Living the La Jolla Dive Life with the Scuba Diver Girls
When it comes to diving, I guess I’m a Florida girl at heart. I like my wetsuits thin, my water warm and my topside time conducive to soaking in some Vitamin D. But I never pass up a chance to get outside of my comfort zone with the sport, either. And cold water draped with curtains of kelp laced with sea lions is pretty well outside of my usual sea turtle and parrotfish underwater realm.
When I made plans to travel to San Diego to visit a friend, I knew I had to dive La Jolla Cove. And I immediately thought of the Scuba Diver Girls (www.scubadivergirls.com), a California-based crew I’d been following on Facebook for the past few years, living vicariously through their photos with frolicking sea lions and unusual critters like guitar sharks and leopard sharks. So I contacted the girls through Facebook (love it or loathe it, the site has been an amazing way for me to make new diver friends and follow old ones on their travels around the world). And the Scuba Diver Girls (pictured above, from left to right, Stephanie Adamson and Margo Sanchez) invited me (at far right) to join them for a dive at their backyard site, La Jolla Cove.
“The first thing to know about California diving,” Margo told me, “Is to always look up--you never know when you’ll see a sea lion or shark cruising overhead.” It was a very good tip for someone used to keeping her nose to the Florida reef in search of nurse sharks hiding under ledges or moray eels poking from holes.
We made a shore entry at La Jolla Cove and finned for about 15 minutes at the surface to Buoy A where we’d start our dive; the warm California sun bouncing off the cold water making for a very distinct contrast. We’d barely left the inside of the cove and I already felt like I’d had some adventure, what with the sea lions barking at us from a few yards away and the appearance of a flipper here or a shiny nose in the water there.
The cathedral-like kelp canopy
When we reached the buoy, we deflated our BCs and began our descent at the edge of the kelp forest. On this particular day, the visibility was especially good – it must have been 50 feet – and the curtains of kelp that materialized around me were like chains woven together by some mythical mermaid, stretching from the ocean’s floor all the way to the water’s surface. I forgot the numbness setting into my hands altogether. The shafts of light shooting between the ropes of kelp were how I imagine the light at the end of the tunnel must look like when you’re on your way to the big house in the sky (apparently I’ve seen too many Hollywood versions of Heaven, I know). Of course, with all there was to admire, I’d forgotten the cardinal rule about always looking up – so mesmerized was I by the kelp forest and the mere act of finning through its curtains in an environment so different from what I’m used to back home. But when I reminded myself to turn my gaze toward the surface, there it was – a sea lion spiraling through the kelp. For the briefest of moments, its buttony black eyes trained my way.
Following the girls through their home waters was a ton of fun, especially watching them signal to each other and the rest of our small group to indicate a lobster hiding under a rock or a Garibaldi – the bright orange California state fish. We weren’t lucky enough to spot any of the guitar or seven-gill sharks on this day, but for me, the kelp forest itself had already been worth braving the frigid waters.
When we’d finned our way back to the small beach, we timed our exit with the surging waves. And I fancied myself not so unlike a sea lion at that moment – leaving the kelp world for a temporary stay topside, knowing for sure that I would be back. The whole experience – the cold, cold water (my dive computer read 48 degrees at one point), the surge-pumped shore exit – had pushed the limits of my diving. Which is really what it’s all about, isn’t it? And that I’d turned a few Facebook friends into real-world friends during the course of the morning was simply icing on the cake.
Terry Ward is a freelance writer and avid traveler and diver based in Florida. You can read more of her travel writing at www.terry-ward.com.