CopyRight @ 1998
Much of the best diving in California is on the 8 offshore islands and a few assorted rocks, that are in the area that extends from below Point Conception to, perhaps off of Oceanside. This is the ocean. The Big ocean. Here at the edge of it, off of Sunny Southern California, the diving can be as good as anywhere in the world. It can get as harsh as anywhere else too.
The islands have every kind of shoreline including rocky cliffs, sandy beaches and rocky reefs. If you are in an area where there are cliffs extending down into the water like is common at Catalina, Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands, it may be quite possible to dive right against the island. At most of the islands, there are also offshore reefs or pinnacles to dive on. Some like Begg Rock are quite small and rise from much deeper water. Diving may be in a small protected cove with walls on three sides or it may be far off shore on huge rocky reefs that extend for miles.
Getting there can be half the fun. Single day trips leave at 6 or 7 in the morning. On a beautiful calm morning, the boat travels through the calm clear blue water. It is common to see the fins of individual Blue Sharks or huge schools of porpoises jumping in the distance. The trip there is fantastically refreshing. Usually, the boat will anchor within 100 yards of the island shore and often it is closer. If the current is not up, the kelp will be floating on the surface. If the water is clear, you can easily see the rocky bottom. Sometimes you will park far off shore above a deeper reef or one that sticks up from deeper water. While that is good diving, for surface sight seeing, I like to be closer to the island itself. Where the land constantly combats the oncoming sea is the place I like the most. Every surface and crack is filled with some kind of life.
On trips to the outer islands, the boat leaves the night before and gets to the first dive spot shortly after the dawn. You snooze in your bunk, but when the engine speed changes, you immediately head for the deck. Often, you rise to a fantastic sunrise as the boat cuts through calm water. It makes you glad to be alive.
The best times are the calm days when the water and the sky are both blue. You're out on a comfortable boat with the wind in your hair. You are either anticipating a great day of diving or winding down with the memories of a great day.
Before I went out on dive boats, I had only a vague guess at what the islands might look like. From what I was hearing, it sounded like Anacapa was a small rock pile that barely stuck above water. Not so. Most of the islands are pretty big. Santa Cruz Island is 27 miles long and has two mountain ranges on it.
Really, for a diver, 'the islands' usually means one of two things. It can mean the ocean on the trip to get there and the far off visual impression of the islands as you approach. It can also mean the close up view of the land, rocks and plants that you see when you are at or on the islands.
At a distance, the islands are usually patches of gold and dark green. The gold is the dried brush, the dark green, most often in canyons, is the typical chaparral brush of California. In spring, the brush is a luxuriant green with lots of yellow flowers, but that season is usually pretty short.
On the islands with mountains on them, like Catalina and Santa Cruz Islands, there is a rain shadow effect such that most of the rain falls on the mainland side of the island. The back side is extremely arid. When you come up the backside of Santa Cruz Island, from Santa Rosa, It looks like a moonscape.
Diving on the Frontside (mainland side) of any one island is likely to be far different than it is going to be on the backside. The backside is directly exposed to the huge southern swell and the island has been worn to where there are beaches and large offshore reefs. The frontside of most of the islands, are protected from the direct swell and so are often a cliff or like a lake.
Realistically speaking, some days are not as good for diving as others. The calm sunny days are great, but some days are overcast, cold or rainy. These days are fine for diving, especially as most boats have areas that are out of the wind. A little hot water in the suit from a hot shower or better yet from the jacuzzi, if there is one, will make a chill day much warmer. Some people wear windbreakers over their wetsuits. Wind, cold or rain effect the diving little. The condition that makes for the most poor diving is rough seas. All of the islands are exposed to the big open ocean waves from the south, west and the north. Big waves from the north may make the diving poor at Catalina, but they will make the northern islands unreachable. Big waves can come from any direction but the east. Most of the weather though, comes from the north. Sometimes waves may make for a rough trip, but not hurt the diving too much. Sometimes, forget it... For a discussion of seasonal California weather, try -
California Diving Weather
The following is a list of links to essays about the individual islands, that also have links to any other essays about dives that were at those particular islands. This part needs a lot of work.
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