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My first Vermillion Rockfish and a Moana Waterman fin review

9 Feb

There were a lot of changes that occurred in the past year or so.  The move to the new house, the birth of my first born, getting used to the commute etc.  Pretty much all of that took up a great deal of my time but I couldn’t complain.  You can’t complain when your boy gives you a great smile when you take him to Disney or spend some time with him.  Yet every once in a while I get that yearning to get back into the water.  I can’t really explain it to you if you aren’t addicted to the ocean.  When conditions are good it’s a whole different world and an hour can easily stretch into a day.

I have a fantastic wife, she never complains about my freediving addiction.  She even will watch my son all day once in a while just so I can get out in the water. I made arrangements ahead of time and so it was with eager anticipation that I watched the swell  for days before we actually planned on going out. Everything looked bulletproof, no wind, no swell and from what I was hearing, pretty decent vis!  To make it even a sweeter deal we were going on my buddies boat, first to collect some specimens and then after we dropped them off, some diving!  We have special permits to allow us to collect scientifically but you cannot collect and sportfish on the same trip.  With the super high tide I had my sights set on halibut and a limit of bugs, I could hardly sleep the night before, all I could think about was seeing those halibut buried up in sand and squeezing that trigger.

Imagine my disappointment when we rolled to the harbor and saw the fog. Oh well, with this warm weather it’s likely to burn off in a few hours, we’ll go ahead and collect first and that was our plan anyways.  We again strapped on the dreaded scuba tanks and made the drop into the water. I won’t out this location but I will say, you probably would not shore dive there as it would be a hell of a swim. I knew that there would be a reef that would hold the nudibranchs (think slugs) that we were looking for and in an hour or so we had enough so we headed back in to drop them off.  We docked the boat and then jumped into our car to make the delivery to the warehouse.

Here’s the second disappointment. When we got back it was still fugging foggy :(. My buddies radar wasn’t working, his gps was also acting up and the fog was probably 200′ vis or so, but I had seen a few rockfish down at the 50′ level at the reef we were getting the nudibranchs at. We eased our way back to that spot and got ready to dive. Our plan was to dive here and then head up the coast a bit and work for some bugs.

One of the reasons why I wanted to get out was that I had a new pair of carbon fiber freediving fins that I wanted to try out.  Quite a few of my friends had already made the jump to these and I couldn’t wait to try them out.  I sold my old pair of carbons and saved up to buy them.  After some research I had ordered a pair of Moana watermans from the man JD himself, and Kyle laid the carbon fiber and got the fins ready. After much discussion with Daryl Wong, JD, Kyle and some of my buddies that own Moanas I ended up going with the new “hybrid softs”. I wasn’t too keen on getting anything soft at first because I had tried a pair of soft carbon fins before of another maker, and man they just flopped all over the place so I had sent them back and got mediums. Those particular fins on the surface were great but when I was powering bigger fish from the deeps it felt like I wasn’t moving at all and it scared the shit out of me.  JD assured me that his fins were not going to lack that punch, on the surface they would require less work and when you need that push with a big fish or from the deeper water they actually stiffen to give you the power you need.  Daryl also agreed with that statement and since they are both way better divers than myself I trusted their judgment.  I got these fins probably almost two months ago, but being sick for a month and also not having dive time meant that I wouldn’t have time to try them out, I was actually going to do a pool test since I couldn’t head to the ocean. But I knew we were diving a deeper spot so I strapped them on.

The fins are a bit longer than my leaderfin fiberglass which have been my goto fins for both shore and boat diving.   The fiberglass fins have been great, perfect for kicking all day in with the stiffness I like for powering big fish up.  To my delight, the Moanas were super light, much lighter than the leaderfins and with the pathos pockets they felt very responsive.  After warming up a bit I noticed that the fins required less effort going down and what I really liked was that under pressure I could rocket up, they didn’t flop around at all.  WOW.  I spent a hour or so testing them out and I can say that I’m very impressed and these are going to be my goto fins when I’m not on the rocks (mainly because I’m a baby and don’t want to scratch them up, I’m sure they will hold up).  I even switched back to my fiberglass fins to double check and man what a difference. I can’t wait till white seabass season to come around!

I started working deeper and deeper and trying to improve my bottom time.  With my new rockets strapped to my heels I made a drop down to about 50 feet and started to slowly cruise the bottom.  This was where I had seen some rockfish when I was on scuba that looked a lot like Vermillion Rockfish!  Vermillions are not rare in southern California, but they are usually found much deeper.  I took a nice grass rockfish on one drop and then headed back to the surface.  I slowly breathed up and when I was ready inverted and kicked the Moanas towards the bottom.  Effortlessly I floated back down to the bottom and started again working my way down the reef and saw a large Vermillion ambling away.  I extended my gun and squeezed off a shot.  Thunk, the shot rang true and the fish stopped moving and turned sideways, it was a perfect shot.   I was out of breath anyways so I grabbed it and started the slow ascent to the surface.   When enough light started to shine on it as I got shallower I noticed the brilliant red color. WOW, I was blown away, the closer I got to the surface, the more brilliant the red became.  The fish wasn’t huge at any rate, but at about 3 pounds or so it was going to make a delicious meal.

Unfortunately, the fog never lifted that day.  We spent the rest of our time securing some kelp bass and rockfish, enough to make a nice fish dinner.  We stored the fish on ice and carefully moved the boat back in, all the time watching the fog for any hidden obstacles.

I ended up doing a whole steamed fish for my wife and I, wow those rockfish were so sweet and tender!  If you haven’t steamed rockfish it’s very easy.  I just stuff the fish with garlic and ginger, add green onions and cilantro to the top and steam until the flesh begins to fall off.  Usually I’ll add a bit of teriyaki sauce to it and serve it next to some steamed veggies or rice.

All in all it we salvaged a great day.  We couldn’t go too far because of the fog but still had a lot of fun and I also got to try my new fins!

I don’t get any kickbacks from recommending these fins, I just think they are fantastic.  Moana Watermans are available at moanawaterman.com, sturgillspearfishing.com, spearamerica.com and other freediving/spearfishing shops.

Oaks Chinese Style Whole Steamed Fish

Ingredients
teriyaki sauce (I premake this and bottle it. I take soy sauce and sugar and mix it in a saucepan under heat, keep adding the sugar until it’s as sweet as you like it. I add a tiny bit of sesame oil, jalipenos, garlic and ginger to it and then bottle it. Let it cool before you put it in the fridge, all the sugars and garlic/ginger keep it from going bad, it will last six months but more than likely you’ll eat it up before then).

small fish that has been gutted/gilled/scaled. I also cut slits in the fish about every two inches.

green onion
cilantro
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tb chopped garlic

Start boiling your water, when it’s boiling add your steaming tray. I stuff the fish with green onion, cilantro, ginger and garlic. Put on the tray and pour a liberal amount of teriyaki sauce on there and then add more green onion/cilantro/ginger/garlic on top. Cover and steam until the eyes turn white and the flesh begins to fall off the bones. Serve on a bed or rice or veggies.

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Ebay and my Childhood Handheld Time Machine

9 Dec

I carefully began to box them up, one by one.  It almost was like being in a time machine, each game brought back different memories.  I received most of these when I was probably 3rd thru the 5th grade.  Every Christmas or birthday I’d ask for a different one, and many of my classmates had the same ones…

Back then it was such a big deal to have indoor recess on rainy days!  Now that I look back at it, it must have really sucked ass for teachers because it meant they didn’t get any freedom from their wiggling hyperactive (me) students.  But man for us it was always a treat.  Recess and PE would be indoors, sometimes we’d play games like “heads up, 7 up”, concentration, bingo and a billion other games I don’t even remember anymore.  But other times we’d sit across from our best friends and bust out the red bulbed (I don’t think they were considered leds) games and have a ball.  Entex electronic Baseball, Mattel basketball, football, sub chase, space invaders, you name it.  They can’t even hold up to today’s Nintendo or Sony handhelds but back in the day these were the games to have.

On rainy days I remember running to the cafeteria and standing in line and buying lunch, or maybe brown bagging it depending on what my mom packed.  We’d chatter in line and push and laugh, it was all part of the ritual.  If we were extra lucky one of our buddies would be working the cafeteria and we’d laugh, point and ridicule them for having to wear a hairnet.  Nothing brought more shame than having your buddies ridicule you while you were standing next to an adult where you couldn’t talk back like wanted to!   You would just have to punish your peers later.  After getting our lunch we’d march back to the classroom single file and if we were good, then after lunch we’d get to bust out the games.  It was a simpler time back then, there was a real melting pot at my school with no clear cut higher numbers of ethnicities.  We didn’t steal from each other (except for that bitch Sandra Garcia who stole my color changing pen, may you get festering cancer and die a slow painful death) (I’m kidding.  Well mostly I am.), we didn’t fight over who was next.  It was a clear cut thing where if you had the game you had choice of who got to play it first and we’d take turns, many of the games were two person anyways.  Seeing those red dashes light up and dash across the screen meant victory and then you’d hear that lameo dual note of victory and you’d howl out laughing!

Now that I look at it the sub chase game was the lamest of them all, it was kind of like an electronic battleship where you moved a red cursor and it would beep and then you’d press a button on the side to drop depth charges and hope to hit the sub.  I guess back then games were mostly your imagination anyways, you had to imagine what was going on.  You could see the depth charge in your mind drifting towards the sub or the basketball player running a lay up through the hole.  We didn’t have DVD players in our parents cars, you’d just sit there and maybe read or play slug bug or just drive your parents crazy.  It was definitely a different time, with different people.  Much simpler and innocent.  I kind of wish it was that way now.

I don’t even know what made me hang on to those games for so long.  Maybe it was the reluctance of letting go of my youth, but for whatever reason I had boxed them up at my parents house and they had made the moves to three different houses that I lived at before landing at our new house.  Because Hawkes toys take up so much room I discovered the box when we were shuffling things around.  I even popped in a battery on each of the games to see if they still worked and made some time to score a touch down and assinate some space invaders.  I was getting ready to drop them in the donation box and then thought heck, I wonder if anyone collects these things.

A quick visit to Ebay made my jaw drop.  Many of those games were selling from 20-100$!  Wow!  I formulated a plan and decided to try to list them right after thanksgiving, I was thinking that maybe people would start shopping for Christmas gifts about that time and who knows, maybe someone would try to bid on a game they had during their youth.  I started the bids at 99 cents with no reserve and was disappointed when the bids pretty much were stagnant the first couple of days.  Oh wells I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

As time grew closer to the ends of the bidding I noticed that the items were drawing more and more views.  Three days before the bidding ended my football game was already 40$!  I would check on them each day and on the last day I was amazed to see how furious the bidding went.  My baseball game went for $32.  The sub chase for $40.  Space invaders about $42.  And last but not least the old football game?  18 bids brought about $78!  I couldn’t be happier as these funds would go towards my new Moana Waterman Hybrid Carbon fiber freedive fins and some new toy cars for Hawke :).

It was with a little sadness and regret that I carefully printed out the labels and postage and started sealing up those boxes.  I hoped they would go to good homes.  But as sad as it was letting that part of my life go, it is no doubt that other parts of my heart (and house) will soon fill up with a new memories and a new generation of toys for Hawke.  Who knows, maybe forty or so years from now he might be selling off some of his own games, he sure is accumulating a lot of them!

Paying it forward: I found an iPhone, now what?

23 Oct

Honesty and Integrity

The day would start like a lot of great trips.  I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes as I quietly gathered my gear so as not to wake my wife and baby.  Outside the mist would creep up on my truck and dampen the windows and paint, just a cold chill to let me know fall really was here at last.  I yawned and started up my truck, the rumbling quietly echoing through the hills.  Somewhere, out there the sun lay waiting.  But right now it was still pitch black and I had a ways to go.

In an hour or so I’d find myself bobbing up and down on a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) and heading to a island that I love so much.  It wasn’t my boat this time, Dylan’s RIB has made the crossing many times and along with us was another friend, Byron.   We’ve all dove together before and knew it would be a day of fun.  As we approached the first spot we noticed how blue the water looked.  Even from the top we could see blacksmith darting back and forth chasing small bits of plankton.  The visibility was almost an inky blue:  60′ of visibility today!  We excitedly suited up and dropped over the sides of the boat one by one.  We kicked to where the bait would be nervously waiting and there we started making drops in hopes of catching site of a late season yellowtail.  We spent over an hour at that one spot, probably made over seventy drops and only saw a few schools of bonita with just a few sightings of yellowtail.

On one drop I saw two very nice sized yellowtail swaggering in the water.  They never stopped to give me a chance, only flicked their tails in dissatisfaction as they hurried along.  It did not matter, because we were on a smaller boat I only had my 55″ Mori reef gun with me, with two bands I was limited to about 12′ of range, nothing like my 67″ gun.  Those yellows were safe from me.  The next thing I knew I was enveloped by bait.  Sardines, spanish mackerel, pacific mackerel, pretty much every type of bait swarmed up by the millions and danced around us.  There were so many fish there wasn’t any room for water it seemed and the school was endless.  We made many drops into this silver river and were amazed at how many fish there actually were.

After a couple of hours it was apparent that no yellows were going to show.  I saw both Byron and Dylan on the RIB and figured time was up at this spot, I began my lazy kick towards them.  Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement and to my right I saw one yellowtail, then two, then ten.  In seconds that opened up to probably what was over 50 fish!  I knew I’d have to get close for the shot so I made my drop and then pretended that I wasn’t interested at all and slowly crept up to them.  In one swift movement I extended the gun and picked a fat fish out of the group and clicked of the shot.

The shot rang true and the shaft entered the fish and the slip tip toggled.  Line began to scream off the reel and I slowly applied some tension as I let the fish run.  Lucky for me the fish was small, about 12 or 15 pounds and the shot looked good so I took my time fighting it and then dispatched it with a quick sting of my knife.  Victory!

I swam the fish over to the boat and hid it under my body.  When they asked me if I got anything I smartly replied “hey do you guys like mackerel?”  They responded, “you shot a mackerel??”  I laughed and flipped the fish onto the boat, “no but I got a nice yellowtail!”.  I heard nothing but “kook”, “bastard”, and a few other choice names I won’t burn your ears with.  The best part was this entitled me to rag on them all day long.  “Hey do you guys want yellowtail lessons?  Hey anytime you want tips on fighting big fish let me know.  Hey uuuuhhh this fish bag is heavy, can you help me lift it?”  I’m sure they were planning my disappearance so they wouldn’t have to listen to the ridicule but thank goodness California has a death penalty and it kept them sane!

We started looking for lobster but unfortunately most of the ones we saw were either “shorts” (under regulation size) or they were holed way up in the back of caves.  Every single lobster I measured was a tiny bit short so they were released with their tails flapping in the water.  On one occasion I found a small opening in a crevice and was able to shove myself into it.  I saw a nice lobster and quickly grabbed at it and was holding it by the horns (the base of the antennae).  Success!  As I shifted my grip the damn thing kicked one more time and I fumbled with it and it took off.  Damn, I guess I shouldn’t have called success so early!  At the least I didn’t rip my nail off and smash my thumb like last week when I was trying to grab a lobster under a rock.

Isn’t that beautiful? See that red line in the middle, that’s where the entire thumb bent backwards right thru the meat above the bone.  It hurt way worse than the last time I tore the whole nail off.

We dove several spots for a while and on one particular one I was just finishing up a drop at about 30 feet when I thought I noticed something shiny.  I breathed up and dropped down again, a few kicks later I was on the bottom and I pulled up what I thought was a nice underwater camera case.  As I turned it over I could make out a newer iPhone in that case.  Wow, score!  I carefully brought it back to the boat and tried pushing the buttons to see if it was working but it either had a dead battery or was flooded.

When I got home I washed off the camera along with my gear.  I carefully dried it and then popped open the case, it opened with a suction sound and the phone appeared to be totally dry!  I again tried to fire it up, but no such luck.  As I examined it I noticed it was an iPhone 5, newer than the iPhone 4 I have myself.  But I knew it wouldn’t be right to keep it and I wanted to find it’s owner.  But first I’d have to charge it up and since I didn’t know anyone who had an iPhone 5 I ordered a charger online and started reading up.

To my dismay most of the posts online said that they recommended taking the phone to the nearest police station.  Most officers are busy solving crimes, they aren’t going to be able to figure out where a dead battery lost phone came from and the phone eventually ends up in a box with a bunch of other dead phones.  Since this phone was found in the ocean I was unsure if the owner even knew they had lost it there.

Some people said you could take it back to the cell phone store and they would give you the information but others said this was untrue:  because of privacy laws they could not give you that information nor would they try to contact the person.  One employee at the store even said that you’d be better off just keeping the phone.  The only saving grace would be if the phone was unlocked I might be able to look up a home address or contact number.

One of my friends said that a coworker had a new iPhone 5, so I called her up and asked to borrow her charger.  She brought it in the next day and I promptly started charging the phone.  An hour or so later I had enough charge to use the phone and now was the moment of truth.  Would the phone fire up?

As I pressed the power button and the phone came to life I noticed that the phone was unlocked!  Whoo hoo I might have a chance.  I opened up the recently called screen and scanned.  There were several names on there and then one said “Home”.  I figured that might be the owners home so I called the number and a man answered.

I told them who I was and that I had found an iPhone and did they lose one?  When they said they did, I asked the important question.  “Where did you lose it?  When they answered correctly I knew I had found the owner!  I saw that he lived in Oregon, but with luck he was in San Diego that weekend!  I made arrangements and he was able to swing by my work and pick up the phone.  When I met him, he extended his hand and had a big smile on his face and told me I had made his day.  He told me the story of the lost phone.

It was the opening night of lobster season about a month earlier and his girlfriend had agreed to take him on a scuba dive boat.  As a gift she bought him a very nice housing for his iPhone.  They were kicking around some of the reef and his phone battery had started to die out so he turned it off and put it on his wrist.  Somewhere along the night it slipped off into the rocks below.  His girlfriend threw on another tank and began to search for it but couldn’t locate it and they gave up.  He was pretty bummed out.  She tried to comfort him by saying that most divers are pretty honest people and there’s a chance it would be returned but she could tell he was really sad about losing the phone and felt bad about losing the housing.

It made my day knowing that I was able to help them out.   I felt really really great about finding the owner.  I wished them a safe trip back home and they left with the cell phone firmly gripped in their hands.   For me it was a great ending to a great dive trip with friends.

As I told this story to some of my younger friends I was pretty disturbed that a couple of them told me,  “you dummy, why didn’t you keep it?  The phone was lost for a month, he probably had bought another one.” Or “if he could afford an iPhone then he probably didn’t miss it and could afford another one”.  I was blown away by their reactions.

“Are you shitting me?  Is that how you really think?” I replied.   I was pretty pissed.  Think about how devastated you’d be if you lost your phone with all your contacts, maybe pictures of you and your friends you’d never get back, maybe a text from someone you loved, or a last picture with someone who might not be here today.  One of my pet peeves about a lot of people in the world today is that they think they have what I call the “get some shit for free” card.  It’s one of those things that make them think that it’s okay to take stuff that doesn’t belong to you or mooch off friends without ever thinking of repaying them back.  It’s also one of my biggest pet peeves and one of the reasons why I wanted to move to a different area of southern California.  I’ll tell you a quick story.  One time I was at Disneyland and had just rode the space mountain ride for the billionth time ;).  As I stepped off the ride I was taking something out of my pocket and my annual pass fell out.  I realized this after about fifteen or so steps and went back to look for it.  GONE.  I know for a fact that it was in my pocket as I exited the ride and I KNOW that the person had to have seen me double back to pick up my pass.  I checked over the next few days at lost and found and it never turned up.  I sincerely hope that person/kid gets run over by a slow moving steam roller or gets eaten by ants or at the very least gets struck by lightning although having their genitals torn off by chimpanzees or having their face eaten also has a nice ending to it.

At any rate, think of how cool it would be if everyone was a little more honest and a little more friendly.  We could live in a society where you’d never have to lock your front door, and if you dropped your wallet (or cell phone!) you could be assured an honest person would return it later on.  You could leave your car unlocked, there wouldn’t be any need for annoying alarms, and I sure wouldn’t have to hide all my stuff during my shoredives and worry that some dopus would take it.

So if you came across this blog and found a iPhone and would like to return it to the owner, here’s what I found out by reading up online:

1.  Try to turn the phone on, if you are lucky and if it is charged and unlocked you can look up recently called numbers and call some of them back.  I looked for “home” but you might try “mom” “work” etc.  You might try “ice” which stands for “in case of emergency”, this has to be set up in your phone as a contact and I’m going to do that to my phone asap.  If the phone is locked you can see if SIRI is running and tell the phone to “call home” or “call work” etc and see if it will dial out.

2.  If the phone is locked, basically you are supposed to return it to the nearest police station where you found the phone, otherwise it could be viewed as stolen property.  I don’t have a lot of faith in law enforcement trying to find the owner (especially if the owner didn’t call that particular station) as it seems officers are probably too busy because they are often trying to hassle me for not having a front license plate or for supposedly speeding in the slow lane of the freeway at 10 pm at night or for lobster diving in some of my favorite spots at night.  What, Bitter? Who me? :).  You can call the station up and try this route but from what I read they hold the phone for 30 days and if no one claims it, it ends up in a box of discarded phones.

3.  You can try to go to the carrier and ask them to remove and scan the sim card which is located on the side of the phone.  I have heard different stories about this, but in general they will not give you the info because of privacy laws.  I have heard different things about whether or not they will contact the person and I’ve also read that there is nothing they can do.  It might be worth it to give them a call anyways.  You might also try the apple store, but I’ve heard they are very unlikely to try to contact the owner there and it is a better shot to try at the carrier store although employees have said there is nothing they can do.

4.  As a last resort you might try to post it up on a found section in something like “craigslist” etc.  Give the general area where you found it but leave some mystery to it, because a lot of people who like to use their “get some shit for free” card and lie to you just to get a new phone.   You can quiz them on where they lost it, what color it was etc.

5.  Karma is a bitch.  If you want to be one of the many outstanding citizens of Los Angeles who like to go shopping during riots and want to maximize your “get some shit for free” card and keep the phone without trying to contact the owner I can only hope a crackhead jumps you and jabs you with a dirty hypodermic needle and takes the phone from you.  When you are dying from some horrible disease surrounded by no friends nor family (because obviously you are a douchebag of epidemic proportions), hopefully you will recall that if you had returned the phone to it’s rightful owner, maybe this wouldn’t have happened ;).

By the way, I gave half that fish away to my buddies and the other half was made into a series of yellowtail sashimi, spicy yellowtail sushi rolls and an epic Misoyaki yellowtail.  Yum!

Spicy yellowtail rolls and sashimi                                                    Yellowtail Misoyaki

The Story of California Waterman Rick Hadley

4 Oct

Richard Hadley 3/8/1958-9/28/2013

We all come from the sea, but we are not all of the sea. Those of us who are, we children of the tides, must return to it again and again, until the day we don’t come back leaving only that which was touched along the way.”  Chasing Mavericks, 2012.

Tonight, like the last couple of nights I find myself staring at the ceiling.  I can’t sleep even though I’m very tired.  I roll around in the bed and can’t stand it and I stumble back to my keyboard.  I look at some of Rick’s fish pictures he posted.  Tuna, yellowtail, white seabass, ulua…Wow, just wow…

I still vividly remember the last email I got from Rick, it was him sassing me about our annual Yellowtail contest.  I see his letter every time I open my email.  I’ll never delete it.

“Hey Chris,

I just sent in my yt smackdown $$$.  Any chance we can go retroactive to last Tuesday?  I’ll split the winnings with you if it holds up :).  JK of course.  Heading off shore tomorrow to get another one!!

Thanks, Rick”

Rick had shot an absolute monster last week, 40.5 pound yellowtail and it was a local fish, the biggest that we’ve seen all year.  We all had to bow down to him on that one and there was a lot of friendly banter among what we affectionately call “The Tribe”,  which is our tight knit group of spearfishermen.  If Rick had entered the tournament earlier he would have walked away with the title, something that we’d all laugh about together.  A running joke between our Tribe, is to always say “stay off my spotz, kook” (yes I know I misspelled spots, it’s part of the joke) and that was what I wrote to him as an answer to that email he had sent me.  Little would I know that this would be the last time I would get to talk to him.

The next time his name would come up was when my buddy John texted me that Rick had passed away while diving.  To me, this was an impossibility.  Rick was a fantastic diver, in a class so far ahead of me I was always in awe of him and his accomplishments.  Rick could hit over 150′ (yes, that’s feet) on a single breath, he had a fantastic breath hold and had a personal best static of 5:35 (5 min 35 sec).  He also had many years of experience under his belt.   I knew he was diving for “bugs” (what we call California Spiny Lobsters) in fairly shallow water at one of the islands.  In my mind it was impossible for him to have died doing that.  I immediately called my buddy and he confirmed it, with a shaking voice he gave me the details and again and again I told him I didn’t believe it.

It was the opening season for lobster and some friends headed out to one of their favorite spots.  They spent the day getting some nice fish and then pulled anchor and headed to another island, one of their favorite spots for lobster.  As usual Rick was the first in the water and he headed towards a likely spot.  When Rick didn’t show up on the boat after a while all the guys on the boat immediately had started to grid search.  Another boat of guys were in the area and they also joined the search as did the coast guard and county lifeguards.  Everyone did absolutely everything they could.  The ocean wrapped her arms around Rick to welcome him one final time.   We’re still not sure what had happened, the details weren’t really important, what pained us all was that our friend was not going to return.   At the very very least I know that on his last day, Rick was among his best friends and he was doing something that he absolutely loved, we all took some comfort in that thought.

For those who knew Rick, they knew he was a great father to two children.  That he was chairman and CEO of Hawaiian Springs Water.  That he was a philanthropist and had a true love for the ocean.  And for those of us who were lucky enough to get close to him, we knew he was a phenomenal freediver and spearfisherman.  He trained with professional freedivers and would spend a lot of time doing drills in the pool.  He would spend many days hunting in the water, this year would be a banner  year for Rick as he shot two of his personal best fish, a 40.5 lb yellowtail and a 60.4 lb white seabass.  Rick was so modest and humble you would never peg him to be a pro, he would never brag about his accomplishments and you kind of had to drag it out of him.  He largely flew under the radar.  Anyone who knew him would tell you, he was always there to help anyone out who needed it and always went out of his way to answer questions or lend a hand.  He was a wonderful human being.

I’ve only known Rick for a few years.  The first time I met Rick was probably at a Long Beach Neptunes meeting, a well known spearfishing club which he was a member.  My buddies introduced me to him and it would be the first of many times that I would experience that warm smile and firm handshake.  I never even really thought Rick would remember me but in an odd coincidence one of my former coworkers was on a flight and unknowingly sat next to Rick.  Rick was reading a Hawaii Skin Diver magazine on the plane.  I was fortunate enough to have an article in that issue and my friend told Rick that she knew a guy who wrote one of the articles in there and pointed to it.  Rick lit up and blurted out my name and told her about the article and how he was my friend and some other nice things.  When my friend told me about it she couldn’t remember his name until she described him and I said that had to be Rick Hadley.  To me, Rick was a spearfishing legend.    He was taking down large tuna before a lot of guys even figured out how to shoot them.  Early in my spearfishing adventures I remember seeing pictures of him next to gigantic yellowfin tuna.  I remember seeing his posts as “Kumu” years before, Rick was a big guy and the tuna made him look small in comparison.   I believe his biggest was about 276 lbs.  He had stopped posting for various reasons and I was honored when he found us and began posting on a small spearsite I owned and when we made the transition to the new larger site Rick made the move with us to that site as well and posted often.  I always looked forward to seeing that boyish grin from the big guy who looked like a surfer from a magazine.  I still remember talking to him at Byron’s 50th bday.  Rick had brought a present for Byron and with a serious face, handed it to him.  Byron said, “aw man Rick you shouldn’t have!”  Rick (with a straight face), “oh it’s no big deal, just wanted to wish you a happy bday, open it”.  So with a lot of encouragement Byron finally opens it and it’s a big pack of Depends adult diapers.  Rick’s face suddenly splits into a big smile and roars with a booming laugh and we all crack up.  What a character Rick was!

When Rick passed, the news spread through the freediving community like wildfire.  I  received texts, calls and emails for the rest of the night and the next day as well, every single one was disbelief on what had happened.  Our forum blew up with posts of sadness and prayers for his family.  In 24 hours pretty much anyone in the Tribe knew what had happened, although Rick was modest, pretty much anyone who was a freediver knew who he was.  When I first got the news I  came home from work and I was numb.  I scooped up my six month old son Hawke and held him tight and the tears just kept flowing.  It took a while before I could tell my wife what was wrong.  It’s been a few days, but when I see all the Tribe banding together and swapping stories and pictures of Rick I still get teary eyed.  We lost a great spearfisherman, a loving family man, a business role model and a real ambassador to our sport.  It is a tremendous loss for anyone who ever was lucky enough to meet him.

I didn’t feel like doing anything the last few nights.  We are all still depressed and can’t believe what happened.  I often deal with grief by writing, and when my fingers were done tapping, I came up with something to try to comfort our loss to the Tribe.

 “The Freediving Tribe is so small that when we lose someone, it’s always a tremendous personal loss. We’re doing this on one breath of air, and on that one drop it’s that one breath that sustains your life. I’m sure everyone who wasn’t fortunate enough to make it back up wishes that they had used that one breath to tell someone they loved them, to whisper a last thought into someone’s ear, or at least to tell us goodbye. But since they couldn’t we just have to take comfort knowing that on their last breath, they were doing something that they truly loved.”

I’ll never be able to truly accept that Rick is gone, in my mind he’s just on vacation and I’ll see him again sometime.  I’m sure he’s going to be watching over us while we dip our fins under the sea.  I like to think he’s exploring new spots now, finding big fish, swimming free and never having to worry about coming back up for air.  When I see him again with that boyish grin and barreling laugh I’ll tell him the same thing I always tell him.  “Stay off my spotz, kook!!!” :).

Memorial service will be held at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach October 10, at 11:00 am.  Hawaiian shirt attire requested.

A really nice article about Rick and his company: http://www.ocmetro.com/t-Cover_Hot25_12Rick_Hadley1110.aspx http://www.ocmetro.com/t-Cover_Hot25_12Rick_Hadley1110.aspx

And below are a bunch of photos I got from friends or Rick’s facebook page.

Rick with two big Yellowfin Tuna                                                      Rick hit 150′ with the monofin

Rick, Carla and Byron

2013 Personal best local yellowtail, a monster at 40.5 pounds

Best of friends:  Rick and Lyle with a couple of nice white seabass.  BTW I told you kooks to stay off my spotz! 😉

Rick and Daryl Wong with a nice Ulua.

Aloha,

Its such a tragedy that we have all lost a member of our tribe. Even more so to those that have been lifelong friends with Rick. I’ve only known Rick a few years now and he’s everything that has been described and more. 
We would go out diving when ever he was in town for his Hawaiian springs business. He was always so positive and Hawaii has lost a true friend. Through his business, endangered plant species are being saved through his companies sponsorship. Many companies come over to Hawaii and do well, but Rick’s company not only provided a service, but gave back. He had the true meaning of “Aloha” spirit in him. He was a member of our dive gang here. It was always nice to dive with him and then have him over for our traditional Sunday BBQ’s after diving.

I’ll miss my friend Rick, but will always think of him. His legacy here with his company, its goodwill, his positive attitude and the friendships he made will always be in our thoughts with the dive gang here.

Aloha Rick, dive on!

Daryl”

Yes that fish is that BIG

These two kooks are practically brothers.  Sorry Lyle, Rick’s fish looks bigger 😉

Rick’s water company                                                                                                Another big white seabass

Center Punched Yellowfin Tuna                                               Personal best white seabass:  60.4 lbs.  Nice pink line you got there Rick 😉

Traveling down South: the Georgia Aquarium and Disney World

8 Aug

We knew that the next RAW (Regional Aquatics Workshop) was going to happen in Georgia two years before the actual date and I was counting the days until the trip.  It would be my first trip to Georgia and I was excited, I love it in the South because people are usually so friendly and everything is nicer then in LA.  I had just enough time to get one dive in before the trip where me and my buddy Corey both scored some nice white seabass :).  Our families feasted on the fish and it was soon time for me to start packing.

A day or two later, the super shuttle picked me up bright and early.   I kissed my wife and newborn son goodbye and headed out the door.  I was pleased that I was the only guy in there but it wouldn’t last long.  Jeez, the shuttle stopped like 5 times picking up wary travelers from all over OC. I laughed when it stopped at a familiar address and one of my coworkers peeked inside. “Bitch get to the back of the bus” I laughed, he shoved me aside and sat next to me and we took off for the airport.

When we landed in Hartford I was impressed.   Welcome to Hotlanta!!  Everything was clean and well managed, no sticky floors, trash strewn about like LAX!  Wow even the bathrooms were shiny and clean!  We navigated to our luggage and took off for the Embassy Suites.  We had arranged to stay at the hotel thru the Georgia Aquarium, they were hosting the conference and the sessions were held in the conference rooms of the hotel, with the aquarium within walking distance. We dropped our stuff off and went out to explore.

The area seemed like it had been recently redeveloped, it was pretty new and the park was very clean and welcoming. In fact that whole area had a great feel to it, it was like everyone was so clean and green, I liked that a lot. Pretty much every night the Georgia Aquarium had arranged for some sort of icebreaker, we clicked bottles and glasses and met other aquarists from around the country.  It was a fairly large conference with hundreds of Aquarists from around the country.  Each day was packed with presentations, wide ranges from vet talks, to education, white sharks to whale sharks.   The conference was pretty much elbow to elbow with people.  My presentation was on collecting fish using a net I developed, it is unique because it is run with two freedivers.  Since both me and my coworker are well versed in freediving, the net works well and we are able to collect thousands of fish in one scoop.

I’m one of those guys blessed with a short attention span, nowadays it’s called ADD and kids take meds. In the old days you would pretty much just get wacked or else you learned how to deal with it. I chose to hide it with the latter.  Because of this fault, I worked my powerpoint with a lot of pictures and a video that was synced with music. I’m the first to admit I have no faith in microsoft I was nervous when I started my presentation.  I tried to get the shakiness out of my voice,  took a deep breath and ran through it. To my relief the techs were running macs and the video ran perfect and we ended with applause instead of the rotten apples and tomatoes hurled at me like I’m used to.  Mission accomplished!  Time to kick back and relax.  All of my close friends were now done with our presentations and we celebrated with a round of shots, followed by another round of drinks and an open bar.  We almost overslept and barely made it to the icebreaker that night.

On one of the nights Georgia Aquarium hosted a behind the scenes tour. We met with a ton of their aquarists, I’d have to say among other things besides the spotless pumps, filters, skimmers and even a tool room/workshop that looked like something in a magazine with every tool in it’s place. We were more amazed by their hospitality, after a week of hosting the conference we knew their aquarists had to be dead tired but they were so inviting, so quick to answer any questions we had that I immediately envied their facility. If you’ve never been there I’d highly recommend it. Many of their tanks were huge, and what they might lack in numbers they sure made up with wonderful displays. Our favorite would be standing above the whale shark/manta ray tank. I’ve swam with these behmouths in the wild during my freediving/fishing trips but man seeing a full grown whale shark pass below you is absolutely freaking amazing. We sat in the big room later and watched manta rays doing barrel rolls as they tried to scoop up food and watched gigantic jacks schooling in the 6.3 million gallon tank.  It is the largest indoor tank in the world.   I could spend hours in that exhibit alone, the only thing I’ve seen that rivaled it is the tuna tank at Tokyo Sea Life Park and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s open ocean tank. What can I say, I’m a sucker for big fish!

Above and below the Ocean Voyager Tank

I so wish our workshop looked like this!!!

Food Prep Room                                                    Pump Room

Belugas                                                                                        Kids Exploration Area

Freshwater cichlid tank

The third day of sessions had another great gathering of interesting talks.  This was the last full day of presentations and  that evening somewhere in the blur of the night we ended up on the rooftop of  Ventanas for a cocktail reception.  It’s a high end lounge complete with a really awesome city view. We clinked bottles and chatted with old friends and made contacts with new ones. It was one of the highlights of my trip, but it would only be the beginning of many highlights to follow.


The conference was over too soon, we regrettably said our goodbyes and made plans to hit up our new friends for visits sometime soon. My trip would not be over just yet, even though my two month old begged for my attention back home with my loving wife I had a chance to see my brother and his wife.  They had moved to Georgia a few years ago and I had never visited their new house.  At the end of the conference I would be greeted by a BMW (black of course because it’s a family trademark) and slid in the black leather seats as we headed towards the airport. In a couple of hours we touched down in Orlando, one of my favorite places to visit.   For a guy who loves Disneyland, it’s a playground for the short attention spanned. I hadn’t been back to Orlando in probably 20 something years but it was pretty much how I remembered it, green and full of adventure.  Disneyworld is the number one tourist destination in the world and when you get there you’ll know why.  Theme parks all around, lots of water all around (probably teaming with largemouth bass), and full of more southern hospitality.   We stayed at Disney’s animal kingdom lodge, a place where you could see giraffes walking in front of your room and hippos bathing in the pools.  We would not even have time to enjoy the facilities as we were trying to pack as much as possible into a few days.   Most amazing to me was the attention to detail, it seemed like you were in a real african lodge, an extension of Disneyland, with air conditioning of course. We had a huge dinner at one of their restaurants and I had a hard time choosing between all of the meats, chicken dishes, salads and desserts. We headed back to our room and fell asleep.

Inside of the Animal kingdom Lodge
Too early the alarm shrieked and we dragged ourselves out of bed, we only had 1.5 days to see a lot. The first stop was Disneys Animal Kingdom. If you have kids it would be a must see, like a living zoo complete with rides.  I think the Yeti ride was probably my favorite, it reminded me of a combination of space mountain and the mummy ride at universal studios.  We hit the animal kingdom for half a day and then headed out to Epcot to finish off the day. So much to do and see!  Chinese acrobats, test track roller coaster, finding nemo ride, spaceflight simulator, test track ride and a lot of heat.  I can’t remember it all but we finished up the night with a fantastic firework show and then headed back to the lodge.

The Tree of Life.  The more you look at it the more animals you’ll see!

The icon of Epcot

Finding Nemo ride                                                                                    Flight Stimulator

My chinese army collection                                        Soda Tasting from around the world.   Some countries like some really nasty ass soda

This is really really cool.  It’s an integrated aquaculture/hydroponics display where the fish feed off the leftovers from the plants.  I really want to do a display like this at my aquarium and have been raising tilapia in a tank in the back for it.

We limped back to the hotel room and promptly fell asleep.  Once again the alarm would shriek too early and we headed to Disney Studios for our last day.  It’s very much like a combination of Disneyland and universal studios with stunt shows (the car stunt show was amazing), aerosmith roller coaster, dinosaur ride and even star tours. When you step through the gates you will immediately get the feeling of how california adventure got a lot of its ideas because some parts are very similar.

Disney Studios                                                    New interactive exhibit for the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean Movie


The whole trip was over too soon, we finished our day at about 2 pm and headed back to the airport to catch a flight back to Georgia. I only had time to marvel at my brothers gigantic house, you can fit three of my houses into it, it was immense!  In the morning we all got up early and my brother drove me back to the airport where I’d somehow climb aboard my flight and head back to LA.
When the jet began to descend I had to let out a sigh. There were no more green fields filled with lakes, no clear skies.  I returned to a concrete jungle with fake palm trees, smog and a lot of trash on the ground.  After such a great vacation, if most of my family and friends were not here I would have tried harder to get my wife to move to the south, I can’t tell you how tired I am of the crowded city.  I love living in places where nature is close, were people are civilized and pick up their trash and are a little nicer.  It would only make it an easier decision for our move further into Orange County.  But I’ll save that for another story, for now I’ll just say that I was definitely impressed all around with Georgia and of the people as well as the hospitality of the Georgia Aquarium and of course I’ll be heading back there as well as Disneyworld.

When You Wish upon a Star…

25 Mar

 “My name is Hawke I was born in March and I’m glad to meet ya, you can swaddle me but I’ll get out cause I’m a ninja…” 

This is the song I often softly sing to you as I hold you in my arms.  As I watched you, your eyes flittered about, the sandman throwing his magic into your eyes and you would drift to sleep.  I always have the biggest smile on my face when I see you…

When we first had your ultrasound the tech asked us “do you want to know if it’s a boy or a girl?”.  And we both answered “YES”!.  We thought for sure you were going to be a girl, everyone told us that.  I would have loved you either way, but I had hoped for a son to keep the family line going.  The tech paused for a second and answered, “It’s a boy”!  I was stunned.  “Are you sure”, I asked.  She laughed and said, “pretty sure”.  I felt like I had won the lottery :).

That blob in the center of the screen is you, just about five months after conception

It would be about 4 am on Tuesday March 19th that you would cause your first ruckus.  Your beautiful mother nudged me awake and let me know the first weak contractions were happening, but they weren’t the right kinds of contractions to take her to the hospital yet. Our dogs Leilani and Kalea stirred as well, Leilani let out a groan and crawled up next to me and promptly fell asleep with her head on my pillow and began snoring, I laughed because I had never heard her snore before.  But I immediately went into worry mode, I couldn’t sleep and went to the computer to work on a spearfishing article,  maybe HSD will pick it up and you can read it someday.  I went back and I rolled around in bed and finally got out to shoot my buddies a text message letting them know I wasn’t going to make that spearfishing trip today.  It’s white seabass season and I didn’t want to take a chance having you show up before I got home.

We waited for you in the am and you were still a no show, so your mom and I took a walk around the neighborhood.  It was a nice quiet morning and the sun finally started to show.  We talked about moving to a new house, a bigger one where you and any siblings you had would have more room to grow.  We had a big breakfast and then went to Disneyland where we walked around some more trying to coax you to hurry up.  We couldn’t ride too many rides but we did go on The Little Mermaid Ride, Toy Story Mania and had giant ice cream in the hot sun.  We finished up the day on “It’s a Small World” because we thought it would be nice for you to hear the music.   Your mom had to stop often as the contractions finally started again, but you still weren’t ready to show up so we went shopping for some more things for you and then had a nice dinner at home.

The contractions grew over the evening becoming stronger and stronger, your mother walked around the house and rested intermittently, somehow I fell asleep and about 2:30 am on Wednesday March 20th we knew it was time to go to the hospital. 

I stumbled around the living room and grabbed our overnight bags and some things for you as well.  I walked your mom to the car , my mind full of worry.  Would she be okay?  Would you be okay?  What would I ever do if anything happened to either of you?

Your mom was as calm as could be although the contractions doubled her over in pain.  We made it to the hospital and they checked us in, luckily for us the labor pains were the right duration and they admitted us and got her ready.  We had a couple of scares because your mom had a slight fever and your heart beat was a bit faster than it should have been so we had to wait a while until things were under control.  Finally about 11:30 am or so your mom started pushing, harder and harder.  Again I was so worried about both of you, it was hard to take but I gently coached her.  “Babe you are doing great, take a deep breath and push until we count till ten”.  With the nurses and doctors around she pushed and I heard a soft cry, you appeared with your umbilical cord wrapped slightly around your neck and they cut the cord and cleaned you up and then placed you on your moms chest.  You cried and winced at the bright lights but they assured me you were okay and I could finally relax.  You were born Wednesday March 20th at 12:15 pm, you share your bday with your grandfather on my side.

This is you, just born, eyes puffy

It turned out later that you had borderline jaundice, they had to take you from us and put you under bright UV lights for 24 hours.  It broke our hearts to see you in there with your goggles on, but you didn’t seem to mind it at all and we came to visit you that night and the next morning.  All of the nurses fell in love with you, you were such a beautiful baby with such a gentle disposition, any one who got to see you would immediately break into a smile.

Your eyes first open, you look a lot like Grandpa Okamoto in this picture

We finally got a chance to take you home, we’ve been waiting for this day for a long time, and I’ve been thinking about you a lot.   You are the last of the Okamoto line of men, and maybe someday you’ll be typing a letter to your own unborn son.  Your first name was a name we chose because it was strong.  Bradley Hawke.  Your middle name Takashi is after a great man, your grandfather who you will see in a few days.  Your grandfather is one of those practical engineers, he could fix anything and build anything out of pretty common parts.  Hawke was a name that we originally thought of for your first name but decided it would be a better middle name and it stuck throughout your mothers pregnancy, it’s the name we normally call you.

The very most important thing of course is what my mother always told me, “Be glad you are healthy”.  So of course our greatest hope is that you have strong health for the rest of your life.  Of course we want you to have the world but your life will be yours to choose.   I’m hoping you will grow to be a gentleman, that you’ll open doors for women, pull out chairs and hold the elevator door and be the last one out.  You’ll be a shoulder to lean on for your friends and a ear to listen.  You’ll defend those who you care about fiercely.  You’ll grow up to learn what really is to be feared and what is not, you’ll grow to learn to never be afraid of anything except losing someone. 

I am hoping you will have the love of the ocean, when you are just a toddler we are going to introduce you to the water.  Maybe you’ll like it as much as I do and will turn out to be a fish.  Maybe you’ll like it so much that someday you’ll follow your father into the sea where we will chase mighty fish and on lucky days bring some home to share with our friends and family. There are rods and reels in the garage gathering dust just waiting to get used again so we can go fishing together.  I’ve got spearguns and other dive gear already set aside for you should you choose to follow me.  If you embrace the sea I plan on teaching you how to read the conditions, how to pilot the boat, how to be as safe as you can.  We are going to spend a lot of time outdoors, and we’ll try to see wildlife where ever we can.  We’ll go camping and sleep under the stars.  As you grow you’ll learn everything that I can teach you, you’ll learn how to wrench on cars and be able to figure out most things mechanically, you’ll be able to build things out of plastic, wood or steel.  You’ll learn how to cook and how to experment with the flavors you enjoy.  You’ll learn martial arts, basketball, and maybe some other sports you are interested in.  You’ll come home dirty, maybe even with fresh scrapes on your knees and arms.  You’ll learn the hard ways of life, you won’t complain and you’ll hopefully learn the patterns that life revolves around.   Hopefully you’ll enjoy Disneyland as much as your mother and I do.

You will challenge yourself and make mistakes, you’ll fail and learn that’s okay too.  But eventually you’ll learn to follow your dreams and make the right decisions, but you’ll never have to question whether you are loved by your mother and father.

A long time ago, I memorized the words to a song that has had a lot of meaning in my life, funny how now it means so much more.  It’s from Will Smith, Just the Two of Us.

“From the first time the doctor placed you in my arms

I knew I’d meet death before I’d let you be harmed

Although questions arose in my mind, would I be man enough?

Against wrong, choose right and be standin up

From the hospital that first night

Took a hour just to get the car-seat in right

People drivin’ all fast, got me kinda upset

Got you home safe, placed you in your basonette

That night I don’t think one wink I slept

As I slipped out my bed, to your crib I crept

Touched your head gently, felt my heart melt

Cause I knew I loved you more than life itself

Then to my knees, and I begged the Lord please

Let me be a good daddy, all he needs

Love, knowledge, discipline too

I pledge my life to you

Just the two of us, we can make it if we try

Just the two of us, (Just the two of us)

Just the two of us, building castles in the sky

Just the two of us, you and I

Five years old, bringin comedy

Everytime I look at you I think man, a little me

Just like me

Wait an see gonna be tall

Makes me laugh cause you got your dad’s ears an all

Sometimes I wonder, what you gonna be

A General, a Doctor, maybe a MC

Haha, I wanna kiss you all the time

But I will test that butt when you cut outta line, trudat

Uh-uh-uh why you do that?

I try to be a tough dad, but you be makin me laugh

Crazy joy, when I see the eyes of my baby boy

I pledge to you, I will always do

Everything I can

Show you how to be a man

Dignity, integrity, honor an

I don’t mind if you lose, long as you came with it

An you can cry, ain’t no shame in it

It didn’t work out with me an your mom

But yo, push come to shove

You was conceived in love

So if the world attacks, and you slide off track

Remember one fact, I got your back

It’s a full-time job to be a good dad

You got so much more stuff than I had

I gotta study just to keep with the changin times

101 Dalmations on your CD-ROM

See me-I’m

Tryin to pretend I know

On my PC where that CD go

But yo, ain’t nuthin’ promised, one day I’ll be gone

Feel the strife, but trust life does go on

But just in case

It’s my place

To impart

One day some girl’s gonna break your heart

And ooh ain’t no pain like from the opposite sex

Gonna hurt bad, but don’t take it out on the next, son

Throughout life people will make you mad

Disrespect you and treat you bad

Let God deal with the things they do

Cause hate in your heart will consume you too

Always tell the truth, say your prayers

Hold doors, pull out chairs, easy on the swears

You’re living proof that dreams come true

I love you and I’m here for you”

There is nothing more for me to say to you Hawke, just remember, we love you and we are here for you 🙂

An Encounter with Marine Mammals

1 Mar

I’m not sure when this actually occurred, but I’m pretty sure it was within a hundred years or so ;).  I remember waking up and rolling out of my warm bed, gathering my gear and firing up my truck.  I remember loading our gear into my buddies boat and feeling that dreadful cold air creeping through our clothes.  I remember feeling the boat rise and fall, feeling the wind pushing into our faces and making us even colder.  As we headed towards our first dive spot we saw a giant blow, the spout of a large whale.  We slowed down and took a look, I thought I caught a glimpse of gray and white and my guess is it was a gray whale.  We all watched as the boat silently drifted by, the whale took no notice and continued it’s way.  Then it dipped down and with a mighty push with its tail it breached clearly out of the water!  There was a big splash and I wished I had my camera, it was definitely a gray whale, fairly young and about 20ish feet long.  I thought no way would it happen again and then SPLASH, it leaped out and breached again!  This was the first time I’ve ever seen a gray whale breach in southern California, I’ve seen them breach in Baja before.  We could clearly make out the white/gray barnacle scarring and the orange patches of sea lice.  We talked about why they might be doing that and I remember what I used to tell the students when I was teaching:  “Why do whales breach?  Do they do it because they are showing off?  Is it because they are having fun and just horsing around?  Maybe they are trying to get some of the lice and barnacles off?  You really want to know why they do that?  I’ll tell you why, here’s the big secret answer.  We don’t know!  Maybe someday you can invent a whale talking machine and you can ask them and then come back and find me and let me know.”

We watched the whale for a few minutes and then took off, I quietly reminded myself that people pay a lot of money to see things like that and we get to see it pretty much for free.  Spend enough time in the water and you get to see a lot of really cool things, I’ve seen sea turtles locally, orcas mid channel on the way to Catalina, and blue whales come up to our boat so close that we felt their breath.  Today would be yet another somewhat unexpected adventure.

We eventually made our way to a spot to look for some white seabass.  The visibility was eeeeh just okay at maybe ten or so feet.  As I was putting on my wetsuit I sadly discovered I had ripped a 3″ hole right in the ass area.  I was even more sad because we were out of the water and I could feel that cold air seeping right against my skin, this proved a delight to my fellow freedivers.   Those cold hearted bastards!!   I tried vainly to cover up the area with my wetsuit top and tried to put the fabric together but it would always open to it’s wicked white smile.  As I put my long fins on and dropped over the side as quietly as possible I immediately felt the cold water pin against my body.  As I kicked that hole opened and closed up like some balloon mouth and cold water would shoot across one cheek to the other and then up my back.  I glanced at my watch, 56 degrees.  Wonderful.

Hunting the beds during the winter is always a dreadful event.  The water is typically murky.  It’s cold.  Fleeting thoughts of white sharks haunt us everytime we kick towards the end of the bed.  And the beds are usually fairly lifeless, there is some bait but very few other fish are around.  I dropped down until I was negative and started slowly kicking forward while stopping every once in a while to check out any life that might be around.  Some spanish mackerel cruised thru the bed and I saw some very small kelp bass dart away.  Senioritas would come check me out and then flitter away.  I breathed up once again and then made my drop.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw some movement and then a huge white shape pushed through.  Finger off the trigger, I swung the gun just in case it was a fat white seabass.  Instead two large curious eyes poked through and eventually the whole body was pushed through the kelp.  It was a very big harbor seal.  The differences between seals and sea lions are pretty obvious if you care to look at them.  Sea lions have external ear flaps and their “flippers” are shaped a bit different.  Seals lack those ear flaps.  Sea lions are bastards to freedivers.  They often bear their teeth at us, blow bubbles in our faces and will rush us and veer away at the last minute.  They will snatch fish on a stringer on your belt and pull you to the bottom.  They have bitten divers before and are fairly bold, I’d say in the short time I’ve been diving I’ve seen them get even bolder because their numbers are largely unchecked and they are increasing.  Seals however are usually not as bold.  I’ve had them try to grab fish but they aren’t as bold about it, they’ve never tried to bite me (yet) and are more curious than anything.

This harbor seal was even more curious than others I’ve seen.  It followed me during my entire dive, watching me from below and then when I breathed up it would follow me and breathe up with me.  When I was below it came right up and inspected my speargun, it pushed against the tip and bands and would come right up to me with unblinking eyes.  I tried to ignore it, because I knew that if any seabass were around that the seal would scare them away.  It didn’t work.  Eventually it would rub it’s body up against my fins and I would gently push it away and it would immediately come back again, like a dog that wants to be scratched.  I gave up hunting, there was no way any seabass would be nearby me with this pest around.  Eventually the seal started to hug my fins and just wanted to sit there and watch me.  I dove as deep as I could and as I was kicking away horizontally I’d feel weight on my fins and as I looked back the seal would let go and dart away.  I would breathe up and again feel weight and look back and once again it was there playing it’s game.  On one drop I felt something laying against me and as I turned back saw it just putting the weight of it’s body against mine with it’s head on the square of my back.  My dog Leilani does the same thing when we are watching tv sometimes.  As I neared the boat the seal came to me one more time, it pushed against my leg and came right up to me, face to face.  As I put my hand up to push it away it pushed the side of it’s face into my hand.  I was careful to make sure it wasn’t trying to bite me and we both surfaced at the same time.  As I jumped back onto the boat it sat there in the water with it’s head up watching me with questioning eyes, like it was inviting me to come back to play, I had to laugh.  By then I was freezing and fishless, I poured some much needed hot water down my back and shivered until my buddies returned.

We never saw a fish that day, never heard any white seabass croaks and the kelp bed was pretty dead.  Yet I had to admit, it was just another pretty amazing day.  In fact pretty much any day in the water is a good day to me :).

I realized that most of the pix I have of marine mammals are either on film somewhere or in videos that I have yet to edit.  So here’s some really bad ones.  The harbor seal is the first picture hiding behind kelp, they typically will look spotted under the water.  The sea lion is the one in the green water.  And just for good measure, below that are elephant seals from a rookery up north.  We do get elephant seals in southern California, the males can get larger than walrus’s.  Should you ever see a sick seal/sea lion on the beach stay away from it, they can deliver a nasty bite.

Harbor Seal

Sea Lion

Elephant Seals, the males are the larger ones with the “snout”