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!