Waves I Have Known

CopyRight @ 1997

Well, as often the case, I started writing something so that I could find out what the end of the story was. I don't think it's a great story, but it has potential and maybe it will remind you. That's the purpose, isn't it. This is about some of the different kinds of waves I have known

Oh, where to start? This is basically about Zuma Beach. I spent a lot of time there in, out, above and below the water there. I first got near drowned there when I was 12. Most visits were less dramatic though. Mostly I had a great there and experienced many moods of the sea and shore there.
It is a wide, beautiful sandy beach that extends for about 7 miles of the northern Malibu coast. It is such an even shaped sandy beach, that the waves break pretty consistently and cleanly. It faces directly south and so waves come in every size and type. Usually, it is not rough, but has fairly nice waves for body surfing. It's really not right for boards. It is quite fun for diving. Sometimes, it's even flat, but often the waves are varying degrees of large and powerful. Sometimes, the fun part of Zuma comes with the top of the set and even an occasional BIG wave.

Lets progress from calm to treacherous.

Sometimes Zuma is calm and clear, especially towards the end of summer. Nice place for scuba classes to go for checkout dives. Need I say more? The waves are small and friendly, but they are still strong. Divers get knocked down. Gear gets knocked off or simply dropped. It then gets swallowed by the sandy white water. Knives, masks, snorkels, fins. It all goes flying every which way and it don't come back.

Sometimes you try Zuma as a dive site of last resort. It keeps its visibility longest of anywhere else in the Malibu area. It doesn't get plankton bloom as bad, in spring. You don't have to enter over rocks through the waves to get in. What all this means is that a slightly over enthusiastic diver is likely to find them self in bigger waves at Zuma than they might go in elsewhere. Even on a moderate day, when the top of the set of waves come, it may be a clean 6 foot wave. This can be a nuisance out in the water, but if it hits when you are coming in, you're going to get blasted. Cold water spin cycle. These waves swallow dive gear from experienced divers. These take weight belts, cameras and spearguns.

Then there are the storm waves. These little nasties are deceptive and it took me a long time to learn recognize them. Most of the times that I have had to help other divers, were from these. It will look like a normal day with consistent 2 to 3 foot waves coming in. The question seems to be, 'how far are the tops of the waves throwing'. If they are just tipping over the top and down the front, that's fine. But, if they break such that the top of the wave throws out and hits in front of the face of the wave, those are powerful waves. When Bill and I got to Zuma one day, it looked just a bit rough, but nothing unusual. We asked some divers we saw and they said that it was unbelievably rough in the small waves. They got smacked into the sand and the waves took a fin, tank and regulator.

The most dangerous waves though are the occasional BIG ones. They are not the top of the set. They are not regular. They often come in threes. You may only see one in a handful of days in the water, but they are often memorable.

It was a beautiful sunny day with small waves. It was nice enough that there were a number of divers and a class, in the nearby water. I was standing in the surf, talking to another diver, when we saw this giant wave come in. You could see through the clear water and there was a diver way up in the top of it, still swimming. He was 6 feet in the air and the wave went about that much higher above him. Splash...... After some excitement it was quiet and fairly calm again. The other diver and I were picking up the diver. He sort of gasped out 'the other diver'. Oh.. Sure enough, 40 yards out was another diver we hadn't seen, face down in the water, with no bubbles coming up. When we picked her up, she was OK after a few minutes, if a bit thoroughly dazed and spun.

The Thursday that was declared a national holiday in honor of the death of Lyndon Johnson is probably remembered by few. That was the day I got it by the BIG wave at Zuma. In Free Diving - Malibu Area is the more about what happened that day.

Suffice to say, that on a fairly calm day with mostly mild 3 foot waves, We were coming in from a dive and I saw the bottom much shallower than it should have been. It was my only warning before getting blasted by a set of 3 BIG waves. I saw it coming, had scuba in my mouth and was swimming on the bottom towards it. I'm good in waves. Right! It took my mask, broke my tank backpack and twisted my leg. You tell yourself, 'well the regulator is in my mouth, so breathe'. It is not easy when you are getting thrown like a rag doll in the wave.
BIG waves can take your life.

Zuma is a beautiful place and most of the time, offers good easy beach diving. Sometimes the diving gets more challenging and it might even be better for body surfing. Sometimes, it's probably just better if you stay out of the water... Of course, it's not always easy to tell which is which.

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