Saturday, March 30, 2013

Remembering Lobster Opener

“You got any lobstahs?”
-The Jerky Boys

My older Brother Justin sat on a brick wall in the front of CSULB with his dive gear in a huge dry bag reading Norse mythology. I cruised up slowly and rolling down the window whispered in the creepiest voice I could muster “Hi there little boy, would you like some candy?” He got a good laugh shaking his head and muttering as he threw his gear in the back. It had been about a month since the last time we got to hang out, and it just happened that the fisheries conference he had been attending also coincided with lobster opener. We painstakingly made our way through southern California traffic while we caught up, stopping off briefly to get an ocean enhancement stamp, lobster card and gauge for Justin. That night we mapped out our strategies for the following day…lobster opener.

I woke Justin with a cup of coffee in the morning, and we were on the road pretty early. He still needed to pick up a rental weight belt as he was not able to bring his on the plane ride down, so we made our way to a local SCUBA shop first. The seas were calm, and the water looked pretty clear as well. We were now getting excited as we hurriedly cruised down the coast to the shop. A half an hour later we had the lamest neon-green soft weight setup you’ve ever seen loaded into the trunk as I drove and Justin cut a breakfast burrito in half. When we got to the spot we know solely as the Kwiki Mart (because the drive is short and the “shelves are always stocked”), we stepped out and looked over the waters again enjoying our breakfast.

Two overweight SCUBA divers approached us with curiosity. “Hey, how do you guys get down there?” they asked, motioning to the beach below. Believing they had not seen the trail down the 15ft slope, I replied “Oh, there’s a path right there”. The pair looked at the trail with heads shaking and replied “That’s a crazy trail, is there an easier way down?” Doing my best to keep from bursting into laughter as I looked at the short little path, I replied “Yeah it is pretty sketchy, I always seem to get banged up climbing down there, but that’s the only way down.” The pair looked at each other again and said “Well good luck guys, we’re gonna try a beach with less of a hike then that!” referring to the 20ft between them and the sand. As they drove off, Justin’s jaw dropped. “Did that seriously just happen?” he asked with a grin. “I know, man,” I said with a chuckle, “and I hear that kind of thing all the time down here!” He shook his head holding his side laughing and replied “That would never happen in Northern California!”

We got our gear together and carefully descended the treacherous six steps to the beach below taking great care to spot each other. Once on the sand we were suited up in record time. I suggested we work the shallows a bit during high tide, and as the tide went out we could work our way to deeper water. The sea was a clear 15ft of visibility and we were plenty happy with that. Justin had a bug in the bag within 10 minutes, but after passing by countless shorts over the next half hour we realized that someone had likely hit the shallow sub-tidal zone hard at midnight the night before. Making our way to a further reef I secured my Banksboard to the giant kelp canopy and told Justin that this was where Kirby had seen bugzilla the previous year. “This is good reef, have at it and I’ll be at the second rock looking for fish,” I said as I kicked away.

The longer we stayed in, the clearer it seemed to get as the current brought in new clean water. I had a couple of sheephead on my board in the first hour but was soon distracted watching a lone two-spot octopus defending himself from the attacks of an aggressive garibaldi. On one drop I found a couple of sizable rock scallops that had apparently broken free of the reef in a storm. But contrary to what I expected, they were thriving on the bottom at the base of a pinnacle. I picked them up from the sandy sea floor with a grin and loaded them onto the board. About that time Justin popped up and hollered “Kevin! Thanks for putting me on this spot man, it's killer!” I kicked over to see his progress only to find that my Brother had limited out before I had even found a single legal bug!

“You know man,” I said with a hi-five, “I am not even surprised!” It is just Justin’s style to swim out to my spot and show me how it’s done. When we were kids, our parents, Barbara and Hunter, thought that there might be something wrong with me because I didn’t learn to swim until I was five years old. After all, Justin had been holding his breath and swimming under water since he was two! Still, at a relatively young age we both chased our Dad’s fins into the cold northern California waters and learned an appreciation for freediving and spearfishing almost instantaneously. But it was Justin who excelled in this arena first and I later followed his example. At the age of ten, wearing an old flea market wetsuit our Dad had cut down and glued together, Justin routinely brought in rockfish, lingcod and abalone. When I came of age to make the switch from perch to big fish, Justin loaded his speargun for me over and over (I was still too young to pull the bands). It was on just such a day that I landed my first lingcod. Justin always has had a way with the sea and the calmness he feels in the water is contagious. So this day in the warm waters off the southern California coast, was no surprise at all.

We stayed out for a total of six hours that day enjoying the calm blue-clear waters. We had no plans, no obligations and no time restraints; it was all about enjoying the dive. Justin scouted out another sizable pair of bugs which I wrestled from a nice cave, the latter of which was the largest of the day and took nearly every ounce of my strength to break free from the rocks. Justin found a few more sizable scallops on the bottom and swooped them up like he was on an Easter egg hunt. We kicked back in with big smiles and rode a nice wave in on the Banksboards. Once on the beach we admired the catch and the view, breathing the deep sighs of contentment that only a good freedive brings.

That night we relived the day and feasted with my wife Chelsea. California spiny lobster burritos were on the menu, fresh from the sea and unparalleled in flavor! It was good to get a little time in with my Brother again…and to think ahead to what the fall mushroom hunts and winter Dungeness crab dives might bring! Keep the old ways alive!

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