Wet, Cold, Green and Very Photogenic, SCUBA Diving in Monterey, California
When I’m traveling divers from around the world ask me “What is it like diving in Monterey?” I tell them about the kelp forest, fish and nudibranchs, and about the difficulties in diving cold water such as wearing a drysuit and associated weight and having to walk down a beach and through the surf, all with my camera system, to go diving. But showing what diving in Monterey is like is much better than telling about it. This page is for all those people who wonder what it is like to SCUBA dive in and photograph underwater in Monterey.
My Monterey Diving History
I’ve been SCUBA diving in Monterey since December 1991 when I was certified at the Coast Guard Breakwater and from the very beginning I was fascinated with the marine environment and being underwater. No matter how cold, green and dark the ocean was I was always up to go diving. I kept a dive log for several years but then time got away from me and now I have no idea how many dives I’ve done in Monterey but I’m sure it is in the hundreds (maybe thousands?).
I think it was around 1998 when I started thinking about taking pictures underwater and took a waterproof disposable camera diving with me for the first time. It was fine down to 15-20 feet and then it imploded. Sad. But this inspired me to go to the local underwater photography store, Backscatter, to see about a real underwater camera. Six months later I was the proud owner of a yellow plastic Sea&Sea camera that I still own and thus my underwater photography hobby began. Since then I’ve won a few awards including several first, second, third and honorable mentions at the California Beach Dive Photo Competition and the Monterey Shootout. The latest of which I wrote about in my blog post on Winning at the Monterey Shootout.
Cold Water SCUBA Gear and Gearing Up
“Are we having fun yet?” This is what we say as we are gearing up. Gearing up is a lot of work, putting on the underwear, drysuit, getting your tank, BCD and regulator together. And it is hot in that drysuit until you get in the ocean! When I first started diving I used a wetsuit but after I started diving with a camera I started using a drysuit. This is because I don’t swim around as much generating heat. As a photographer I stop and sit still a lot underwater. I stop to look at the composition of a potential wide angle scene or to study a tiny nudibranch or to try and figure what the *#@! is wrong with my camera. Most photographers that I know use drysuits when diving in cold water. Here is a list of the gear I use when SCUBA diving in Monterey.
- Drysuit – a completely sealed suit made of a trilaminate fabric or neoprene with built in booties and seals on the wrists and neck.
- Drysuit underwear – thick warm full length underwear and warm socks.
- Gloves – at least 5 mm thick neoprene.
- Hood – 8-10 mm thick neoprene.
- Buoyency Compensation Device (BCD) – Mine is a vest style with lots of D-rings to hang my camera and gauges on. It also is weight integrated so I don’t have to wear a separate weight belt.
- Weight – I wear 30 lbs of lead with my drysuit. For comparison when I dive in warm water I wear 6-8 lbs of lead.
- Tank – I have two 80 PSI aluminum tank (but only use one at a time). It is big and heavy on land but more buoyant underwater! Just because I like to be stylish my tanks are hot pink.
- Regulator with gauges
- Flashlight – also hot pink.
- Emergency signaling device
- Knife – for cutting kelp or fishing line that gets tangled in my gear.
I think that’s it…gee I sure hope so!
Finally, After all That Work, We’re Underwater
The ocean in Monterey Bay is cold, between 49 and 55 degrees F, the visibility rarely goes over 30 feet in the areas I dive from the beach and the water is always green. This is a good thing. The marine diversity in the bay owes itself to the cold plankton filled water. Kelp thrives in the cold water and is an ecosystem in itself harboring marine life in its fronds. I love to swim through the kelp and relate it to walking through a redwood forest. I like to look up from 60 feet (depending on visibility of course) and see the kelp streaming up to the surface. Occasional harbor seals and otters swim past me, curious at the large creatures blowing bubbles in their home. It is an amazing experience and I hope that you too, after visiting this page will know what it is like to dive in Monterey. I’m sure you will love it as much as I do.
Resources for the Monterey Diver
Diver Friendly Lodging:
My Favorite Restaurants:
Underwater Photo Equipment and Service:
- Monterey SCUBA Diving and Underwater Photography – My first dive with my new drysuit and D300 housing.
- Monterey Underwater Photography Diving – the dive report.