Monday, August 9, 2010

NCUPS photo comp and the rest of my week diving the BAY


What would happen if you placed a freediver against some of the best scuba photographers in the U.S? I was about to find out as I exchanged a wad of money for my registration packet. The odds were weighing against me. New camera, unfamiliar cold waters that would be like nothing I have ever experienced before. Even still I am a freediver and that gives me some advantages, I just hoped it would be enough. 

The Northern California Underwater photographic Society: California Beach and Boat Dive Photo/Video Competition  Is  one of thee premier photo competitions. Professional  Underwater photographers from all over the west coast come down to compete. Some so well known they regularly have their work shown in BBC, and the Smithsonian. 
      The tourney is set up fairly similar to a Spearfishing tourney. Sign in was at 3-5 pm with a cocktail party after. Divers where allowed to dive for 24 hours in the monterey bay before needing to drop of the photos at check in on 3pm the following day. There was several categories. 
     Novice:  Those who have made Less then 500$ on either competition winnings and Earnings from their work. 
     Open:    Everyone else. 
The Monterey bay area is a new area I am unfamiliar with. The water is Green, Cold, and the life is completely foreign.  Signing up for the tourney I had no Idea what to expect. Just purchasing a brand new camera and housing it was fair to say that the odds where stacked against me. 
     I treated this like I was diving the nationals spearing comp and used my extra days to scout the area and learn the wildlife behavior
pastedGraphic.pdf  The First day I jumped in the water  at the north end of the San Carlos kelp forest.  Vis was an outstanding 10’ at the surface.  I did a couple shallow dives and realized I would need to move to deeper water  if I wanted to spend any time on the bottom to enjoy the amazing amount of life and color. But as soon as I lost sight of the bottom I began to get visions of “ air jaws*”  and me flying through the air in a white sharks mouth.  I realized how silly this was  once I dove down and saw that this portion of the kelp was only 25’ deep.  After the first 10’  The visibility  Greatly improves some  up to 35 feet!

     While on the seafloor I slowly push forward getting use to the Beauty of the kelp forest.  The Sand bottom is littered with Colorful sea stars, Sea anemones , and multi colored seaweed glistening  like Pearls with the ebb and flow of the water. 
     Soon I was deeper into the darkness of the kelp forest. I kick deeper into the forest. The light fades into an emerald green.  I am now deep within the wonderland of the kelp forest.  I stop to look around.   Palm sized fish swim  stare out from me not straying to far from the kelp stalk.  Above me  float Amber colored jellyfish and above them the sun fights its way through the kelp leaves. 
     I succumb to the  urge  to breath air and with one kick I am buoyant and allow myself to float to the surface.  My head pops up through the thick blanket of the kelp leaves.   It doesn’t take me that long to realize its nearly impossible to swim through the leaves.
    My only option for traversing the kelp is below the surface.  Spy hopping I look for a patches of holes in the kelp bed and dive down. Making my way to my breathing hole like a seal in the Arctic ice. 

                                                                The Sealife in Monterey is Incredible. Unlike A coral reef where the majority of the life remains on the reef. The Kelp forest has life at the upper canopy keeping refuge and hunting in the kelp bed.  Deeper down  Larger predators  hunt in between the kelp stalks.   And of course the seafloor is host homes to a plorethra of life. Including sea anemone sprouting from the floor like an underwater garden.   

   ( photo of sea anemone not present) 

    I spend hours repeating the process making my way to the Coast guard pier where a colony of sea lions live. 

 The sea lions are pretty accustomed to SCUBA divers traversing their kelp forest. But as a freediver I have  a different appearance. Long fins, a horizontal posture, and no bubbles I appear  more similar to a Pinniped than a SCUBA diver.  
    At first the seal lions don’t know how to react to me.  The cautiously  keep their distance. spying on my from inbetween the kelp stalks and keeping Boulders between us. Safety in numbers they zig zag and weave in perfect choreography surrounding me in their underwater dance. 
I observe the the sea lions Behavior. But all to quickly I am Getting cold and must turn in to my warm the warm heat of my car. 
   The tournament went much better then I expected.  Walking out to the pier I see a group of photographers on the jetty taking photos of an otter that is foraging for food.    The night before I overheard some of the Pro photographers mention that an Otter photo would be a winner due to the  awe factor. Most scuba guys don’t see any otters. like freedivers the otters spend time on the surface and then make dives lasting a minute or two as they squeeze themselves through the maze of rocks  hunting for crabs and and other crustaceans.  Otters  Don’t have the Fat that seals and sealions do, so they rely on a high calorie diet to keep themselves warm, often eating 10%-15% of their body weight per day. 
   I try to make a few dives and catch him in hunt mode. But I unable to keep up with him. So I flip myself on my back and act like the otter.  Im assuming I tricked him pretty good because this normally shy creature let me get within inches of him. I follow his path and behavior for a half hour.  Diving when he dives and “ eating” my camera as I float on my back when. until I hit my head on a beach ball colored dive float.  Startled the sea otter looks up, notices the float and nearly pushes me out of the way to get to it. 

 Hopping up onto the float he puts his mouth on the zipper and attempts to open it up. we are abruptly interrupted by the scuba class surfacing to their float. 
     we freeze , Like teenagers getting caught we scatter in opposite directions.  I head over to the  sea lion rookery.  And put my familiarity of the seals behavior I learned yesterday into actions.   I continue to act like the animals I want to shoot. In this case the teenage sea lion. Lifting my head out of the water I bark a couple times and jump below the surface.  Quickly wedging myself in-between the boulders before they come looking for me.  I grunt and using hawaiian fish calling techniques I learned to call in some rock fish really close..  

 At the end of the day I ended up walking away with a handful of photos I felt really good about. Knowing that I was the only freediver I felt like I got perspectives that normally are not seen.  
      The next day are a couple seminars on underwater lighting( which I discover I have a lot to learn and apply to my photos)    after the seminars was the award ceremony. 
           I ended up walking away with 2nd place in the novice category and turning down a Trip to the bahamas,  Instead Excepting  a hiking/photo hybrid bag that is completely waterproof. 
I really have to give a lot of thank you to the backscatter camera shop  for helping me with the local water and habitats. 
 also to NCUPS for hosting this amazing dive tournament.