Thursday, July 11, 2024
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Kayak Diving in Northern California

I arrive at the dive site early as usual and walk to the bluff to check conditions. The ocean looks great and I can see the kelp bed where I want to dive about a quarter mile away. How will I get there? No way to launch a boat from this small cove and it’s too far to swim. No problem, I’m a kayak diver.

In remote and primitive areas, like northern California where I dive most often, where boat launches and charter services are few and far between, kayaks have become the vehicle of choice for avid divers. Beach diving here is great, but limited to swimming distance. If we can just get offshore a little further, numerous dive sites become available to us. Kayaks are also great for the diver on a budget as many models are available for just a few hundred dollars, as opposed to thousands for most boats. Easily transported even on top of a small car, they can be carried to the water by one or two people. Anywhere you can beach dive, you can launch a kayak.

The sit-on-top kayak, which differs from the sit-inside type of touring kayak, is most preferred by divers. This model allows for easy exits and entries, and has many special features such as tank wells, storage areas with hatches and tie downs for securing gear. A kayak gives you the ability to transport much more equipment along without the added stress of swimming with it on the surface. The underwater hunter has a place for his spear gun and game, the photographer a place for her cameras and strobes. An extensive range of sizes are available, from short models that maneuver easily, to sleek, longer kayaks that slice effortlessly through the swells.

The skills necessary to safely operate this unique dive vehicle are easily mastered. Many scuba instructors and dive agencies offer courses in kayak diving to help you get started. Techniques for securing and anchoring, proper paddling, navigating and rescue are a few of the things you’ll learn, as well as how to get on and off your kayak safely and how to launch through the surf. Many of the skills you learned in your openwater scuba class are put to use in a new and exciting way. Doffing and donning your scuba unit in the water becomes second nature after a few kayak dives.

Finding the right kayak for you will entail some shopping as many manufacturers make kayaks suitable for diving. Ocean Kayak makes a couple different models designed just for diving that are very stable and track well through the water. Necky, Cobra, and Dagger are a few others that build great diving kayaks, some coming with foot activated rudders to improve handling. Regardless of which brand you choose, like any other piece of dive gear, fit and comfort are the most important factors. Find one that fits your needs as well as your body.

After dropping the anchor and securing the line, I quickly don my mask and fins. I ease into the cool, blue water and slide my scuba gear out of the tank well. As I strap into my BC I look down the anchor line and see the bottom below beckoning me. I put my reg in my mouth, give my buddy the thumb down sign, and we descend together on a journey of discovery. Slowly sinking towards the reef, I realize I wouldn’t be at this cool spot without the kayak that brought me here. I’m a kayak diver, and at this moment, a very happy one.