Stellar Visibility.

I have dived the Oil Rigs off the coast of Long Beach several times now. In fact it is one of my favorite dives. The three dimensional structure differs from any reef or kelp forest. Its a mix of a bluewater dive and wreck dive. There is no floor (at least not one that you can see within the recreational limits), and you can find all sorts of pelagic life that floats or swims through the rigs. The beams themselves are covered with soft corals, anenomes and a variety of macro life. Fish and Sea Lions call the rigs home, so there is never a shortage of awesome things to see.

Last weekend I dove the rigs again, and experienced probably the best rig dives I’ve ever had. The visibility was amazing, more than 60ft… could even have been up to 80ft. I saw one Mola Mola swim by outside the rigs, and near the surface we were completely surrounded by a giant school of small fish. Often the rigs are cleaned near the surface, sometimes all the way down to 50ft, but this was not the case here. The growth on the upper beams was less, but there was still growth. The weather was warm, the sun came out, and when one of my strobes died on the second dive I decided to take some video. With only 1 light, the color is not the best, but the OM-D takes great quality video and I was very pleased with how this turned out. Enjoy the glimpse of my latest great diving adventure!

Blast from the Past.

Wow, it’s been more than a month since I’ve graced you with my web presence, and truthfully it’s now been more than a month since I’ve been in the ocean (well unless you count the many times I’ve been swimming in it lately, but really it does not compare). Life has been busy, I went home and visited my Mom, traveled up to Mammoth to hike and bike with my friend Amy, worked in the scuba shop, have done some pool teaching days, ¬†been making cakes and running around training for my next triathlon. So again, Constant Reader (there’s at least one of you checking each day and yes I stole that phrase from Stephen King) sorry for my absence from the internets. I promise I’ll be back enforce soon. Summer is coming, which means hopefully the return of AMPM diving… I just need my dive buddy’s knee to heal!

However, in the mean time here’s a blast from the past. Its the most solid influence for why I am here today, teaching, shooting pictures and truly loving the underwater world. In 2006, three years after getting my first taste of diving before returning to the dry wasteland of the Tucson desert (well not true, the Sonoran Desert is really, really beautiful), I found an internship out in Hawaii that would a) get me diving again, and b) allow me to practice and learn more about shooting underwater. Immediately I contacted them, and applied. I was accepted (only after I assured them that my knowledge of video and editing (I was a film major after all) would not give me a chip on my shoulder, and I would be eager to learn their process and practices. In addition I applied for a scholarship offered through the Media Arts College and received one, getting almost everything but the airfare covered (my amazing parents covered the rest). Let me re-phrase this… I was able to get my school to pay for me to go diving. I was stoked.

At the end of June I traveled to Hawaii, fitted with a new set of gear (some borrowed from my Uncle, some newly purchased…his gift to me, as he loves diving and was excited to see me getting involved more with it). I met up with Martina and Jim, the owners of Dolphin Dreams Images. Jim is a professional underwater photographer and videographer, who has had images and videos in many different magazines and assisted with several national geographic and other video shoots in Hawaii. Their primary business though is to film tourists on the popular Manta Ray night dives and Dolphin Ohana snorkel adventures. They sell the DVDs and photos to divers, and we the interns assist them with every facet of the operation. During the trip I would earn my Advanced Open Water certification, as well as Nitrox and a Manta Ray Diver specialty. I learned a TON about Manta Rays through giving the Manta Eco talk at the Sheraton some evenings, a trade in which we gave the talk to hotel guests who would come out to watch the mantas dance gracefully near the surface, swooping in and out of the beam from the large light they have shooting into the water to attract plankton (which then attracts the rays). In return we were allowed to use their shallow pool to offer intro to scuba to anyone interested. This was my first experience in a teaching situation, and I found I loved it. Those few days in the pool are really what put the idea of pursuing scuba into my mind.

In the evenings we assisted with all the scuba and camera gear set up, and would drive this ancient and awesome old suv down to the boat, and assist with getting the gear loaded and ready to go. If we were diving with them that night, we’d stick around. If not, we’d head into town and grab some food, the return to give the Manta talk. On days that we were diving, we would get to experience the dive just like the normal tourists, or sometimes even help out with the video duties. I remember the first night that Martina asked me to lead. Its a simple out and back dive, but I was SO nervous. It was night, pitch black and I’d never lead a dive before…surprisingly we all survived. One evening at the north site (by the airport…Garden Eel Cove (by day), we had 17 manta rays show up. It was insanity, Mantas were everywhere. The line up was: Alexander, Doug, Timbuktu, Knight, Big Bertha (who was pregnant and is the largest one they know of at 16ft), Lefty, Rebekah, Isabel, Wyland, Who Ray, X-Ray, Cousteau, Curly, Sugar Ray, Kaulani, Bob-n-Ray and Miki. This was definitely the best dive of the trip, and is a dive that I will remember forever.

Late at night after the Manta we’d digitize the tapes, and edit the dive down into a nice video with music to be mailed out or delivered to the hotel of the folks who purchased a DVD. In the mornings, when we went out of the Dolphin Ohana, a snorkeling adventure that caught up with the pod of dolphins slowly cruising back to a large bay after a night of hunting. They would chill and swim around in the bay, half awake while dozens of snorkelers got an up close view of the animals that many people only see in theme parks. Again, we assisted with any gear, helped out on the boat, and talked with the customers, assisting them if needed. After just like at night, we’d set up a small TV so that they could see the video as they left the boat, and could purchase a DVD or pictures that we would be editing that afternoon once we got back to the boat.

In addition to all my intern duties, we had chances to go diving for fun from the beach, and a couple of times out on the boat of one of the folks that Martina and Jim know and work with. I got to explore all over the Kona area, going into and making it out of several awesome lava tubes, hunting octopus and eels and other elusive creatures that hide out in the coral. We had days off where we could go into town and shop, relax, hang out at the beach, do just about anything we wanted…

Two of my weekends out there I was able to take off with some of the other interns and explore. On one occasion we rented a jeep and drove around the entire big island, stopping at the black sand beaches, hiking out along lava beds to where the Volcano is currently erupting (this was an adventure in itself as we didn’t plan and ended up hiking in flip flops, with no water or flashlights for the nighttime return back…and FYI lava is sharp!). We slept in the jeep when we discovered the campground was full, the showered in a cool river in the jungle like flora of Hilo before nearly tipping the jeep off a cliff as we traveled tiny single track roads to nowhere. We watched surfers on the beach, and drove through a crazy rainstorm before we emerged on the back side of the Big Island. Continuing around we found our planned campsite had been “bought out” for a family reunion, so once again, we found a deserted area and slept in the car. We spent the day on pristine beaches snorkeling and napping, before driving back into Kona to return the jeep and go back to interning in paradise.

On the other weekend I flew over to Oahu. We stopped at Pearl Harbor, but missed the chance to get over to the USS Arizona. From there we wandered Waikiki, then the next morning drove across the small island for a shark encounter, a snorkel adventure in a cage with sharks swimming all around. It was AMAZING. From there we continued our exploration of Oahu by taking the scenic route and driving the coast around, stopping at a variety of beaches and locations until we got back to Honolulu and the airport to fly “home” to the Big Island.

All in all this internship was one of the best experiences of my life, and I would definitely say is was a big influence into my decision to pursue a profession with scuba. Enjoy the slideshow below of many of my pictures from the trip! If you want to read more in detail, I kept a little blog/journal of the trip, updating each day:¬†http://billytheplatypus.blogspot.com/ (the last post is first, so click on the archives and start with the oldest entry to follow in succession…)

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Champagne Toast (and more oil rigs!).

As I mentioned in my previous post on the second dive of the oil rigs Jessica brought along a little bottle of champagne for an underwater toast to my 100th dive! She just finished editing an awesome video of the day, and it includes a shot of my taking a nice swig of champagne while getting checked out by a curious sea lion. I’m not going to lie, while a bit salty, it was really entertaining to drink a little bubbly underwater with a sea lion! How many people can say they’ve done that? Enjoy the video, its fantastic! (Thanks to Jessica for letting me share!) The champagne toast is at the end of the video, but watch out for her amazing shot of one of the Salp colonies, its my favorite!

Diving the Oil Rig Eureka.

When I tell some of my non-diver friends that I am heading off to dive an oil rig this weekend I often get weird looks and questions like, “why would you want to do that?”, “what is there to see on an oil rig?” Well, for those who haven’t experienced it, the answer is quite a lot.

We dive the oil rigs off of Long Beach, CA. They sit in about 700 feet of water, so unlike most dives, where you can at least see the bottom contour, or follow along a rock shelf, you are completely in blue water and keeping control of your depth is very important. The dives are deep, and sometimes there can be currents (though I’ve lucked out with two years worth of good calm oil rig trips). Due to these reasons the oil rig dives are considered advanced (and if you ever needed one, are a perfect reason to take the advanced course!)

I love diving the oil rigs because they offer an experience unlike any other. The boat ride is short; they pull up close to the rig and as many people as possible plunge into the ocean and swim away from the boat. Often there is a pause in off loading divers so the boat can reposition itself to avoid drifting into the rig. Its all bit chaotic and rushed, buts it’s exciting. Once off the boat you swim inside the rig structure (being careful to mind the swell so it doesn’t push your head right up into a large beam). Then the boat drives away! It doesn’t go far, but it can’t anchor to anything and has to keep a safe distance from the rig. After grouping up with your buddies you descend straight down into the abyss. Depth for these dives is totally up to each diver, you can go all the way down to the recreational limits if you wanted. On Saturday we decided that we would go down as deep as we could until either someone got narc’ed and wanted to stop, or we reached 130′. Having never been narc’ed (though I’ve been deep – to 125′ before) I was curious if this would be the dive. It surely was. We dropped down fairly quickly and as soon as we hit around 112′ my heart started thumping and I realized that I felt funny. We kept going down and at 117′ it was too much, I was giddy, excited, could not stop smiling, then actually started to laugh out loud for a little bit before my higher brain function took over and said, “Hey Kelli, you’re totally narc’ed! Pay attention, mind your depth, how’s your air, stay focused!” For those who don’t know, being “narc’ed” is encountering Nitrogen Narcosis, which is an overload of nitrogen in your system that occurs from breathing excess nitrogen due to increased pressure in your breathing gas during a deep dive. It’s really non-life threatening, mostly makes you feel drunk, silly or impaired in some way. My buddy Beck, got very anxious and tenses up when narc’ed, while I went all giddy and couldn’t stop smiling. Anyways, after this realization I gave Beck, Jessica and Bryan signals to say, I’m narc’ed! Lets level out here, I don’t want to go any deeper!

Once we reached that depth, all that was left was to go back up. So we started our ascent, and really our dive. As we slowly ascended back through the structure we swam around, over, and through the various metal crossings, and beams. Everything was absolutely covered with life. Corals and anemones covered every inch of the structure. Sea fans grew, and brittle stars lay in bunches on top of other growth. Hiding in holes and crevasses of the corals and anemones were small fish that would dart in and out as you got near. Large fish rested on the beams as well, or swam around inside the structure. We encountered huge schools of baitfish swimming through, and sea lions would glide down from the surface, effortlessly moving around us before bolting back up.

The oil rigs are probably one of the most surreal dives I’ve experienced, as you watch the large beams that plunge into the depths and the giant cross sections that support those beams all materialize as you near them. Hazy shapes take form as you slowly ascend back towards them. The whole dive is really mysterious and completely unique.

I saw several new creatures on these two dives. We encountered several colonies of Salps. A salp is typically a barrel shaped, free floating tunicate (underwater, saclike filter feeder). They float along in the ocean, move by contracting and pumping water through its body, which it also feeds off of. I saw two, possibly three different types. One was a long chain, at least 5-7′ of small tubes all joined together. It would curl and uncurl as it floated along. The other was a series of three rings joined together with golden parts inside, and the third, if even a salp, looked like a single organism and was almost fish shaped. It moved along with the use of one larger fin that swung back and forth over its body.

This year, these two dives happened to fall on a big milestone for me. Dive #99 and #100 were my two oil rig dives. I’ve now hit triple digits in my number of dives and to celebrate, my friend Jessica brought a small bottle of champagne down in her BCD pocket. During our safety stop around 15′ she pulled it out and popped the cork. We each took a nice big swig, doing our best to block the opening with our finger in an attempt to keep out as much sea water as possible. It was awesome, and to cap it all off, we had a very curious sea lion that kept swimming down to our group and checking out what we were doing. I tried to offer him some champagne, but he wasn’t really interested.

Our day had started with another rare event, Blue Whale sightings just off our bow. There were several whales surfacing in the channel, so the boat stopped and we watched from a distance as these majestic creatures slowly rose up, took a nice big breath, and dropped back below the surface. We were lucky on the return to run into the whales again, much closer this time and watched them rise and fall in the water, their smooth backs gliding out of sight each time they dropped back down. It was my first time seeing a Blue Whale, and they really are as big as all the books say! It was insane to see something that big with my own eyes.

I could not have asked for a better 100th dive, and even got to celebrate with the entire boat on the way back, as Jessica pulled another full size bottle of champagne, some orange juice and plastic cups from the cooler and poured mimosas for everyone, she then raised her glass in celebration of my dive, and everyone followed suit. It was great.

Pool Session

I’m working to finish off my Dive Master certification by the end of June. After getting back from Hawaii, I jumped into the pool on Saturday to assist with Jessica’s second weekend Open Water class. The class went really smoothly and I mainly was in charge of crowd control, keeping the students in line and together (they tend to drift across the pool if you don’t keep tabs on them). I helped Jessica demonstrate mask removal and swimming with no mask, one of the skills the students had to perform. Lou was there with a new toy, the BladeFish which is a new fancy DPV that is compact (really it looks just like my house fan, only without the base!). It was fun to watch him scooting around in the water, but with the noises echoing off the pool walls that thing was LOUD!

Lawrence was also there helping Lou make a video of the new toy, and he put together a little video of the various instructors working with students. Take a look and get an idea of what the SCUBA pool sessions are all about!