The coming of the New Year is a time to expand new options and opportunities in every avenue of our lives. More than ever this New Year has multiple opportunities with which to grow in your avocation of scuba diving in California. Here we will look at some obvious and not so obvious solutions and ideas for improving your underwater experiences in diving the waters of California.
With the multitude of exposure protection options available for divers these days, there’s simply no excuse for shivering through a dive — or worse — giving up diving during the winter and spring months when water temps are considerably cooler.
Resolve to take the chill out of your underwater adventures. Many new divers start out wearing an off-the-rack 7-mm wet suit with a bibbed hood. While this is usually adequate for summer and early fall diving in Southern California, it won’t provide adequate thermal protection in the winter and early spring. A simple addition will strengthen your thermal protection considerably.
Try a hooded vest. Bibbed hoods can allow an amount of cold water to flow down the front and back, sending cold water down your spine. A hooded vest blocks much of that water flow and gives your torso an added layer of thermal protection.
If you have enough room under your existing suit get a hooded vest that fits underneath, directly against the chest and back skin. The vest should fit snug but not restrictive. If your existing suit is already snug and there is no room for a vest underneath, consider using one that fits over the outside of the existing suit.
Divers come in all shapes and sizes. Wet suit manufacturers know this, and they create a wide range of suit styles and sizes for men and women, but what if you can’t find the suit that fits you just right?
Consider a custom wet suit. Custom wet suits are cut and created to your specific dimensions and proportions. In addition, custom configurations can be personalized for you and features can be added as needed. Once you decide on the general style (i.e., jumpsuit versus two-piece) you can add accessories like leg zippers, and attached hood, or gear pockets/pouches. Inquire at your local dive center. The staff can help you determine what suit style and thickness will be best for you. They’ll likely also assist with obtaining the measurements needed to craft your custom suit.
Among divers there has been and probably always will be a debate over warm, warmer, warmest when it comes to exposure protection. Some maintain that a well-fitting wet suit wins, while others maintain that diving dry is the way to go. I say there’s no need to take sides. Do what works for you.
Demo a dry suit. If you’ve never tried a dry suit, you’ll never know whether you like it or not. Many dive centers routinely offer “try a dry suit” demonstrations that allow divers the opportunity to learn about and try a variety of different dry suits and thermal undergarments. This is an excellent way to learn about exposure protection before investing a lot of money. Here again, inquire at your local dive center. Just like wet suits, dry suits come in a variety of styles, as do the undergarments that are worn with them. Keep in mind that if you elect to wear a dry suit you will need training on how to safely use it.
No matter what type of exposure suit you opt to wear underwater, it’s important to stay warm in between dives, too.
Buy a “boat coat.” The boat coat garment is a wind-resistant fleeced-lined knee-length jacket with an attached hood. The boat coat can be used before diving, between dives and at the end of the day. Many divers also like the option of purchasing an oversized jacket to fit right over the wet suit between dives. If the lining material is of the wicking type, this technique works very well.
Get More Gas
The standard aluminum 80 cubic foot 3,000-psi tank is all well and good, but why limit yourself?
Consider switching to steel. Unlike aluminum tanks that only come in three standard sizes for diving, steel tanks come in an extensive variety of sizes and fill capacities to fit individual needs and applications. Many divers prefer the larger capacity high-pressure 3,300-psi 95- or 100-cubic foot tanks that are approximately the same size as a standard aluminum 80. Also available are 95- and 100-cubic foot low-pressure steel tanks. By using a larger tank, you can extend your bottom time and get an added measure of safety to avoid running low on air.
Steel tanks are heavier than aluminum, which means you’ll need less weight on your belt or in your BC pockets. You’ll also likely find that the steel tank helps you trim out your weighting for a more streamlined position in the water.
If you are shopping for scuba cylinders, ask the staff at your dive shop to explain the difference between steel and aluminum tanks. Whether you opt for steel or aluminum, they can help you select the cylinder that best suits your diving style.
Get Out There
Every diver dreams of exploring exotic faraway destinations, but there’s a lot of fun to be had right here at home. California is a very big place, with lots of opportunity for adventure. Rather than spending a few days in airports, consider exploring a variety of exciting dive sites that are just a short drive away.
Explore close to home. Diving in California can be roughly broken up into seven sections — San Diego, Orange and LA County beach diving, the Southern Channel Islands including Catalina Island, Northern Channel Islands, Santa Barbara/Ventura County beaches, Monterey, and the North Coast. Each area has its own distinct type of diving and marine life. In addition to your exotic dive travel, take some vacation time to experience all that California diving has to offer.
It is surprising how many Southern California divers miss out of the excellent diving off Monterey. But why stop there? Head up to the North Coast, spend a couple of nights and try abalone diving. You’ll have fun diving and the towns on the Central and North Coast will charm you.
Speaking of charming towns, when is the last time you were in Avalon? Most divers will visit Catalina Island on a dive charter boat, but never spend time in this delightful town. Others simply pass through on their way to the Underwater Park on the edge of town and then maybe grab a bite to eat. Plan to spend the night, have dinner and relax in the most romantic town in Southern California. You’ll find plenty of lodging and dining options in town and on the flats.
Perhaps one of the best options for diving the California Channel Islands is a multi-day boat charter trip. The value is unparalleled. During the summer and fall two- and three-day trips are common with longer trips also available. Like any live-aboard you can get in four to five dives a day with comfortable accommodations and great food included. And while diving the near shore islands is great, the outer island destinations are spectacular. Diving icon Jean-Michel Cousteau said, “California Channel Islands have the world’s best temperate water diving.”
Get Educated and Inspired, California Style
Furthering your diving education beyond your Open Water Diver certification is definitely a good thing, and when you do it with a California twist, you will become an exceptional diver.
Resolve to get more training. California divers are taught to contend with chilly waters, surge, currents, and reduced visibility. Advanced and specialty classes will give you the added advantage of safety and confidence when diving in challenging conditions. Become a divemaster or instructor in California and you’ll garner just a bit more respect worldwide.
The more you dive California, the more you’ll want to know about its underwater realm and its inhabitants, another reason for furthering your education. And the more you know, the more you’ll want to dive and explore. But not all California diving education has to be done in a formal classroom setting. Some of the best learning experiences can be had during presentations at dive club meetings, seminars at scuba shows and conventions, and even just hanging out at the local dive shop.
Read a book. With dive guides you can dream and plan your next California diving destination whether it be out to the islands or along the coast. Marine life identification books are usually not thought of for casual reading but the book, “Probably More Than You Want To Know About The Fishes Of The Pacific Coast” by Dr. Milton Love is more than a great I.D. guide; it’s also entertaining.
Attend a film festival. Several excellent festivals take place during the year in various locations throughout the state. Some are held in conjunction with scuba conventions but others are very formal affairs. Some of the more popular include the Monterey Underwater Film Festival (montereyshootout.com), San Diego UnderSea Film Exhibition (sdufex.com), and the SCUBA Show (scubashow.com).
You plan your work life, but have you ever considered planning your “play” in much the same way as you do all your other to-dos? Your 2014 calendar is all bright and shiny and new. Now’s a great time to fill it with “must do” diving activities and adventures.