One of the most consistently thrilling, yet hazardous beach dives along the Southern California coast is at Point Dume. Here the Dume Submarine Canyon comes very close to shore, closer than any other submarine canyon. Couple this with a powerful oceanic current that literally side-swipes the point and you have an exciting underwater combination. Whales, large sharks, pelagics, and more pass by this point on a regular basis. But this is not a beach dive for the faint of heart.
It takes a careful eye to spot tricky currents and surf and then plan your dive accordingly. Access to the point is at the end of Westward Beach Road. Point Dume County Beach has a parking fee and is only open daylight hours. The beach ends at a large rock cliff face. (This location has been used in countless movies, TV shows and TV commercials.) Beyond the wave-splashed rocks at the base of the cliff is a small, hidden cove, then further, Point Dume. Some divers choose to enter from the sand beach at the rocks, others scramble over the rocks and enter at the small cove for a shorter swim. Surf entry at both locations can be tough with a sharp shore break common, but the waves seem to be less intense on the Westward Beach side.
The reefs off the first set of rocks peter out quickly into scattered boulders here and there over mostly sand. But then the bottom slopes quickly into the canyon. The slope is not as dramatic as La Jolla or Redondo Submarine Canyons but is steep enough that you can be in deep water rather quickly. At 75 feet, toward the point, you come across three large boulders with gorgonians, nudibranchs and large sheep crabs. Large halibut and big bat rays are common in the sand here.
For those making the long swim to the rocky pinnacles off Point Dume the reward will be a rock wall dropping vertically to 40 feet. More reefs and pinnacles slope into the canyon. Schools of barracuda and an occasional black sea bass can be seen here.
Visibility is generally very good because of the submarine canyon, lack of run-off and clean oceanic currents. A consistent 15 to 20 feet can be expected along the canyon slope. Out near the pinnacles, viz in the range of 25 to 30 feet is not unusual. The only exception is when plankton blooms sometimes drop water clarity.
In planning your dive, keep in mind prevailing currents here are from west to east meaning you will be starting your dive with the current, breaking a rule of current diving. This is okay if you take three things into consideration: First, observe the conditions carefully. Try to get an estimation of the current’s speed and then determine if you can handle it on the return swim. Second, plan your dive to return on the bottom hugging the shoreline where the current’s effect is less. Leave enough air in your tank for the return trip. And finally, remember that should you not be able to return to your entry point at Westward Beach, you can always swim around the corner and exit down the coast at Dume Cove. While you’ll have a long walk back to your car, it beats the alternative of being swept far out into the Santa Monica Bay.
If all this isn’t enough, sometimes there is a counter current. Keep a sharp eye and be ready to change you dive plans accordingly, even in the middle of the dive. Also, the prevailing direction of the waves, usually pushing along the beach from east to west, creates what is known as “long-shore current” in the surf zone. This is a net water movement in or near the surf zone pushing the water to the east, or in other words, onto the rocks. Again, plan accordingly.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Northwest Los Angeles County in the community of Malibu. From Hwy. 1 take Zuma Beach Access Road and turn toward Westward Beach. Access at extreme west end of Westward Beach near the cliff face.
Access and Entry: Short walk over sand to sharp shore break on a sand beach or scramble over rocks to entry in cove.
Skill Level: Advanced.
Depths: 20 to 80 feet or more.
Visibility: Good, 20 feet along canyon slope, 20-30 feet out by pinnacles.
Snorkeling: Good for free-diving hunters. Too risky for the casual snorkeler.
Hunting: Good halibut territory. Sometimes white sea bass. Only a few lobsters or scallops.
Photography: Good but a boat is recommended because of the long swim, often against currents, with camera.
Hazards: Confusing and strong currents require careful observation and dive planning. Strong longshore current. Sharp shore break.
Facilities: Day use fee. Restrooms, showers, lots of parking.
Conditions: (310) 457-9701