ADP Journal: Weekend #4

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 10:52 am

We pulled up to the parking lot at Nicholas Canyon in Malibu at 7:30am Saturday morning, and wandered to the edge of the hill to check out the waves below. The original plan was to dive right below the parking lot: there’s a rocky area to the left and sand to the right, so we could practice both types of entry. However, the surf was up (as in, big red letters saying “HIGH SURF ADVISORY” on the LA County beach website), rendering the rocky entry too risky. The sandy entry would have been do-able (and by do-able, I mean for crazy ADP people; not for divers just out for fun). But it was chock full of surfers: several dozen crowded the area. I was amazed at how rarely they ran into each other, but it seemed unwise to throw a bunch of divers into the mix as well.

A semi-paved path headed downhill to the west, out to more sandy beach. Some mild rip currents were muddying the waters out there, and making for less-perfect waves, so it was surfer-free. That’s where we decided to dive.

The surf… well, like I said, it was up. Kevin described it as 3′-5′ surf, but I’m pretty sure I saw some 6 and 7 foot faces. Whatever: they were big. On the plus side, there was both a long period between waves during sets (15 seconds or so), and nice long lulls of smaller waves between the big sets. With timing, it was totally do-able.

We all put on our skin gear (except for a few safety divers on scuba) and went for it. Well, mostly we stood around waiting for the lulls.


After the last big wave of a set had crashed, the next batch of divers would start crabbing sideways into the water, and flop onto our stomachs to start kicking as soon as possible. I made it out without incident (hooray!), and we started the long surface swim to reach a decent depth to set the floats.

After floats had been anchored, it was time to head back in. This is actually the scariest part for me. When you’re going out into the water, you always have the option of bailing and heading back to shore. But once you’re past those breakers… well, now you don’t have any option. You have to go through the surf zone to get back out.

My buddy and I took our time finning back towards the beach, and relaxed on the far side of the surf zone, bobbing on the swell. We faced out to sea, keeping an eye on the swells coming in and waiting for it to get flat, indicating the next lull.

When we were reasonably sure we weren’t about to get smacked by one of those 7-footers, we fired up our fins. Even the small waves had a decent amount of power when they broke right behind you, so everyone came out on hands and knees to avoid getting knocked on their faces.

The downside of crawling out of the water? You drag your equipment through the sand. I apparently managed to get some pretty serious sand inside the inflator hose on my BC, because when I hooked it up to a tank for my scuba dive, it stuck every time I tried to put a little air in. (Resulting in it adding more and more and more air until the BC gets overfilled and vents out the emergency valve.)


We tried rinsing it, we tried whacking it, we tried to take it apart. No luck. A few folks tried to convince me that I could just orally inflate, but I wasn’t really up to that level of task-loading on a high-surf beach dive! We were going to be doing navigation exercises in 1-foot visibility: I didn’t want to be worrying about taking my regulator out of my mouth every time I needed to add a little air to my BC, something I’ve only recently begun practicing in the pool. I guess I should practice doing it on my next easy boat dive, just to get more comfortable for when this happens again.

So, once again, I sat out the actual beach dive. I made myself useful by hiking back up the hill to retrieve water, snacks, and my camera, so I could record others getting their asses kicked by waves.

Not one of the biggest ones:

Once again, I tried not to totally waste my time: I played a bit near the surf zone with Kevin. Both of us got whacked pretty good by some of the larger rocks that were getting knocked around, and built up some really impressive collections of pebbles in our wetsuits and booties.

As the divers finally headed back into shore, I pitched in where I could: yelling “wave!”, helping to take off fins, grabbing floats from divers as they hauled them through the surf. I was pretty bummed about missing the dive, even though it sounds like I didn’t miss much.

Then it was back up the hill again and time to eat. That’s something all divers are pretty darned good at.

Rinsing out my gear at home that evening, I was astounded at how many pebbles worked their way into nooks and crannies of my BC. (Not to mention sand, but at least that eventually goes down the drain.) I basically brought home a few pounds of beach – and I didn’t even actually dive. Yikes!

More pics here: Nicholas Canyon


ADP Journal: Weekend #3

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 2:34 pm

This week in ADP went a bit better than last. First of all, I’d had an additional two weeks to get comfortable in the water (thanks to some extracurricular pool and ocean sessions with Ray). But the main reason was probably just that conditions were nicer. (That, and I refused to humiliate myself by wussing out again!)

Our second beach dive was at White Point, a south-facing beach on the Palos Verdes peninsula.

Those arrows show our approximate path. Here’s what we did:

  • Point A: We had the choice of doing a fins-on or fins-off entry here over cobblestones and rocks. The 1-2 foot surf made this a pretty simple matter, though I realize it would have made me pretty nervous once upon a time.
  • Point B: The first order of business was to swim over to this rocky promontory and practice “washing on” and “washing off” the rocks. (Did anyone else just have a little Mr. Miyagi moment?) Aside from the fact that my washing-on turned into more of a washing-off when I let go of my handhold at a bad moment, this went fine. Next, we took turns towing our buddies over to Point C (my team left everyone else in the dust!)
  • Point C was where all the real fun happened! First we tried another wash-on/off, this time onto a little step halfway up a steep rock. Basically you just let a wave deposit you up there – much easier than it sounds. Then, we got to play around “shooting the channels.” You can just barely make out a series of crevices in the satellite image: deep channels in the rocks that turn into shallow tidepools. A skin diver (wearing a wetsuit and gloves) can ride the swell in and then back out, and go for quite a ride in these channels. Kind of like a waterslide, but with more rocks. Our instructor pointed out that water never goes THROUGH rock, so you don’t really have to worry about getting creamed by a rock as long as you flow along with the water. Still, it’s a good idea to keep your hands in front of your face.
  • Nothing too exciting happened at D. We waited for everyone to catch up, and practiced freediving down to the bottom.
  • Point E was our exit spot for the skin dive, and also our entry for the SCUBA portion of the day.

Strangely, I have very little to say about the actual SCUBA portion of the day. It was supposed to be a navigation exercise, using floats and transect lines to form points and edges along squares and triangles. But it turned into a bit of a cluster-you-know-what due to missing anchors, tangled lines, and miscommunication. My buddy and I tried to do some squares and triangles on our own, only to discover that people on the surface were moving the float around that we’d used as a fixed point.

We had a nice dive on our way back into shore, though, and got a chance to see White Point’s characteristic thermal vents. Huge white bacterial mats form on the rocks next to the vents, and sometimes you can feel the temperature change (though not, apparently, through gloves).

In the afternoon, we all gathered in the picnic area for our first ADP picnic, a Carribean-themed BBQ. I somehow talked Jeff into driving down for this, despite the hour or more that he had to sit in traffic to get to Palos Verdes. Next time I make him come, I’ll also make him take pictures, so that my ADP blog entries aren’t so boring-looking.


ADP Journal: Weekend #2

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 9:54 am

I’m going to start by talking about Sunday, because I liked Sunday the best. It started off with four hours in the pool, during which I continued my ass-kicking even though I was frequently freaked out by what we were asked to do!

Scary Skill #1: Skin Ditch and Recovery (D&R)

  • Put on weight belt, fins, mask/snorkel
  • Dive down to the bottom of the pool (10′)
  • Remove fins, remove mask/snorkel. Remove weight belt and use to hold down everything else.
  • Surface. Catch breath.
  • Dive down to bottom. Put weight belt on lap to hold you down.
  • Put on mask and clear it
  • Put on fins
  • Buckle weight belt
  • Head towards the surface, clearing snorkel en route
  • Surface wearing all gear, with no water in mask or snorkel


So I started slow, working on just doing the mask part. This required a certain confidence that my contacts would not float off my eyeballs if I opened my eyes in the pool, and luckily, they didn’t disappoint me. It took two or three nerve-wracking tries, but I finally relaxed enough to be able to dive down, put on the mask, exhale into it to clear the water, and still have breath left to clear the snorkel.

Then I worked my way through removing/replacing one fin, and finally both. I was all set to try removing the weight belt as well (making the second dive down a bit harder, since I’d be buoyant), but we ran out of time. I got farther than the rest of my group, though, and I’m pretty sure I can nail this one with a bit more practice.

The next breathholding skill was a lift bag exercise, also in 10′ of water. An empty water bottle was attached to a 10 lb weight on the surface. In the pool, we let water into the bottle to sink it to the bottom, with just enough air left at the top of it so it would float above the weight. Then everyone took turns diving down, removing their snorkel, and exhaling into the water bottle until it became buoyant enough to lift the weight.

A few hardy folks managed to do this on one breath; I took two, but apparently had good form (didn’t lose any air outside the bottle), so I guess my lungs just aren’t as big as some people.

Finally we moved on to SCUBA skills. And that brings us to…

Scary Skill #2: SCUBA Bailouts

  • Assemble SCUBA gear, but don’t put it on. Turn air off.
  • Hook fins and mask over your right arm, weight belt over your left.
  • Use both hands to grab the tank/BC assembly while standing at the edge of the pool.
  • Lift up and step off into the water.
  • Sink to bottom (10′) – don’t forget to equalize. Like I did. Ouch.
  • Put regulator in mouth. (Upside down is fine, as I proved, as long as you fix it later). Turn on air. Catch breath.
  • Drape weight belt across lap to keep you stable on the bottom.
  • Hold tank/bc assembly in place between your knees.
  • Put on fins.
  • Put on mask and clear it (at last, you can see).
  • Put arms through BC, and lift up and over your head to fall into place on your back. Untangle snorkel as it snags.
  • Cinch straps on BC.
  • Roll into weight belt.
  • Show the divemaster how much air you have.
  • Make a controlled ascent.

I was the first one in my group to try this, and although my instructor had loads of constructive criticism for me, he gave me an overall thumbs-up. (And I was the only one in my group who didn’t have to do it at least twice to satisfy him.)

So Sunday morning was basically about ignoring my fear and taking the plunge, and I got a pretty good ego boost out of succeeding at these skills – a sorely-needed ego boost, after what happened Saturday.

Let us now rewind to Saturday: the first beach dive in ADP, scheduled at Redondo.

We all arrived at Veterans Park at 7:30 and looked down at the surf. It was pounding. The size of the waves were what I would consider to be seriously borderline for diving – doable, but no fun whatsoever. And there were occasional extra-big sets that would really give you a pounding. But the best part was the short period between swells – there just wasn’t a break. The lulls were short and unpredictable. I was not happy.

Up first was a wetsuit-only entry to get a feel for the bottom without struggling with our fins. I made it into the breakers, bracing myself against them. As we got deeper, and waves started breaking right over people (necessitating the duck-under strategy), I basically panicked and backed the hell out of there, back onto the beach where I told the course director I didn’t think I could handle this surf yet.

He sent me back in, this time with my own personal DM (thanks, Ken!), who walked me past the foamy breakers (“Brace!”) and into some of the over-the-head breakers (“Duck!”). I managed a few of these, and then got creeped out again and headed back to shore.

At this point, everyone else was gearing up for a skin dive (fins, mask/snorkel, weights and BC). NO WAY was I going in through those waves. Worst of all, once I was out there, who’s to say they wouldn’t get even bigger and block the way out? I made my apologies to my dive buddy, and told the course director I’d much rather sit this one out. But, I didn’t want to waste my time there entirely – I’d play in the surf and just practice getting comfortable with it.

And so I did. First in just a wetsuit, and then eventually with fins on and a mask/snorkel. Mostly I stood in waist deep water, where the breakers hit a little further out and reached me as a wall of foam. Kevin, the course director, worked with me for a while on improving my bracing stance, and not getting knocked off my feet – this is crucial with fins, which are kind of difficult to stand up in. After about 30 minutes of this, he talked me into slightly deeper water for a few over-the-head waves to duck under. I did fine, but was still pretty creeped out. Sure, as long as you get low enough, you’re in the “calm” part. But if your legs float up even a little, they catch in the tumbly part and send you spinning. Bleah.

The skin divers struggled back out of the surf zone, and it was time for a scuba dive. I figured since I hadn’t even managed to get in on skin gear, no way was I going to try scuba. About 5 other folks also sat it out for various reasons (wusses like me, or seasick, or lost gear on the skin dive).

While everyone was making the dive, I started to feel sort of lousy about bailing. At this point, I felt like I could maybe handle the waves – I could probably manage the skin dive. But everyone else had moved on, so I practiced more breaker-surviving and got some video of divers getting tossed around in the surf.

Most of the instructors didn’t give me any crap about wussing out; Kevin in particular was really great about it, reminding me that it’s all about improving during the class, and at least I learned some more about entries and exits. I’ll have more chances to dive. I’ve read a few dive reports from experienced divers who were still freaked out by the surf that day (several folks estimated 4+ foot surf, which makes for waves with up to 7′-8′ faces). So those also make me feel less like a wuss, or at least more like a SMART wuss.

I’ve got two weeks to psych myself up for the next ADP beach dive, which will be a rocky entry at Palos Verdes. Before that happens, I’m hoping to make it down to Redondo with just one or two other people (including my friend and dive instructor, Ray), and maybe get a chance to prove to myself that I can deal with surf. Not that I would mind if it winds up being a nice calm day instead.


ADP Journal: Weekend #1

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 5:29 pm

With the second weekend of ADP swiftly approaching, I realized I’d better hurry up and write about last weekend, which was the opening of LA County’s Advanced Diver Program. From now until October, I’ll be spending two out of every three weekends getting my diving butt kicked into shape. It adds up to over 100 hours of instruction, including lectures on every conceivable topic, beach dives at a variety of locations, pool instruction, and random adventures like visiting with the Long Beach Search and Rescue folks, or moving underwater pipes around in Lake Castaic.

Opening day was pretty uneventful. I dragged myself out of bed around 6:30am on a Saturday morning to drive down to Carson and sit in “classroom” at Victoria Park with no air conditioning. ADP is as cheap as it is because all the instructors are volunteers, and the facilities are donated by the county. Beggars can’t be choosers! There were about twenty students signed up for the class this year, of all levels of experience. We spent the morning getting an introduction to LA County’s dive programs, and in the afternoon heard a lecture on the history of diving.

Sunday was more exciting: our first pool session. Up first was the swim test:

  • A 300 yard swim was up first: 6 lengths of the double-sized (50 yard) pool. It’s surprising how many scuba divers are pretty lousy swimmers; the lifeguards actually got all ready to dive in and start saving people. Since my usual swim at the Caltech pool is 2500 yards, I pretty much kicked ass at this.
  • I also kicked ass at treading water, since for me that’s basically just floating with the occasional foot movement. I kicked significantly less ass (read: none whatsoever) at treading water with my arms up in the air. Turns out my arms are both heavy and quite buoyant; without them in the water, I sink like a rock.
  • Kicked some more you-know-what at the underwater swim, which actually worried me the most. Swim 20 yards underwater (from the middle of the pool, so no pushing off); pick up a weight belt at the 10ft end of the pool, and carry it to the surface. I nailed this on the first try, after watching an ex-navy guy have to do it twice. Rock on.
  • My final swim-test success: the tired-diver tow. We had to tow an “unconscious” diver the length of the pool (50 yards), unless we were going out for the instructor scholarship (which I plan to do) – then we were advised it would take 100 yards to impress our divemasters. Apparently they just wanted to see if we would do it – but I did.

It always boosts my ego when my chubby self is in better shape than 75% of the skinny folks. I probably shouldn’t get too full of myself, though, with all those beach dives looming…

The rest of the morning was spent doing boring old pool skills (mask removals, regulator retrievals, etc). This was made marginally more exciting by the fact that I worked with a divemaster who’s been teaching scuba diving for more than 40 years. He was just a joy to watch: so smooth and confident in the water, with absolutely perfect form.

In the afternoon, we all traipsed over to Sea Lab in Redondo Beach for a seminar on fish identification. I didn’t find this terribly useful, since I’m already a big fish id geek from years of captioning Jeff’s photos. The fun part came post-lecture, when we got to take a tour of all the fish tanks in the back. You’d be surprised how much fun you can have with a huge bucket full of kelp bass. Those dudes are seriously amusing!

Weekend #2 starts tomorrow, and features our first beach dive. Here’s hoping I don’t get creamed too badly by the surf; it would kind of undo all that ego-boosting that the swim test achieved. (Also, it would hurt.)

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