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2017 AOTY/DOTY Entry

Topic: Meet "The Landlord" or How To Kill Yourself While Ab Diving  (Read 8187 times)

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monkeyface

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Hi guys.  Sharky suggests I post this here, and who am I to argue with Sharky? 

I’m sure every macho man in the world’s going to scoff at this and tell me how stupid I am.  But really, in the end… I just wanted to be honest, so here it is… my fourth post to date...


How To Kill Yourself While Ab Diving


1.  Forebodings


Today was my first and last abalone diving experience.  Thank you but I’ll stick to rock picking.  The funny thing was I knew all along that this trip would be a disaster. Yesterday I ran into a native of Tomales Bay, a fisheries biologist named Brian who raised his eyebrows when I told him my buddy was taking me to Tomales Point for my first ab diving adventure.

   “You know that might be a tough area for your first dive, man,” he said. 

My buddy and {insert name of ambiguously titled semi federal agency of fish data collection here} colleague JB has been ab diving for 20 years and was confident that we could pick up a few snails just around the corner from Bird Rock.  I had been hinting to JB for a long time that I wanted to try ab diving, and with yesterday’s placid conditions he called me up and suggested we give it a try.  JB is a surfer and—as I said—ab diving veteran of twenty years.  I am neither of these.  My relationship with the ocean is from the vantage point of sitting on top of it, casting into it, or poking it’s intertidal regions with a wire hanger lashed to a bamboo stick.  Somehow, in all the preparations for this expedition the exact level of my inexpertise was not adequately addressed.

Suffice it to say, I went into the field with borrowed equipment and a dangerous combination of abalone lust and zero experience.   

Despite being of an athletic disposition, (baseball, football, rugby, raquetball, etc) I am, sadly, not much of an underwater kinda guy—for those of you who actually know who I am this may seem incongruous with my occupation, marine passions, etc… but there it is, on the table; anyway I’d rather be an open and honest idiot than a shy and dishonest one.

Again, to be clear: I have snorkled exactly twice in my life.  Once in the friendly crystalline waters of Costa Rica, once in the bath tub coves of Hawaii.


2.  Early Warnings


We arrived at Miller Ramp. The borrowed wet suit was too tight, the weight belt too heavy.  (Incredibly, I did not think to try them out first).  We chugged to the spot in a 14 foot zodiac.  JB dove in and began plucking abs.  He had his first one in five minutes.  I jumped in the water, and, not having dealt with the weight belt before, sank like a stone.  Getting back to the surface was more cardio vascular work than I’ve done in 15 years.  I immediately inhaled about a pint of water.  Washed that down with an inadvertently swallowed quart… great start.  I looked around… sea lions everywhere.  I tried descending head first.  Wow.  Much harder than it looked when JB did it.  My ears exploded.  I got wrapped in kelp.  This happens some times when poke poling.  No biggie.  You relax, you work your way out.  But unlike poke poling my face was under water.  I tried to relax, no problem, I’ve freed myself from kelp dozens of times.
 
But then.  In an instant, I was completely out of breath.  My leg started to cramp, and the kelp filaments tore the mask off my face.  I had been in the water for one minute and I found myself… well for lack of a better term… drowning.

But the indignity of dying in this trite and stupid manner, wrapped in kelp, (like every weekend-warrior-ab-diving-fatality on record) while my friend JB leisurely gathered his limit of abs 30 feet away from me was not something I could live—or I should say die—with.

So with nothing left in my lungs and my head spinning, I forced myself to relax, go limp, and in that manner barely… and seriously guys… barely… rolled out of the kelp and made it to the surface. 

My first breath was about 78 percent water.  I choked gagged coughed and spat.  My leg tightened into a rock hard baseball sized knot of sheer pain. 

My flippers started falling off.  I was like Charlie Chaplin out there.  Only I was moments away from death.  I swam back to the Zodiac, climbed aboard and stared down at the sea lions—who were all looking at me like, who’s this lunatic trying to kill himself out here?  JB looked over at me but I really didn’t want him to see how inept I was so I just waved, as in: Everything’s cool, I’m just readjusting my flippers, bro, and tried to get my breath.  Meanwhile JB swam over and dropped his second ab in the boat.  Dove down again. 

Damn it!  Thought I, I gotta get at least one!



3.  If You Don’t Drown At First:  Try, Try Again



So despite the obvious signs that I had no business being in the water I tightened the mask, the flippers, massaged my leg and dove back in.  Lunatic.

JB says I looked uncomfortable out there. {Ya think?}.  But why I wonder didn’t he suggest I call it quits?  The thought has occurred to me that maybe he was trying to kill me… Anyway, I’ll bring that up with him later.

After about five minutes (I’m a slow learner) I realized I would never see an ab.  Why?  Because I am near sighted.  I wear glasses.  I’ve worn glasses every day of my life for the last thirty years.  But somehow, in preparing for this trip I forgot that I wear glasses.  So, the rocky, kelpy bottom looked kind of like a Seurat painting… you know, dots.  No abs.  No crevices.  Just dots.  I fluttered around and around on the surface for a while and then… beneath me I saw some one’s ab iron like 10 feet down.  Orange handle, just like mine.  Hey, and a familiar gauge lying next to it!  What a coincidence….

Yes gentlemen it was mine.  I had evidently dropped it.  And then there was a surge, and I was carried off the spot.  And I spent the next half hour trying to find the dropped ab iron.  Meanwhile working myself into a slight panic fighting kelp and a slight roll (to a real diver this roll would have been nothing… to a novice it was slightly less than terrifying).  Luckily JB was able to dive down and get the ab iron, as I had inexplicably lost the ability to hold my breath for more than 10 seconds (despite the fact that as a tuba player I can usually hold my breath about as long as a sperm whale).


4. On and On


On and on it went.  One near disaster after another.  Quarts of water swallowed.  Finally I swam off a distance from the boat and tried working the shallows near Bird Rock.  I had just located a decent ab--my first unaided find of the day and was gathering myself for another short dive when I noticed that all but one of the sea lions were suddenly out of the water.  I also noticed that they were almost all pups—at least the ones in my vicinity.  I looked around.  Everything seemed wrong too me.  I don’t know how else to explain it… I was coughing, I was splashing, I was uncoordinated, I was out of breath.  My calf was still sore from the cramp.  I felt heavy.  I was cold and shivering.  Every thing was too quiet.  My ears were ringing.  I thought to myself, this is the kind of fear and panic that all novice surfers and divers probably feel. 


5.  The Pencil Popper


But then I grabbed onto a rock and I took a long breath and thought very profoundly about the deep idiocy of my actions this day. 

I will say this in my own semi defense—though I have now proven to be a novice and idiot under the water I am NOT a novice and idiot about the water. 

And then it dawned on me what I really was at this moment, what I had been for the last hour:  I was a giant, 189 pound Pencil Popper, doing my best imitation of a wounded sea lion: gasping, thrashing, treading water spastically.  And to top it off, the shiny ab iron I was flailing around as I tried to tread water, what was that if it wasn’t a flasher? 

Sensing that I was having some kind of emotional crisis JB looked over at me from the zodiac and waved.  Thanks man.  (Hey JB, next time, if you want to kill me so badly why not save the gas and simply slip something in my beer?)

At this point I put my head down and did my best Mark Spitz back to the Zodiac -- and I’m relatively certain I covered that 150 feet in record time.   

After flopping in, I caught my breath and confessed to JB this was not a sport for me.  At least not this spot, on my first day.  Maybe a day snorkeling around a tide pool was sort of like what I should have been doing.   For the immediate future, I would stick to my kayak, my poke pole, my throw net, my A-frame, and my beloved Hair-raiser on Ocean Beach.  I then suggested we go catch us a few rockfish—something I’m good at.  We drove the boat about two hundred yards—maybe less—to the other side of bird rock.  Flat calm.  40 to 50 feet. I dropped a bar down to the bottom and began jigging.  JB joined in.

Within five minutes I felt a nice tug.  Fish on.  I started reeling.  I looked down: the water crystal blue.  I could see the shaker ling maybe twenty feet down coming up with each crank of my reel.  Then JB had a fish on.  Same thing: small ling.  I landed mine, shook it off, JB was still reeling his.  We looked down at it. 

From beneath this undersized ling a blob began to materialize.  Hitch hiker, I thought at first. The water was so clear and the image of the fish so distorted and nebulous it was hard to tell if it was a small fish relatively close to the boat or a huge fish 30 feet down.  Then everything got weird.  I heard myself say: “What the f--- is that?”

The shape gained form as it ascended.  And then there was a face.  An eye.  A large black eye, unmistakable triangle teeth (remarkably like the broad grin of a Jack O’lantern) and then a black hole mouth that can only be described when seen at that proximity (from the side of an inflatable boat) as the gaping portal of hell itself.

Two seconds later we were looking directly into the open mouth of a 14 to 16  foot great white shark.  It was aiming for the undersized ling that JB had at the surface alongside the zodiac--the 14 foot inflatable zodiac.  But moving slowly, leisurely, with its mouth wide open.  We quickly ripped the short ling out of the water, as the shark—who had ascended in a totally vertical manner, like the famous poster of the movie Jaws, turned horizontal, it’s dorsal fin breaking the surface, and brushing up against the boat as it passed.  We were at that moment a hundred and fifty yards west of where, for the better part of the morning,  I had been impersonating a Pencil Popper.

JB said 16 feet, but I am subtracting 2 feet because I figure adrenaline may have added an extra 24 inches.  Although it sure as hell looked bigger than the Zodiac… anyway, we both measure fish for a living so, frankly, I think we got the length spot on.

Well that’s my story.  I also think, though JB disagrees, that this shark, was aware of me earlier—as I was, (albeit subconsciously) of him.  I know all novices go through shark panic, but I know in my soul that fish was nearby when I swam back to the boat.  I could feel it.  And with the flasher, the splashing the coughing and the insane andorphins I was releasing... I think you guys realize what I'm saying.

Yeah, uh huh, I know... they don’t generally like kelpy shallow areas so the chances of him going in the cove were probably slim... right… uh huh.

But still, you guys feel me here?  I mean I was thrashing around less than two hundred yards from a 14 to 16 foot super predator. 

5.  Postscript


So I am having a rather sober, drunken evening.  Doing some soul searching.  Repairing my A-frame, re-organizing my tackle.  Trying to figure out why I’ve always beeen the type who jumps before learning how to walk.  But really, I’m typing this out 'cause Sharky asked me to… and if he's okay with it, I don't really care what anyone else thinks.

And I don’t know, maybe it will reach someone who in his blindness and passion for fishing, might have otherwise jumped into a waters (figurative or otherwise) that he had no business being in.

From the foggy confines of San Francisco...

Your local {insert name of ambiguously titled semi federal agency of fish data collection here} representative.

K.L.

(aka: Monkeyface)

PS:  JB just sent me a link to an article that confirms there have been several brutal shark attacks inside Bird Rock only 30 yards from shore… right, they don’t like shallow water, they don’t like kelp, they never come that close to shore.  Uh huh...
Maybe if I keep telling myself this, I’ll actually believe it some day.


PISCEAN

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what a read! Seriously!

I've never dove that spot, but read enough about it that I too was thinking "why would they go there for his first dive?" Glad you got to see something few ever have, and extra glad you saw it from a boat, not face to face in the water. Spooooo-key!
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 Great post. Diving that spot sounds like the equivalent of a beginner surfing pinballs in waimea bay the day a 30ft swell is coming in.

For years I wanted to surf but my vision was so impaired and I didn't have the $ to correct it. Finally I took out a hard money loan and got surgery. This was before lasers. Diamond tiped knife R.K. procedure. Your eyes will then be good to go for surfing, diving, shark watching, etc. jim
« Last Edit: August 06, 2009, 05:19:54 PM by redyak »


Skunked

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Wow, thrilling read.  You are a talented writer.  Glad you made it out alive!


porky (bp)

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wow, sketchy man....

insane story...



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Thanks for sharing your first and last ab diving experience with us Kirk.  Glad you've made it out OK.  That's an experience of a life time!
« Last Edit: August 06, 2009, 01:43:38 PM by Sailfish »
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Fish Master1

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Im gonna print that one out and give it to my co workers! They all think im crazy for fishing and diving in the ocean in A kayak!!! Now they will no for sure that I am!!! We all are!! Is it going to stop me??? Hell NO! Great storie thanks....Andy


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Great write up! Always makes me wonder what's lurking in the shadows.

-Brian G


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Fantastic read! I got goose bumps from the imagery of it - could FEEL the shark feeling YOU.

Glad it worked out OK, and grats on seeing it up close and personal from the boat!
Just a walleye fisherman from MN tryin' ta get salty!


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I have now spent the last 2 evenings numbing the inevitable PTSD nightmares with copious amounts of alcohol and doctor recommended Oaklands finest. Kirk, i love you man. I'm glad i didn't have another friend taken from me by the sea or whitey.
Recently on this board it was suggested that people were wusses (cant remember the actual term) for not paddling out at the bu after a shark sighting. I should have called it then, but I'll do it now.That message is irresponsible and could be deadly! Don't fall for the machismo. There was a sighting the day before I got attacked. A warning I did not heed and it nearly cost me an arm and a leg. Literally.
The stats about being killed by a car on the way to the beach are DEAD wrong. There is alot of fuzzy math there that doesn't take into account exactly what were doing or where. I could explain it again but i have already in the official GWS thread and a shark nearly tore my arm off, so typing is difficult.
The weird thing is i read a post of jmairey where he predicted a yakker gets hit this season. Suddenly I felt scared for all my friends. The week before Kirk had complained about his cell phone bill, and said we should keep our daily gabbing to a minimum. Still i felt it to be necessary to phone him, cause i had a bad feeling. He never picked up the phone, but it was right at the time of the incident.
This is the type of encounter in which I believe a shark shield would have helped.


bmb

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crazy story kirk.  stick to the pokepoling and measuring of fishes for now. 


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Awesome story, Kirk.

Way to put it into words and share with the rest of us.
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Wow, great read...
Catch & Repeat


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Best new guy post I've ever read.


..........agarcia is just an ex-kayaker


 

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