Dive Lore


Dr. Samuel Miller

Several summers ago I visited with some relatives and old friends to reconnect with my roots down in southern California, in "smogsville," as the smog shrouded area of Los Angeles and Orange County is known by most Californians who reside in other areas of the state.

This visit certainly verified the message in the Thomas Wolfe book "You can't go home again" which I found so difficult to comprehend as a young college student. Yes, Thomas Wolfe was correct! Indeed - You can't go home again.

I spent a very early Saturday morning at Diver's Cove in Laguna Beach, the fountainhead of American sport diving. It has been a popular diving location since recreational diving began along the California coast in the early 1930s. "The cove" as local divers refer to it, was catapulted from obscurity into international diving fame when it was chosen as the location for the world's first competitive spear fishing meet in June 1950. The Compton, California "Dolphins Spear Fishing club", won the meet with a three man team consisting of Ken Kummerfeild, Pat O'Malley and Paul Hoss (of the Bottom Scratcher/Hoss gun fame)

The cove was immortalized for divers through out the world on the cover of the December 1951, issue of Skin Diver Magazine Volume 1, number 1 with a picture of Dr. Nelson "Matty" Mathenson of the Long Beach Nepunes proudly displaying a presentable White Sea Bass he had just speared at the at "the Cove."

Surprisingly Diver's Cove did not receive it's name from recreational diving but from the local youth's habit of diving into the shallow blow hole from the rocks below where the apartments now stand. The apartments were constructed in 1960 which physically separated the cove and Fishermen cove to the north. Prior to the construction and into the 1970s Fisherman's cove was the docking and storage cove for a number of small local recreational sport fishing boats

Lots of other changes have occurred in and around Divers Cove with the passage of sixty years.

In the 1950s the rolling hills surrounding Diver's Cove were devoid of housing and covered with dry chaparral, which emitted the classic California golden glow always associated with the "Golden state." Now when viewed from the cove the hills appear almost surrealistic emerald green, blanketed by modern multi- million dollar homes on well-manicured lawns interconnected labyrinth of roads.

It is no longer possible to drive up to the edge of the cliff at Diver's Cove and park haphazardly. Parking places are now regulated. They are neatly identified with white stripes on the concrete and crowned with a row of coin eating parking meters; silent sentinels waiting for the next quarter for fifteen minutes of violation free parking.

Also absent is the steel cable that provided beach goers and divers to access to the beach. It was a much-appreciated gift from some unknown beach lover who spent their time; money and effort to securely bury one end of the cable in cement and dangle the rest of the cable over the cliff to create a Tarzan style hand over hand beach access. Now modern stairs complete with handrails and a drinking fountain welcomes the divers to the beach

The beach scene I remember so well from my youth is now only a distant memory, but they are memories of gold as were the hills surrounding the cove.

In the genesis of recreational diving the beach was populated with young athletic sun tanned male youths clad in the diving costume of the era, baggy long underwear, tucked in to equally baggy swim trunks, round diving masks on their faces, short green fins on their feet and the weapon of choice a "Jab Stick" (a pole spear powered by the trust of the arm) unceremoniously stuck in the ground.

Like ancient tribes returning from a successful hunt they stood in small groups, wrapped in surplus WWII olive drab army or navy blue blankets, shivering and blue lipped from the cold of the water and the chill in the air. Roaring bonfires fed by WWII surplus tires added much needed warmth as it belched fourth thick heavy black smoke into the clean crisp smog free Orange County air.

Now Divers Cove has become a popular diving destination for dive training classes. It is populated every Saturday and Sunday morning by young fuzzy faced certified diving instructors who have arrived before 7:00 to conduct the final ocean check out dive for their classes of aspiring divers. Under the ever-watchful eye of their SCUBA instructor, young and old, male and female don the costume of modern diving. Bright colored wet suits have replaced the long underwear for thermal protection; clear form fitting twin lens masks of clear silicone replaced the black round rubber masks; multi hued long lightweight split plastic fins now adorn their feet replacing the short green Churchill fins. Not a spear fishing weapon is insight, since this area has been a game reserve for over a generation.

Yes, there have been a lot of changes in the last sixty plus years. Tomas Wolfe's message has been verified. "You can't go home again," but you can relive fond memories from the distant past and dream and hope for the future of recreational diving.

Only the sea, the eternal sea, has relentlessly remained the same