The Lone Sport of Abalone Diving


I had the privilege of meeting a man by name of Lenny at the SalmonAid salmon bake event. At the event we exchanged some conversation and later swapped information. He later invited me to what I would have never experienced if it were not for him. Abalone diving is not something you hear about every day. It’s something that you eat every once in awhile. Most Americans eat beef, chicken, pork, fish, and all sorts of vegetables. Shellfish is great, but I believe most people tend to stay away from it because they are either allergic to it or it can be rather expensive.

Lenny took me up the coast of Northern California in his vehicle along with two other guys, Ryan and Beldon, who I got acquainted with while on the drive to our diving location. During our trip, I learned a lot about the nature of abalone diving. I found out that it is a sport that is done solo. Divers can dive in partners or small groups, but the sole act of diving and capturing abalone is an individual task. If going in groups one person in the group is assigned to be a spotter just to make sure if one person doesn’t come up for air then the other diver has to go in and to prevent a potential drowning situation.

The whole sport of abalone diving starts out when divers swim out from the coast with their equipment.  Divers can equip themselves with tools to capture abalone, but they they are not allowed to carry any breathing apparatuses with them in their hunt. Among a diver’s list of tools that he/she can bring out onto the water can be and are not limited to the following items: wetsuit, mask, snorkel, fins, knife, weight belt and weights, depth gauges, at least a 7inch gauge (ruler), an abalone iron (spatula looking tool), flashlight, and personal abalone floats (rubber inner tube encased in a backpack styled cover which allows the diver to use as a flotation device to rest on and to enable storage of equipment and abalone caught). Other optional flotation devices are used such as inflatable surf mats, boogie boards, kayaks, canoes, and even boats.

After a hike out to the coastal waters, Lenny, Ryan, and Beldon got out into the water. The waves were a little choppy, but to me it did not look too bad. The tide was coming in and everything looks totally fine observing from the surface. However, while in the water that is a different story. The three guys told me later that the water was a little rough.

While on a dive there is so many things that a diver has to think about. Divers need to think about their oxygen in their lungs, they have to keep aware of the tide and the waves because within the water there is a lot of power which can easily take you in or out to sea, wave could also smash you into rocks or into fields of kelp. Divers sometimes fear the possible confrontations of sharks, and the fear of suffocating. When divers dive near the coast they face kelp fields. One of the worst scenarios is to be running low on oxygen, thus a diver comes up for air, but while coming up for air it is possible to get tangled in a strand of kelp which can easily attach to your belt or other equipment. Being anchored down the last thing a diver should do is struggle and panic losing any remaining oxygen left. Divers need to remain as calm as possible and either untangle themselves or cut the kelp with a knife.

After collecting three abalone each, the guys come to shore and showed me their wonderful stash. The catches seem really good and large, but no record keepers. The largest abalone caught on record in California is 12.34 inches. It was caught by  John Pepper. Catching of any abalone under 7 inches is punishable by fine and confiscation of fishing license. One article I found on illegal poaching of abalone was written by the Oakland Tribune in 2005. You can read more about it here.

Later that evening, Lenny invited me over for dinner and I partook in an abalone feast. Lenny took the abalone and sliced it thin, where he then smashed it with a tenderizer, breaded it, and then fried it on a skillet of olive oil. Accompanying the meal were rice, green beans, artichokes, and chicken wings (the chicken wings seem odd right in this meal, that’s because I brought them over along with green beans).