As a life long resident of Southern California, beach diving is an activity that I find readily available, fun and relatively "FREE". California offers 1,100 miles (1,770km) of golden shore line, making is quit easy to find water to explore in. Conditions can vary with water temperatures between the low 40's to the mid 70's and surface activities ranging from 20' waves to flat, lake like conditions. A nook exists just south of Santa Barbara, offering a fair amount of protection against weather related sea conditions coming out of the north. Eight Islands lay just west to south west of the coast between Santa Barbara and San Diego. These islands provide further protection against oceans swells and are great locations to dive as well. This makes Southern California a prime location for diving, an opportunity that I really appreciate.
California
Beach diving entries can be a bit tricky, especially when a diver carries a lot of equipment. Before rushing into the water it's best to watch the ocean activities for a while and get a good idea of the best approach. Waves often come into the shore in sets. Between these sets is known as the lull. Counting the number of waves in each set will help a diver time their entry. Timing the lull gives divers an idea of how much time they have to get in and past the surf zone before the next set of waves come in.

The "Surf Zone" is the area between where the waves begin to build and the highest point that water washes up on shore. This surf zone is the most vulnerable area for a beach diver. When times properly, a diver can get through this area before the next set of waves roll in. Stopping to but gear on exposes the diver to being "Creamed" and possibly loose gear or more.

Here Bryan and I enter for a scooter dive just behind a rocky outcropping. This provided protection from the incoming waves on the other side of the rocks. Many divers throughout the world do not acquire thorough training in beach diving entries and exits. Dive shops along the California Coast are capable of offering this sort of training for visiting divers.

Bryan Thompson and John Walker Carmel Beach scooter diverock hazard sign

Waves and rocks become an addition to any risk assessment that divers should make in preparation for beach diving. I like to look at reports of local conditions before heading out to the beach for a dive. After arriving, I will watch the surface conditions for a while and look for potential contingency exit points, should conditions change. A diver should "NEVER" enter the water if they are second guessing themselves. The mood has already been set. And never give in to peer pressure to make the dive. Live to dive another day. Wait for a day that if flat calm. You have little investment in the days dive other than fuel money to get to the beach.

Beach Dive crawl
Here diver are learning how to beach dive. Standing up with fins on in the surf zone exposes a diver to being hammered by waves. The "beach crawl" is favorable when surf is present. During a "beach crawl" the regulator stays in your mouth and all gear is in place as though the diver is still diving. If a diver were to get hit by a wave, they will still be able to swim in or out and best of all, they can still breathe. Standing up in the surf zone and removing gear exposes the diver to a potentially disastrous situation if a wave were to come through.

sea urchinsJim Hoffman feeds garabaldi
In the early 1980's a weather disruption called an El Nino Effect hit Southern California. This raised the local oceans temperatures to near 80 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a nice change as topical species began to inhabit our waters, but what was soon realized is that our natural resources such as kelp was dying and native species were moving northward. California is famous for its lush kelp forest and they were quickly missed. Seasonal changes eventually lowered water temperature but an increasing population of Echinoideans, such as sea stars and particularly sea urchins, were devouring the new kelp before it could grow. 25 years later, we are beginning to see the kelp beds return to the beaches of Southern California. But since then, human population has increased, along with excessive nitrates levels being introduced in our waters. With any luck, our kelp beds will fill in and become the lush, vibrant habitats that they once were.

Marine life can vary from beach to beach. Many species of fish, invertebrate and plants can make up a reef community. These residents will have a symbiotic relationship that keeps a complex ecosystem existing. Hunting and collecting can greatly impact a reef community. These are fragile environments and can be ruined by the uneducated intruder. Most divers will dive to see and interact with the marine life in a positive way. Destroying it only detracts from our sport and we should all share in the responsibility of preserving it he best we can.

Bat RayJim Hoffman feeds moray eel

The California Sea Lion is one of our more famous residents on California beaches and rockeries. They are highly intelligent marine mammal and sometimes interact with divers. They can grow in excess of 600 lbs and swim like acrobats. At times, sea lions will give a diver a mild nip of affection during play time. Larger sea lions, particularly bulls, like to stay to themselves. It's best to let sea lions come to you rather than you go to them. Divers should never approach a seal lion during mating season. They are generally friendly animals but they are still wild animals, capable of biting. I have never heard of anyone suffering a violent bit while minding their own business.

Sea Lions

There are many great beach dives along California's coast. Divers Cove in Laguna Beach is one of my favorites. It is making a slow comeback from El Nino's havoc and I'm looking forward to many years of good diving to come. Divers Cove is a game preserve when accessed from the beach. This makes it a great place to dive with plenty of marine life, well tempered waters and reasonable protection from ocean swells. Laguna Beach plays host to many other nice diving locations as well. This map shows several of the beaches and street access to them.

laguna beach dive sites
Image borrowed from Laguna Pages


Disclaimer:
This site is NOT intended to teach anyone how they should dive. It is simply reflecting on what I have done and continue to do and is my opinion only. Proper dive training should be gained before attempting anything involving the use of a Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA).