Apr 09

Navigating rough waters

Just went to the coast yesterday and saw something really gutting. In the span of about 10 seconds I watched a diver lose his fins, float, speargun and all his abalone gear. AND he almost got severely hurt. It was a beautiful, sunny day on the Mendo coast that could have gone very bad very quickly.

So what happened?

I’m sure you know how it goes getting in the water- you get on your suit, weight belt, etc., then sit down close to the waters edge (on a swim platform, rock, beach, etc.), put on your fins and enter the water. Well, that process can vary depending on your entry point, location and conditions. This particular day was beautiful, sunny with barely a cloud in the sky, and the water, while somewhat rough, was still Pacific Northwest ocean.

This diver went to get into the water and was all geared up except for his fins and had his float in hand. All in all, pretty well prepared for his entry. He sat down on a rock, set down his float and started to put on his fins. What he didn’t realize was that he was still in the middle of a set and waves were hitting pretty regularly.

And then it happened- a big swell came up and swept him right off the rock, along with his float, which was immediately carried into a cave and continuously slammed against the rocks. His fins were pulled out of his hands as he hit the water so there he was, weighted, without fins, near the rocks…and then he was hit by another wave.

Disoriented and with very little control, having no fins on to kick against the surging water, he scrambled towards the rocks where he’d been seated just a few moments earlier. Luckily, my friend Tony had climbed down the rock face earlier to…umm…water the ocean? Anyway, Tony was nearby and quickly moved to within reach of this diver. He was able to grab him and help him from the water, while continuously getting pounded by more waves.

To give you an idea this is the same entrypoint on a different day.

About 10 minutes later a very relieved diver and a very wet Tony headed back up the rocks to join us for some much needed recovery beers. The diver was out a lot of expensive gear, but luckily escaped without injury. And frankly, he took it like a champ.

The takeaway

Entries and exits are often the most dangerous part of a dive, especially in any kind of surf or difficult entrypoint. A few pointers for navigating those waters:

Always keep an eye to the ocean
The ocean can be unpredictable so when getting ready to enter, always keep on eye on what it’s doing. Try not to get distracted by other people, gear, etc. You can often find patterns and time the sets to find the best possible time to enter the water.

If your entrypoint is wet, that means it gets wet
Yes it seems obvious, but if you don’t want your gear (or yourself) to be swept away by a rogue wave, be sure to be aware of where you’re getting geared up. If the waves are a foot away from your feet, but your butt is on a wet rock, that means the waves DO come up that high.

Spend at little time as possible at the entrypoint
The entrypoint is exactly that, a place to get in the water. Be ready to get in the water as soon as you get there.

Get as geared up as possible away from the water
You should have your wetsuit donned, mask on, snorkel in your mouth, and fins ready to put on quickly when you get to the edge of the water. At least then, if you get swept off the rocks, you can see and you can breathe easier.

Get away from shore
Once you’re in the water, get away from the entry point.  If you’re in the water, the most dangerous place to be is right near where you entered. This goes for rocky entries like the ones we have out here, for beaches with crashing waves and even for boats. Moving water+divers+heavy objects= bad day.

And if you follow all these rules could you still find yourself the victim of an unpredictable wave? Absolutely. That’s yet another reason to dive with a buddy and to watch each other at the entrypoint. Having someone else in the water, wearing fins who can help pull you away from any dangerous objects is key.

Anyway, alls well that ends well and we came home with our first abalone of the season. I’ll be making THIS tonight so try not to be too jealous!

Happy diving-

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