Mostly written 2021-06-19, a few notes later
First, I want to make an apology to anyone reading this who expects something actually coherent. I've been up since 5:20a this morning, and am currently writing at 11:11p, after getting home less than an hour ago. But today was, at least to me, an truly wonderful day, and one that I'd like to have something written down about so I can recall, and maybe someone else can get a smile out of it. Who knows? So, stream of consciousness with functionally zero editing, here we come!
Like I said, I got up this morning at around 5:20a. I didn't get much sleep the night last night; not only was I doing things like laundry pretty late, I found out at approximately 11:30p that I'd begun to cede territory to a small invasion of Argentinian ants in a corner of my bedroom. After claiming an initial victory (hopefully reinforced by my purchase of additional battlements (i.e. RAID spray)), I manage to get to sleep around 1:00a, although calling the next ~4 hours of sleep properly fitful probably isn't the most accurate statement.
Anyway, woke up, made a cup of decaf coffee for the road (caffeine on road or field days is a bad idea), put my wetsuit (which had been doing a final dry indoors overnight) along with some water and snacks, tossed it all in the back of my car, and started heading over to Isla Vista. I did most of the packing last night, so the overwhelming majority of my gear was already in the car, along with a tarp set-up across one of the folded down back seats to help lessen the mess after we were done (did thi help? Only will time will tell after I can open up the car tomorrow and examine things in daylight). Included in that gear was my brand-new Steel-100 tank, which I used for the first time today. I thought it was going to be heavier than it ended up being, and being able to remove some weight from my weight belt was nice.
Anyway, I got on the road, and made my way over to Lizzi's house in IV, where she, Nikko, and I had planned on meeting at around 6:00a. Lizzi and Nikko are other divers that I got to know through while taking the scientific diving course at UCSB. We'd also met the year before when we'd initially started the course, although it ended up getting disrupted because of COVID. I like them. We wanted to beat LA traffic on the way there, so an early start was the way to go. I'm getting sleepy, so terse sentences coming up: Lizzi's house has a cute dog. Nikko was little late. We drove, and I took a wrong exit, so we needed to take a quick detour to get back on the 101 South. We stopped for breakfast near Laguna at a place called "Kitchen in the Canyon" (?). It was good, especially their potatoes; we all had different types, and all of them were excellent.
So at this point, we got to Laguna Beach, and navigated to near Shaw's Cove, our dive spot for the day. We found a (bad) parking spot near the walkway down to the beach, and trotted down to take a quick peak. There were two dive groups that passed us on the way in; we took that as a sign that conditions were going to be pretty good, although both groups did mention that it was a bit surge-y (Narrator: it was a bit surge-y).
After climbing up, we got back in the car and drove over to the dive shop, Beach Cities Scuba to do air fills for both Lizzi and Nikko. Lizzi's fill for a Steel-75 took all of 5 minutes, but apparently Nikko's tank turned out to be out of visual inspection, so he had to rent an Aluminum-80 instead. As a complete aside, the woman running the dive shop that afternoon had eyes that were an absolutely stunning shade of azure. It's that's kind of fitting for someone who makes a living on dives in water that is itself a particularly pretty aquamarine-like hue. Anyway, after packing up the car, we went to go find another parking spot near the walkway, and ended up driving around for 15 minutes in circles until we managed to find one heck of a spot on a quiet street just around the corner from the entrance to the Cove. On the way out, after pulling out to let in a black Mustang, a white Tesla would brazenly (dangerously?) cut in while the Mustang was in the process of backing into the spot. One of the more blatantly petty and selfish acts I've seen someone commit recently (granted, I haven't interacted with too many people in the last year or so because of a global pandemic, but still).
Anyway, after parking, we set up our gear, and got set to carry everything down to the water, which ended up being a much easier walk than I expected--certainly easier than carrying gear up/down the cliffside at Arroyo Quemado. This time around, I took the solid key for my car and looped it into the the whistle line in my pocket, and locked the normal ones in the car. Besides necessitating a quick retrieval after the alarm goes off when unlocking it, I think that practice went pretty well, although I think maybe I should figure out some other system just in case. Anyway, things would have been good to go at the beach, except I literally forgot my fins and had to scamper back to car to grab them. Not a huge detour, but certainly an eyeroll moment. After another quick gear and dive plan review, we were ready to get into the water. To go along with surge, the surf was noticeably large today, so we had to time getting out through it pretty quickly. Fortunately, none of us had any issues with it on the way out. After a quick surface swim, we dropped down the bottom, which was somewhere around 20' of gorgeously clear water with a blue tinge and got our bearings, then began to follow the wall along the right side of the cove out to the main reef.
And the reef was positively gorgeous. This was actually my first dive that wasn't in the Santa Barbara Channel or at the Channel Islands. I'm not sure what quite sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. First, I was shocked by how clean everything seemed. That may sound silly, but I'm feel like I'm used to more kelp; more detritus, more mud, more silt. Conversely, this reef had an almost pristine sand flat surrounding it offshore (save for some sand ripples), and the transitioned to rock and plant life, with a bit of macrocystis in various spots, although hardly as the cornerstone of the ecosystem, I think, like one typically finds in the kelp forests of the coast of Santa Barbara. There were an enormous number of shells, however, of all sorts and in various levels of intactness, to the point where the bottom in much of the reef was really just a jumble of shell fragments rather than sand in most places. There were a lot of big fish; sheepshead, kelp bass, and more Garibaldi than I've ever seen in one place, including a bunch of colorful juveniles. At one point, I collected a set of nine mussel shells, and Nikko and I began a game of tic-tac-toe, with turning the shells in different directions to indicate our pieces. Unfortunately, the surge cut the game short after a few moves, with all the shells getting swept away.
The reef itself is a small maze of passages, arches, and crevices. Many of these are large enough to allow a few divers to pass through comfortably, but there are a fair number of spots where only a single diver can pass through an area at any given time. Most of those bottlenecks are fairly short; even as someone without overhead-environment training (and who pays attention to that), I felt pretty comfortable working my way through those areas; both of Nikko and Lizzi later said they felt exactly the same way. The surge was actually a little fun in places like this; in part because the visibility was so good, we could sometimes see the surges coming before we actually experienced them. There's a Garibaldi about 15 feet away that suddenly gets pulled out of its nook? Waitwaitwait--and there it is! Timing it right with a big kick meant you could almost get shot through some of the passages, which was pretty fun.
After some more exploration, per our initial dive plan, we decided to surface to plan a second, slightly shorter dive. After kicking offshore a little bit to stay clear of the reef at the surface, we all had enough air to want to head back down. Unfortunately, this was delayed a bit, as during the initial descent, one of my ears had some trouble equalizing. We came back up, kicked around a little, and after moving my jaw around a bit and making a slower descent with particular attention to the equalization process, I was able to stay down without any pain. We made our way in, then surfaced a bit off to the side of the cove in order to get back to the beach.
Getting onto the beach was a bit of an adventure, as the swell had come up on our way in. Before trying to come in through the surf zone, everyone made sure that our regs were in our mouths. This was a particular good call--while working our way in, a particularly large set came through, and bowled everyone over. I was pretty fortunate--I was able to keep my reg in my mouth, and I had already put my mask around my neck and taken my fins off, so I was able to land on my feet after a small tumble. Both Nikko and Lizzi were a little less lucky, and got knocked down while being washed onto the beach. After landing and taking stock, I saw that one of them was doing alright, while the other had landed on their knees and had their fins trapped underneath themselves, making getting up a trick. Luckily, the beach's lifeguard (how awesome is it to have a lifeguard on a beach??) had seen the whole thing coming (apparently other divers had been seeing the same thing all day), and was right on site to help me lift our friend up and get them back on their feet. No harm done, and everyone safe, but I'm grateful they were there--it took what could have been a potentially dangerous situation and increased both the safety and comfort. Not that he'll probably ever read this, but he did exactly what he needed, and it was really appreciated.
That was it for the dive! On the way back, we stopped for lunch and donuts (and maybe had Conor McGregor bike by while we were doing that?), and then took the scenic route up the coast back through Malibu, then finished the entire day off by getting ice cream and watching the sunset at Goleta Beach. All things said and done, one of my favorite days in a long time.