Snorkel Dork in Ocean Beach Waters

by on April 20, 2021 · 11 comments

in Ocean Beach

There’s more in the ocean than just water, Part II

by Steve Tatro

Have you ever looked at a mirror with a snorkel on? And a mask? Well don’t, you’ll have nightmares, but for fish watching there’s nothing better. Fish don’t care what you look like;  they might giggle, or turn away disgusted, but as long as you don’t try to spear them or catch them, they’re cool.

Ocean Beach fish are particularly cool because they let you swim right up to them, and the orange Garibaldi’s will swim up from their caves just to say “Hi!” Maybe they’re overconfident because of their protected status as our state fish. They really are cute, and they know it.

The Sardines and Anchovies are understandably skittish, but they will allow you within three feet, and in schools of thousands they can envelope you like a flowing silver cloak. They’re mesmerizing, and disorienting if they block out the light, because you can’t tell which way it is to the surface and fresh air! If this happens, use a little precious breath to blow bubbles, and follow them up, no matter which way you think they’re leading you.

If there are small fish near the surface, watch out for dive bombing pelicans because they’ll scare the bejesus out of you when they plunge into the water as close as three feet away! Then the fish try to hide underneath you, so the pelicans shave by you at an angle to get at them, and you pray the sharp-beaked birds still have both their eyes and can tell the difference between a fish and a human.

Lobsters are in every rocky crevice, and they like to greet you by touching your fingers with their antennae. That’s how they get caught by winter lobster divers, who drag them out of their homes, kicking and screaming, pop them in a sack and take them home to dinner.

There are several kinds of medium-sized fish in OB – Calico Bass, Sand Bass, Opaleye, Seaperch, Senorita, Halibut, Mackerel, Corbina, Stingray and even three-foot Sheepshead with their red and black bars. Yellowtail, Tuna, Bonita and Pacific Barracuda sometimes come close enough to shore to spot snorkelers, but then they split.

And sharks, you bet, but not man eaters – little Horn Sharks, Dogfish & Leopard Sharks up to five feet long. Some fool caught a ten-foot Sixgill Shark from the pier, begged eight people to help him haul it up, and then left it to rot.

Sometimes a harbor seal comes around, but usually no closer than ten feet. California Sea Lions are bigger and bolder, however, so usually it’s best to retreat if one starts nosing around. Common Dolphins keep their distance, as did a twenty-foot Gray Whale that almost went up the San Diego River, but turned around when it saw the Snorkel Dork.

The latest style is a snorkel-mask, which covers your whole face and has a snorkel poking out the top of your forehead like a Unicorn. This is the ultimate in snorkel dorkiness, but it works like a little submarine, and it even keeps your face warm. If water gets past the snorkel’s ball valve, you just blow it out the chin valve by exhaling.

You find a lot of trash snorkeling: cans, golf balls, plastic bags, frisbees, ropes, lobster traps, etc. Don’t get me started on lobster traps. Have you ever tried to wrestle a derelict lobster trap out of a rock crevice in twenty feet of water? Have you ever tried to hacksaw it apart and drag the pieces over reefs to shore, with flippers on your feet? You’ll never eat lobster again.

You might see an abalone or oyster, but these tasty shellfish are scarce now and taking abalone is prohibited by law in San Diego. Maybe when the water warms up and clears up this summer, we will find oodles of glorious creatures in the waters off Ocean Beach. If you have never tried it, do so.  It is a fantastic adventure.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Judi Curry April 20, 2021 at 11:00 am

Makes me want to start snorkeling again!


Geoff Page April 21, 2021 at 12:56 pm

Very nice snorkeling account, Steve. It reminded me of many dives I made in the past, especially the curious and fearless little garibaldi. You spend enough time underwater watching fish, you see that different fish have different personalities for sure.

I was curious about that snorkel mask, I had never seen one. I did some reading and I think it would be good to recommend some reading before buying one of these. They are pretty useful under specific circumstances it seems. I thought these would be great free diving but quickly learned they are not intended for underwater use, just surface snorkeling. I’m sure they might be good on our shallow reefs on a clear day floating on the surface and not needing to dive.

Keep it up.


Steve Tatro April 21, 2021 at 2:26 pm

Thanks Geoff, you’re right about the snorkel mask, it is best on the surface. When underwater, the snorkel has to stay almost vertical to prevent water entering into the mask?


Christo K April 22, 2021 at 3:26 pm

I would suggest doing a little research on one piece snorkel masks and their potential tie in to increased CO2 levels, ROPE and death.


Geoff Page April 22, 2021 at 8:10 pm

Christo, if you read my comment, I made the same suggestion, I just tried to couch it in a more positive way. I said the masks were “useful under specific circumstances” and they can be. There are also concerns with using these masks that are easily found with a little research. Like any equipment a person rakes into the ocean, it needs to be understood, chosen well, and used correctly.


sealintheSelkirks April 26, 2021 at 12:18 pm

My old Duck Feet are in the closet with my old mask and snorkel, and I haven’t used them in years because the ocean is hard enough to paddle out to surf up here due to the absolutely frigid water temps. I have used them in a local lake a few times over the year but tend to end up spending half a day dragging all sorts of dumped garbage onto shore. I miss diving in the ocean because all I see are bass and trout here…not nearly as much fun. Been a long time since I had an orange fish staring in my face!

But a few of the items were scores. A complete rod & reel with not a thing wrong with it that must have been lost overboard, and I found a couple of gold & silver rings that glinted in the mud. But I dragged enough junk out to half-fill the back of my old Toyota truck bed. The biggest item was an outboard motor. A small engine mechanic friend took it apart and got it running again. But the sunken 20 foot boat was full of mud and too big & heavy to drag.

Trippy looking mask I must admit.Space suit style, eh? But it obviously looks designed for specific face-down surface viewing and not a real dive mask like my Performance Mini. I don’t think I’d like diving deep with it somehow.

I sure do miss the ocean on days that I read stuff like this on the RAG!



Geoff Page April 26, 2021 at 1:37 pm

You know, seal, I’ve traveled all over this country on business and while growing up. There are lots of gorgeous and appealing places. But, for me, my choices are extremely limited because I could never live away from the ocean. I did it for five years in central Michigan but made a trip to the ocean each year but one. The East coast has a lot of appeal, great seafood, huge beaches, great sailing, and warm water in the summer. But, there are hordes of mosquitos, flies, gnats, no see-ums, and lots of humidity and the water gets cold after summer. The only place in the world worth being for me is right here next to the beautiful Pacific. It’s kind of a shame really, but I’m ok with that.


sealintheSelkirks April 29, 2021 at 1:22 pm

In some ways, Geoff, I guess I was a bit luckier than you were being born at the end of Cape May Av and plopped on the sand and dipped in the ocean as a newborn baby. I was definitely imprinted with the sea even though my family broke up twice. My entire life focus was the ocean and that was the most stabile part. I did hitch back & forth across the country a couple different times with a backpack & surfboard/wetsuit to visit family that moved to the East Coast but I never spent many days out of the sound or smell of the ocean until I was 33 yrs old.

As for the East Coast, couldn’t stand much of the southern part especially Florida. Some surf spots in Georgia I was swatting skeeters out in the water! And I agree about the noseeums, clouds of them, oh MY! But I did find surf since I was there during Atlantic hurricane seasons. Spent about 4 months in Virginia Beach one year surfing the pier and slightly south at a spot called Croatan(sp?) Inlet with some wonderful surf trips to Hatteras during good swells while working construction. Then it started snowing, the place shut down by Christmas and I mean completely shuttered, and I hitched home.

An OB/MB surfer was NOT born for snowy surf paddle outs! My brother took a picture of me standing in the snow in a wetsuit about to paddle out at Hatteras…I must have been crazy but you could see a huge right set breaking in the background. Brrrrr!

You obviously experienced a lot more areas to live in than I did but I did live in the Islands twice for short periods of time, lived in Tahoe winter of ’73/74 with my first snowboard, and spent much time camping & surfing on the desolate Baja coastline all through the 70s before all the crazy building boom happened that I’ve heard about from old friends. Surfed up and down the Cali coast-always avoiding the blot of LA, and still have family in Humboldt Count I can go visit. Good surf there by the way, cold dang water, and I’ve seen very large gray landlords in the line-up. A foggy morning at Camel Rock in Trinidad comes to mind…25 foot using the Mark I eyeball extrapolating size from distance between dorsal and tail at a guess.

But most of the first half of my life was lived in MB and OB always within spitting distance of the water. Until my path took me into the mountains with snow-surfing boards with surfboards I shaped & glassed that we used for riversurfing below Jackson Hole ( The Lunch Counter Trilogy Pt 1, 2, &3). After moving back, to NorCal in ’92 I surfed the cold water of Humboldt County when I could, and took trips up into Oregon and found that the surf tended to be consistently bigger than SoCal. I’ve managed to grab a bit of both worlds I think, in this second half of my life.

And honestly, the beach you’re living at is not the beach that I was born at & grew up on and loved dearly. What I have is the memory of what it was then, up to 1987 at least, when a two-bedroom house in Mission Beach was $165 a month and there were far fewer people in San Diego, and when you lost your board you had to swim in to retrieve it.

By 1980 a two bedroom house in OB was $400 a month and the line-up everywhere was already getting so crowded that most of the wave you were riding was spent trying to not run over somebody paddling out. I’ve counted over a hundred on the OB Hotel surf cam in junk surf! And everybody has a leash and somehow I’m betting that many never really learn to swim in ocean currents worth a damn.

But I’ve learned that home is where the heart is, and it became mountains and beach but both work equally well for me. I’m content and isn’t that all that matters? And besides, La Push on the Olympic Peninsula is 350 miles west and I can camp on the beach.

Snap a vertical off-the-lip for me next time you’re out, eh?



Geoff Page April 30, 2021 at 3:35 pm

Well, seal, we do have in common.

I would agree that you were a bit luckier than I to have been born here. But, I have lived close to the ocean for most of my life. For my first 10 years, I lived very near the ocean because of my dad. We lived in Groton, Connecticut when I was a tyke and where my sister first fished my ass out of the drink. The second time she did that was when we were living in Key West. I guess I just had to get wet at an early age. We moved to Oahu in 1956 when I was five. That’s where the ocean really got me and has had me ever since.

We moved to Arlington, Virgina in ’61 which is not close to the ocean but close enough for visits. Spent time in Virginia Beach and Nags Head North Carolina, and West Palm Beach in Florida. Moved to Charleston, SC for the most miserable summer at the beach I ever had. We moved to Coronado when I was 14 and that was when I first surfed in ’65 and ’66. Coronado has heaven then, no bridge.

Back to Arlington, VA and visits to Ocean City Maryland and Atlantic City and Virginia Beach some more. Then, landlocked myself in central Michigan for five years. I decided not to apply to California colleges because I didn’t think I’d ever finish school. I managed to get to Florida three times, the last being the Keys, that was amazing.

Fled to the Bay Area for two years. Lots of scuba diving from Mendocino down to Carmel, plus Lake Tahoe and San Diego. Moved to San Diego in ‘77 and got an apartment at the end of Bonair Street at La Jolla Blvd. I walked down to the water and saw people surfing on these really small surfboards and learned that was the new thing. Bought a G & S, I think, single fin, about 6’4” and never mastered it. Forty-three years later, it is still in the rafters of my garage. Shortest board I ever surfed is a Bonzer Bing at 7’6”. Still have it too.

I’ve been within spitting distance of the ocean ever since I got here, two years in La Jolla, one year in PB, then I found OB.

As for the East Coast, it has its pros. The water is warm in the summer but you don’t want to go much farther south than NC, the water temp in SC is like a hot bath on a hot day. The beaches are huge. The surf is not usually strong unless there is a big wind or storm. Boating and sailing are terrific with millions of places to explore compared to the CA coast.
The cons are simple. The humidity and the bugs. No nice consistent swells like in the Pacific. It gets cold and only knuckleheads try surfing then. Just kidding. The cold water I experienced diving up north cured me of wanting more of that. I didn’t find out until I moved here that we were diving in the area of the coast that has the largest concentration of white sharks anywhere. Since I’ve lived here, every attack, it seems, happens somewhere between Mendocino and Carmel. Not so here in San Diego.

You are correct indeed that the beach I’m living at is not the beach that you were born and grew up on. It’s not even the same beach I found in 1980 that I fell for.

It has gotten crowded. When I told my dad in 1977 that I was moving here he asked me why I wanted to move to such a backwater town like San Diego. It’s certainly not that anymore. The lineup has gotten crowded, you phrased it perfectly when you wrote “when you lost your board you had to swim in to retrieve it.” Great illustration in words.

Actually, I envy you in being able to live away from the water. I’ve thought about it many times. Colorado and New Mexico are beautiful. I have a friend who lives not far from you in Laclede on the Pend Oreille River. It’s beautiful there. But, every time, I just can’t imagine not living by the sea, and the Pacific especially. I even get antsy when make trips to the San Diego mountains or farther away like the Grand Canyon. I can’t wait to get back to see the ocean again.

I went out this morning, did not succeed in snapping any verticals but it’s harder being a longboard guy.


sealintheSelkirks May 5, 2021 at 1:18 pm

You sure did move around a lot as a kid, Geoff! Military family? My dad settled down in OB after Korea, discharged Army corporal. Snagged a job at Convair (now General Dynamics) just after he had met the older sister of his Army buddie’s girlfriend while on leave in San Diego…my mom the San Diego Shakespearean stage actress! You were in Key West when I was born in OB. He wanted to be a teacher, started night school eventually graduating from SDSU. Boy are you right, in many ways San Diego was SUCH a different town to grow up in then but in some ways there is the same old political greed and power struggle going on that haven’t change much at all unfortunately!

Funny that we hung at some of the same beaches though different years! Va Beach, Nag’s Head, Hatteras Pier…I hitched to Key West once, too,after visiting an aunt in Homestead Fl.. Figured I’d just go see it, ya know? And we both moved to OB in 1980 when I shifted my shop from MB to OB Sunset Cliffs Blvd between Muir & Longbranch. How weird is that? You ever have me do ding repair on one of your boards in those years? Or if you had OB’s Sonshine Surf or the Longboard Shop on Newport I was the subcontractor for both. And Surf Club in PB & Clairemont Surf Shop as I did those, too, along with a few other shops.

But I had to laugh about the shortboard you bought and couldn’t figure out story. I absolutely LOVED smaller boards and was on a 6’8″ Dewey Weber kicknosed roundtail in 1970. Have a picture standing with it in front of Granny K’s apartment in OB. I had bought my first twinfin from Ron Cunningham who was shaping in a back garage at Hamel’s in MB about…1969 I guess with paperboy money but it didn’t work right because the fins weren’t toed in and tipped out yet. So most of the early 70s I rode small single fins before the Mark Richard’s twinnies came out. OH MY those boards worked for my style of surfing and I never went back. 5’8′-6’0″ mostly! I’m still riding twinnies though they make my lower back ache. I do a lot of stretching before and after. In really small surf I do have a 9’8″ modern longboard (Ken White ‘Black Pearl Creations’) that has an old school ‘scooped teardrop’ noserider shape that I’ll take out for some hang time! I haven’t forgotten my cross-stepping roots because I took out the tri-fin side fins in favor of it being a single fin. Felt more normal.

But the board I mainly ride now is a 6’5″ copy of my 5’10” 1986 ‘magic twinnie’ the single winged swallowtail that I shaped and glassed. Hanging in my kitchen. A bit thicker for flotation than my old shape so easier to paddle and keep me up out of the cold water better.

My old twinnie worked incredibly well at Lunch Counter on the Snake River in Wyoming 1988-1991 (the one I’m on in the vids & pictures on, so I’m thinking of taking it down and driving about a hundred miles or so west this summer to try the new indoor 6 foot surf wave: Looks pretty fun, dude! Better than the Bend Oregon riversurf wave I rode in 2017…

My favorite surf beach up here is La Push, a curving beachbreak with a flat rock reef left on the south end inside the point. Only surf-able at high tide and the right swell as it goes completely dry rock at low. I made that mistake once…scared the crap out of me! Olympic Peninsula with a campground on the Quileute Rez but it’s closed due to Covid restrictions still. The Native folk decided against a casino in favor of a camp resort, and I can tent it within 50 yards of the sand in the trees at $15 a night. Well, mostly round pebbles not sand except at low tide. E-Normous tidal changes this far north. Low tide you’ll be standing on sand that is ten feet deep at high tide:

Place is absolute beautiful to surf at, and I’ve had both good and dead flat days there. Funny angle to the beach sometimes so it can be fickle, and an island will block some swell directions, too. The marine layer comes in so thick that it acts more like a rain shower some nights…but I really like the place. VERY cold water. I’ve seen whales, seal lions, and Orcas with their young in the bay.

I’ll always miss the ocean, Geoff, no doubt about that! But I have found that I also love living in the mountains. The starfields at night up here are bluntly amazing, no lights pitch black sky but so lit up with stars that it seems bright until you look down and can’t see your feet. But somehow I’m okay with where my path has taken me. Moose, bear, cougar, porcupine, elk, whitetails, wolf, and coyote packs have all shown up out my door at one time or another, and I’ve got 72 species of birds that land on my property every year according to my retired biologist neighbor who had to count them to put their adjoining 30 acres into the Forest Stewardship Program. I looked out the upstairs window once at exactly the right time and had a Bald Eagle eye-contact me as it went by about ten feet from the glass…it SAW me. Weird feeling.

Even though there is far too much logging going on in these mountains it is still one of those places that you can breathe in and feel the body tension leak away just by walking around outside. Been reading about ‘vitamin N’ recently…and I’ve got that anytime I go out the door.

But I’ll always be a OB/MB surfer kid, that will never go away.

So hang five toes over the nose for me instead of the lip bash! Hopefully I’ll get time in the ocean this Summer or Fall before it starts snowing on the beach again. HA!



Amy July 7, 2021 at 2:40 pm

Best snorkel spots in OB?


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