Abalone season opened on April 1st along Sonoma and Mendocino counties. It also brought with it the dangerous reality of abalone diving.
In Sonoma County, county lifeguards rescued four people from the rough choppy waters on the first few days of the season. Two of the four people who were rescued were confirmed to be abalone divers, and another pair were scuba diving with spear guns.
The first incident took place on Friday when a Sonoma County lifeguard spotted a first diver in distress near South Gerstle Cove at about 11:20 a.m., just over four hours after the abalone season opened at 8:01 a.m. Lifeguard Mike Porter reportedly saw the man struggling in the surf. Mike Porter swam out to the man and lifeguard Joe Stoffers met them on a rescue jet ski. The man was brought to shore shaken, but unharmed.
On Saturday, a team of volunteers with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue team were on watch at various points of the coast to help keep watch on the enthusiastic divers eager to bring home their first abalone of the season. One volunteer spotted an overturned kayak at about 11:21 a.m. north of Ocean Cove, just offshore in an area of sheer cliffs south of Salt Point State Park. The kayaker had apparently been scouting places to dive for abalone when he was knocked over by a wave. Two people in another kayak were helping him cling to their vessel when Stoffers rode to them on the jet ski, State Parks lifeguard Nate Buck said. He brought the man to shore and Buck retrieved his kayak.
Last year, at least eight people died off the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts while in pursuit of abalone.
The forecast, provided by StormSurf.com, calls for surf up to 7 feet and swells to 6 feet this weekend in the Bodega Bay area (the report may change and is continuously updated). If you’re heading out, be sure to check conditions before you make the drive, and be ready to ‘call the dive’ if conditions are not ideal or consistent with your experience and level of fitness.