whether I answer correctly. When Gale came over to give me my scores for the tests her first words were, “well you almost had it.” I freaked. For about the two seconds it took for her to flip over my answer sheet, my head was going, well shit, shit, shit. I’m going to have to take the tests again. Ugh! Then the answer sheet was flipped over and I saw her smile. I missed 1… total. One question missed on the physiology section and that was it. Her “almost” referred to almost a perfect score. Phew.

The pool presentations were next, so it was off to a pool a few miles away. The session was split into two groups, half at a time. Lucky for us, everyone in Shane’s and my group showed up a little early so we got to go first. My pool skill was Alternate Air Source Use – Stationary. There were four of us total, which meant two would act as students, one would be your assistant while you acted as Instructor. Each student would be given a problem by the examiner that you had to catch and correct safely. All in all it was straightforward, and after the first guy went, I saw that the grading was going to be much more lenient that the grading I had received from Ron, Brett and William during our training. I relaxed and knew it would take a major catastrophe on my end to fail this part of the test. My skill went smoothly… Shane and I demoed the skill, I caught the mistakes, one put their alternate regulator in upside down while the other was asked to perform it correctly. My only fault was that I didn’t make enough contact with my assistant during the skill so I lost 1 point, giving me a 4.8 out of 5. I figure thats cool, because it will be rare to have an assistant in real life anyways! The second part of the pool work consisted of a skills circuit, in which we were give five skills to demo back to the examiner to show we had demonstration quality abilities. That went smoothly with 5’s for both Shane and I. Happily Shane and I headed back to the hotel with lots of time to prep our classroom presentations.

The classroom is another part of the exam that I find a bit nerve wrecking. My biggest issue is finding a “non diver training aid” that I can use effectively to teach. My subject for the presentation was on barrier use, specifically Pocket Masks. I did the best I could, and things went pretty smoothly. I wasn’t too worried because I knew that she was grading easier than I had been graded during training, and I never failed a practice presentation. I walked away from the class room part of the exam with a 4.7 out of five, which was great.

Now all that was left was the rescue assessment and ocean presentation the following morning down in Monterey. We stayed at the same hotel in San Jose, in retrospect I would have looked harder for a hotel near Monterey so that we could have had a few more hours of sleep. Instead we were up at 5:00am, to load the car, check out and drive down to Monterey, about an hour and a half away. Meeting time was 7:00am again. There was a brief run down of how the day would go, we were again split into two groups but this time everyone went together, we had Steve assisting as our examiner. One aspect of the day which made everything else 100% easier was the ocean conditions. I had been warned about Monterey… big waves, bad viz and cold water were the norm. We arrived to the Breakwater to cloudy skies, and an ocean as flat as glass. There wasn’t even a wave breaking! The water was the same temperatures we’d had all summer long as LA had been unusually cold this year and the visibility was no different from what I usually experienced in the ocean, especially once you start moving around with students in the sand and it gets silted out. All in all a good thing!

First up was the rescue assessment. For this we shed any unnecessary accessories like the surface marker buoy, slates (and I left my gloves so that I would better be able to unclasp buckles, etc). Honestly, this was probably my best “rescue” ever. I felt calm and went through each step, calling it out, and completing it well. From there we gathered up the remainder of our gear and headed out in the ocean.

The ocean portion of the exam involves a combined skill presentation, like you would do in reality. You brief the students on the two skills, reminding them how they are performed underwater, any cautions for the ocean vs. what they experienced in the pool. Underwater there is no demonstration, you just have the students perform the skill, then after there is the debriefing. For the exam I had Mask Removal, Replace and Clear followed by Rescue Assessment #4, which is Out of Air, distressed diver. Both skills went smoothly, I caught the problems… trying to clear a mask by exhaling out of the mouth, and the same problem with the out of air situation as yesterday, reg in upside down. I felt good, had a solid debriefing, and scored a 5! This was the key score because both Shane and I had been promised a new regulator (the ScubaPro A700 w/ MK25 first stage…sweet!) if we aced the ocean portion of the exam and overall did well. With that in the bag, and a successful IE under our belts we finished the exam with closing remarks, and the passing out of a certificate of completion! No one in our group failed which was great to see, and everyone was happy as we broke apart to go our separate ways.

For Shane and I we hung around in our gear to do a fun dive, then walked into town a bit, wandering through backscatter (an underwater photography store…where I drooled over cameras I can’t afford, and learned about a camera I have decided will be my next upgrade). Then we had lunch before reorganizing the car and hitting the road bound for Los Angeles.

We were now Scuba Instructors, and it felt so amazing that I have come this far with diving. Since the test, I have started to work with Eco Dive Center and I completed my first Open Water Dive class this past weekend. I had three students successfully get through every step, and are now certified divers. It really feels great to see them finish the course, then get to go off and do a fun dive on their own, coming back and talking about how much they saw and how fun it was, and just overall excited about diving.

So a big thanks to Ron and Beth and Eco who helped me get through everything this year, a major thanks to my parents for letting me get scuba certified back on a family trip in Hawaii, and thanks to Ron, Brett and William who trained both Shane and I so well that we cruised through our IE with high scores and little stress!

Scubapalooza!

Its been a long time coming, but here it is, the Catalina, Casino Point Scubapalooza recap! On June 19-20th Richard and I got up at the crack of dawn (literally, it was still dark when I pulled out of my apartment complex) to catch the Long Beach Catalina Express to catch the 6:15AM boat. I literally mean catch. Thanks to poor google directions and being about half awake I managed to miss two exits, get turned around, end up almost back in San Pedro, making it onto the boat with less than 5 minutes to spare.

We got to Avalon around 8:00am, had some delicious breakfast at Joes diner, checked into the hotel then went off in search of Scuba Luv to pick up a pair of Nitrox tanks. We had decided to dive nitrox that weekend, because our plan was to get as many dives in as possible. Nitrox would allow us to dive more, because we’d be absorbing less nitrogen (Why its Great!). We discovered just how long the walk around the harbor from the boat to Casino Point can really seem!

The weather was sunny and warm, and the water is calm. I discovered how to use the stairs at low tide, where you can’t easily wade into the water, because they end before you get wet! A gentle fall on your side splashes you into the ocean without hitting the bottom and tearing up the grasses and reef! We dove to the right, we dove to the left, we dove down into the depths finding the glass bottom boat, the swim platform, both the Jacques Cousteau and La Cruzado Plaques! In the middle we took a long lunch break with some delicious pasta (funny how hungry you get while diving!) Then it was back in the water, where the diving was great, the viz was good, not the best though, but still good. As night  fell we relaxed watching the sun set before donning our gear one last time for a night dive.

A warm shower, and delicious fancy meal and a few drinks, we headed back to the hotel where Richard promptly fell asleep, snoring from the other side of the room. I watched part of a movie on my computer then it was off to dreamland myself. The next morning it was new tanks, we didn’t feel like paying the extra cash for nitrox and decided since it was day two and we weren’t doing as many dives, we’d just do air…hell, we could sleep on the boat on the way home. In retrospect, I would have dove nitrox… it was amazing just how tired you are after 5 dives! It’d definitely worth the extra cash. Diving was good again and we explored further on each side of the park, revisiting several parts we had liked the day before. We ended a little early so we could rinse off, change and pack up the gear. A large root beer float was a nice ending to the day before piling back onto the Catalina Express and reality on the mainland.

Check out our adventure!