During the cold winter months in Southern California, there is one red-hot night dive spot that stands out against all of the rest—Vets Park, Redondo Submarine Canyon.
Veterans Park is located approximately six miles west of the 110 freeway at the end of Torrance blvd.
The locals call it “Vets” and it has become a night dive meet up for many dive enthusiasts, and a Mecca for photographers. Many have dubbed this a true California Muck Dive and for good reason.
During the daylight hours the sand is usually filled with beachgoers and on occasion you may see an open water class working through their skills. However, when the sun sets a changing of the guards begins. Beachcombers and tourists vacate as divers trudge their way through the surf line. That’s not the only place a changing of the guards occurs. As the sun fades into the horizon, a cool gentle breeze kicks in and things begin to warm up, underwater that is.
The water entrance and exit can be a bit dicey due to soft rippled sand and a sometime fierce shore break. Caution should always be exercised with any shore dive and this is no exception.
The site can be broken into three main zones, just past the surf in the 15-55 foot zone is what we call the detritus area or the salad bowl. Lots of algae, loose kelp and random plant life exist here. The second area, “The Wall,” begins at about the 45 foot to 60 foot range depending on how far north or south you are diving. The Redondo Canyon wall begins and falls away to about 90 feet. Then there is “The Canyon” itself which can get very deep. It is the quick drop to the depths here that bring in all of the mystery critters.
I have dubbed this area as a California Muck Dive and for good reason. The sand is soft, silty and full of ambush predators like the midshipman. I like to use a poker to keep myself suspended above the soft substrate for fear of silting out my photos.
We like to start the dives deep and shallow up as we go, traversing the wall back and forth hunting for unusual critters such as nudibranchs, torpedo rays, and juvenile giant black sea bass, cusk eels, poachers and much more. In fact, there is such a diverse amount of critters here that we often do two dives back to back and will see entirely different things.
Mid-December through early March brings the annual or semi-annual squid run. This is a dive that is a must-do. My first experience on a squid dive will never be forgotten. As we began to reach our planned depth, a bright white object shone directly ahead of me. At first it looked as if a diver above me was shining a light onto the sand. As my eyes adjusted I realized what it was I was looking at. It appeared to be a mound of white cigar tubes all stuck together. I soon learned that these are what are referred to as egg baskets. Each basket contains thousands of eggs and there is just as many of them grouped tightly together into patches, 3-4 feet in diameter. Amongst the mass of eggs are lobsters, crabs and bat rays feeding until they are lethargic and bloated.
The squid will race in like a massive freight train seemingly without warning and attracted by the dive lights. At first it is very manageable, one here, two there, perhaps a few sets of squids mating. Then all at once thousands of squid will engulf you and your buddy and everyone else in close proximity. They will continue moving and swirling about at a frenzied pace between you and your buddy’s dive lights. Even your camera becomes impossible to look through. Soon you can no longer see anything but squid, not even your buddy. Then as quickly as it started, it is over. One here, two there, mating couples, flushing with color.
This is an awesome experience and one that should not be missed. But even if you don’t hit it on a full run, just the sight of the egg baskets and feeding animals is very interesting.
While climbing the wall, one will find several different types of flat fish skirting about, skates, rays, and pacific sand dabs. There are scorpionfish, sculpin and even reports of a hagfish have surfaced.
Now we continue up and over the canyon rim and into the Salad Bowl, an excellent opportunity for off-gassing some excess nitrogen and hunt for critters. The Salad Bowl is a dive unto itself. All of the flotsam here and plant life should be scrutinized carefully. Nudibranchs of many different varieties can be found to the extent that a guide is needed just to ID them. There are shrimp of many different varieties including caprelids or skeleton shrimp, the large target shrimp and even some browns. Small octopi, swimming crab, even pipefish, and this is just a portion of what makes this area a hub of activity.
The visibility here can drop in the shallows, but 15-20 feet at depth are the norm and when the water is cold it can be quite clear.
Donning and doffing of dive gear takes place in the parking lot above the beach and is a metered parking area. The police patrol here regularly so beware. Parking permits can also be purchased and for the price of two tickets, it may be worth it. There is also a shower area which is very convenient for getting the gear rinsed before I drive back to the OC.
Vets Park is a must and the squid run is priceless.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Vets Park, Redondo Submarine Canyon, just south of the Redondo Beach Pier
Access: Down stairs to sand beach surf entry
Depths: Range from 15-100 but the prime diving is done between 40 and 75 feet
Visibility: Seasonal, best during the cold of winter
Photography: This is a prime macro site. You will have the opportunity to shoot a myriad of different critters. Wide angle is fun here as well but during the squid runs.
Hunting: Lobster during the season, but not really a known spot for spearfishing
Hazards: Entry and exit can be hazardous. Time the sets. The soft rippled sand can bring down even the most experienced divers.
Parking: Park in the lot above the beach area. The lot is metered and patrolled so bring plenty of quarters.
Facilities: Restrooms and showers. Restaurants on pier to the north.