Local dives never get the attention they deserve. With that in mind, I've got a secret world off the coast of Southern California that should be on every diver's hit list. It's not glamorous, it's not one of the fabled Channel Islands, and there's not even a kelp forest, but it's one of my favorite dives in the world. And I say that without hyperbole. In fact, I've spent more than 200 hours under the water there, mostly at night, and still descend today with the same tingle of anticipation as I did on my first dive there.
The site is the King Harbor Breakwall off the Southern California beach Mecca of Redondo Beach. This magical site does not appear in any dive guide, so break out your maps and read carefully. The one necessary element to get to this site is a boat or dive kayak. Any size boat will do, as the site is only about 30 seconds from the dock. It's best dived at night, since an L-shaped pile of sea-stopping boulders provides safe haven for legions of the little guys and happy hunting ground for such unique nocturnal predators as angel sharks and thornyback rays.
You can drop anchor anywhere along the wall (about 100 feet off is best). Descend to the sand beneath the boat, and take a compass reading in the direction of the wall. It's impossible to get lost as long as you eventually fin to the breakwall. But the creatures of the sand flat will steal your attention. There are almost always bulls-eye rays; electric rays; thornyback rays; and tiny, half-fist-sized octopi that burrow in the sand during the day only to come out by the hundreds at night to hunt. You'll also encounter mantis shrimp (Don't try to touch these guys! You've been warned!) and frequently large (6-foot) angel sharks pressed flat and stealthy in the sand. I've also encountered massive halibut (3 feet across) just off the breakwall, and lobster were lined up head to tail heading into the deeper water (usually just after lobster season starts in September). From September to November, giant sheep crab come to the breakwall to spawn, and you'll see hundreds of these freaky-looking critters piled together in procreating bliss. You'll even find leopard sharks checking out the action.
When you eventually make it to the wall, you'll find the place crawling with lobsters of all sizes. Spanish shawl and other nudibranchs have conventions here, and California reef octopi on the prowl will be impossible to miss. Swim right or left to get to either end of the wall, but you'll be hard pressed to swim too far before one of the site's many distractions will reel you in.
If you talk nicely to the guys at Dive N' Surf (www.divensurf.com) dive shop in Redondo Beach, they may even take you to the site.