The following words of wisdom are from the experiences of fellow divers and things that I have learned.
1) Divers don't get worried when you ask if you can put the rubber suit
2) Everybody gets to be on the bottom.
3) It's not how long you can stay up -- it's how long you stay down.
4) The question "are you wet yet?" won't get you slapped.
5) EVERYTHING looks bigger underwater.
6) Regulators are balanced -- it doesn't matter how hard you suck.
7) You can dive with a group of strangers anytime you want.
8) Fins give you more thrust.
9) Wet suits can be used more than once.
10) Divers don't get mad when you notice they've put on weight.
Lee's observation regarding Monastery Beach:
Monastery is not easy. Minimally trained and unsupervised novices should not get near Monastery. Many people hate sand and beach dives. Monastery sand is magical stuff that can find its way into places you didn't think possible. If you have a bad back, or don't like schlepping gear across very soft sand, stay away. Etc.
Diving Monastery is neither "good" nor "bad." It is a good dive if it is right for you when you're there. It is a bad dive otherwise.
BIG DISCLAIMER: I know what I'm talking about, having dived Monastery a slew of times (and walked away from it a bunch too). I've taken a lot of students into Monastery, and we've never had a problem. I learned from some true masters of the art, and I've tried to continue learning. However, what you read on the net is *never* the same as sitting through a lecture about how to do it and having capable experienced dive leaders with you when you do the dive. Please don't think that now that you've read this you're ready to dive Monastery any more than you're ready to fly a plane after reading a book on how to do it. With that disclaimer:
1. Stay the HELL away from the center. The good diving is at the north and south ends, near the kelp beds. The waves are much rougher in the center, there's a pretty good rip running out of it sometimes, and there's nothing to see.
2. The more you make your entrance and exit tucked in behind the kelp bed (regardless of the end you're at), the smoother it will be. Sometimes the reduction in wave height from outside the kelp bed to inside is amazing; take advantage of that.
3. Wear *all* your frigging equipment when you get ready to go in the water. I teach my students to make essentially *all* beach entries with all their gear on. The one exception I make is walking into a very calm ocean over a rocky beach where wearing fins subjects the user to falling on the rocks (ocean side of Lover's Point comes to mind). Monastery is not an exception to this rule; it's an amplification of it. Putting fins on in the water is difficult to begin with (Newtonian physics and all). Putting them on in the Monastery surf is suicide. Furthermore, if something goes amiss, you want to be able to kick your way out of trouble. Have your fins on your feet, your mask on your face, and your reg in your mouth. That way if a wave sneaks up on you, you'll be in the best possible situation to deal with it. People occasionally worry about embolisms from a big wave passing over you. Breathing gently when you're in a surf situation is always a good idea, and if a wave passing over you could cause an embolism, then I suspect that Monastery is undiveable that day.
4. There is a quick nasty drop-off right under the surf-zone. With probability almost 1.00, you will get knocked over on your first dive there. The probability doesn't drop much as you get more experienced - just the surprise factor. Don't worry about it - turn and kick toward the ocean like any good baby turtle would. If you don't feel good about what's going on, turn and crawl back onto the beach. *Don't* stay in the surf.
5. Navigation at Monastery is easy. The ridges in the sand (that run parallel to the beach as they do at essentially all beaches) are huge and easy to spot. If you're crossing the ridges, you're headed in or out. If you're at the north end, keep the kelp bed on your right to go out, on your left to come in. Reverse everything for the south end.
6. Enjoy the dive! Go back into the kelp beds when you can get about 40' deep or so. It's out of the surge, and the terrain is just stunning. There's more life than you can shake a stick at. On the outside of those beds, it's always possible that you'll see big pelagics such as 10' jellies, mola, or even the occasional blue shark (if you see a blue shark, don't tell me, because it wouldn't be fair that you saw one and I didn't). Also stick your face in the rocks for abalone, anemones, nudibranchs, etc. Lie on your back and watch the schools of blue rockfish tucked up under the kelp canopy for safety, as the sunlight comes streaming down through the canopy. Magic.
7. When you get ready to come out, use one of two methods:
A) If you're arranged this with your buddy, and conditions permit, I like to exit without surfacing. Just kick in along the bottom. You'll know you're getting close to the surf as the ridges in the sand get higher and you start to feel the surf. I did this with two students a couple of weeks ago, and we stealth-exited onto the beach right under the noses of the beachmasters who were watching for heads bobbing on the surface. Quite fun.
B) If you're at all concerned about the surf or other parameters, stop, come up, and scope out the scene. Then get *all* the air out of your BC, get on the bottom, and come in as above.
In either case, you're going to *crawl* out of the ocean, using your arms to dig into the sand as necessary. I also stop and jam octopus 2nd stages between the tank and BC where they won't be guaranteed to drag through the sand. I've seen them come out of every known "octopus-keeper" arrangement and get filled with sand when exiting Monastery.
As others have said, don't stop until you're on almost dry land. If you feel that the back-rush (not rip, as incorrectly labeled by somebody) is gonna get you, either crawl like your life depended on it, or hunker down and wait for the wave. I've been caught more times than I'd care to admit. It's not great fun, but it's not catastrophic either. Once you've recovered, start your exit again.
8. Once you're out, turn around and look at the ocean. You've just made a dive more challenging than 95% of divers will ever do. It's something to be proud of.
9. If you're with a class, large group of divers, or just happen to see people getting ready to exit, remove your tank and reg (carefully protecting second stages and power inflators from the sand), and weightbelt. Go back down to the water's edge, and see what you can do to help divers in. If they make a proper exit under appropriate conditions, they won't need help; you simply congratulate them on their exit. If something *does* go awry, you can assist by removing weightbelts, getting people off of their backs, etc.
Needless to say, some people will want to amplify, disagree with, contradict, and otherwise comment about what I said here. I think that's a good thing. What I wrote has worked for me and others. It is *not* the only good solution, and I'd be delighted if I could learn a new technique or two from this discussion.
I have logged a lot of dives at Monastery, It is the first place I head when I head down to dive! I have learned how to read the conditions and I teach a lot of classes at Monastery. It is my favorite shore dive in the USA. It can be the best and the worst dive of your life and change in a matter of minutes. I also have a few tips of my own regarding when and how to dive Monster berry beach!
NOTE: READING THESE TIPS WILL NOT TEACH YOU HOW TO DIVE MONASTERY!!!! FIND A INSTRUCTOR WHO KNOWS THE BEACH AND PAY ATTENTION TO HIS/HER ADVICE!!!! First, if you have not dove here, do not assume you are good enough to dive just because there are other divers diving it. I have pulled a lot of divers out of the surf zone who had no business being there in the first place!
The surf zones size changes with the prevailing conditions. The first thing I do when arriving at Monastery is to walk to the beach and watch the water for about ten minutes. I evaluate the conditions and time the sets and the size of the sets. I look where the tide level is at, I watch the tress to see the wind direction, I look out at wash rock at see the size of the breakers and how they look when they hit shore. In short I look at everything! (corny Zen thing here) You have to be able to feel and know what the ocean is doing before thinking about getting in. My means of entry is to have my mask on, my reg in mouth, my BC lightly inflated, and my fins in my hands, I like to wait for a small set and walk into the surf zone. I walk out until I hit the drop, this is only a few steps, I then use my fins in each hand to back paddle past the surf zone. Once past the zone I put one fin on and back kick out further past the surf zone, then I put on my second fin and kick away to my descent point. My reg. stays in my mouth until I am well out of the surf zone. I do not like to walk in with my fins on or crawl in but I have seen both methods work well for other divers. You have to find what works for you. As for the exit, again I like to wait just outside the surf zone and watch the waves and time the rhythm of the sets. I wait for the small wave of the set( waves do have a pattern and you should know how to read the waves). When I like the looks of a set coming in I take off one of my fins and back kick into the surf zone towards shore until I can touch my feet on the bottom. I then take off my second fin and let the next wave place me over the drop(the area where the shore drops off rapidly)and higher up on the shore area still facing out to the ocean,(do not turn your back on Monastery it will humble you very quickly) as I touch the shore I turn around and walk out. This is all a matter of timing!!! I recommend this only when the surf is small and the time between sets is fairly long. I am not above doing the Monastery crawl at any time. I have been able to walk out more times than crawling by using this method. Again the reg. is in my mouth at all times until I am well up on the shore! These tips work for me and I teach my students these methods and alternate methods of entry and exit also. There is no magic to diving Monastery but it does take skill and technique. It is important to take the time to learn how to dive this beach. There are very few dive sites any where in the world that are as challenging and if you can dive Monastery you can pretty much dive anywhere if you know the area you are going to be diving! Remember way back to those certification dives when your instructor gave you a dive site briefing? Well it is more important here than any where else! I have walked away from Monastery many times because I knew conditions were not right. USE COMMON SENSE and be safe. This is an advanced dive site!!!!
So said, IM going diving, conditions have been great! Yes I did some more midweek dives. I was at Lobos on Thursday and had an easy 20 ft in the cove!!!Gotta love it!
Waves are created by the wind. The height of the wave, the period between wave peaks, and the direction of the wave are all dependent on the wind that created them. I won't go into how the wind creates a wave.
Rarely is there a 'pure' single wave on our beaches. They usually consist of combinations of waves coming from different directions. This is what causes them to come in 'sets' of big and little waves. For example, a big wind off of Oregon creates a 'pure' wave 3' high and 20' between peaks. At the same time, a big wind coming out of the west pacific creates a 'pure' wave 1' high and 10' between peaks. When both of these waves reach Monterey Bay, they combine. But since the period between peaks is different on each of the two waves (really the correct term is swell), they combine to form a 'set' that has some little waves and some big ones in a repeating pattern which we divers call a 'set'. The big waves in the set are a combination of the waves in the individual 'pure' waves reinforcing each other. Likewise, the little ones are a result of the ones in each 'pure' wave canceling each other. The medium sized ones are naturally a combination of big and little, reinforcement and cancellation. In the example above, the resulting two 'pure' waves may create a 'set' consisting of maybe 3 'big' waves, followed by 2 medium ones and then a small one.
This pattern will change gradually over time. Sometimes in a few hours, sometimes in a few minutes. So sitting on the beach to 'time' the waves should be done as close to your entry time as possible. During the length of your dive, the 'timing' of the set will almost certainly change. So you must 'check' the timing again before exiting the water. Check from outside the surf zone. Other factors affecting the change of timing of a 'set' are the tide and shape of the beach at the surf zone. During the length of your dive, the tide has moved the surf zone significantly. The shape of the beach at at the surf zone where you entered is probably not the same shape as the beach at the surf zone when you exit.
The shape of the beach bottom at the surf zone governs where and how the swell will break. Big waves break in deeper water than small waves, so if the 'set' today consists of mostly waves of the same size, the surf zone will be narrow. If, however, the set consists of some 5' waves and some 1' waves, then the surf zone could be very wide. So you not only have to 'time' the sets, but you have to know the shape of the beach bottom where you plan to enter and exit.
Another factor in all this is the location in MB where you are diving. A 'protected' location like Cannery Row is not likely to change the 'sets' as rapidly as a location closer to the open ocean like Monastery. If you time the sets at Cannery Row, that timing is likely to not change very rapidly - like maybe hours. However, timing the sets at Monastery, and then suiting up could result in a big surprise in half an hour. Or a set of acceptable sizes at the beginning of your dive at Monastery could easily result in a set of unnacceptable proportions at the end of your dive. While diving at all locations, especially ones exposed to the open ocean like Monastery, monitor the swell during your dive. If it changes significantly, consider changing your dive plan to leave the water earlier.
'READING' the water is a skill that is very hard to teach. Many YEARS of reading the ocean at any one beach should have passed before you should have a high confidence in your ability to 'time' your entry and exit with maximum safety. With a lot of luck you will survive the days that you mis-read the water.