From Canyon To Cove: Seeing Laguna from under the sea

I got the chance to see a different side of Laguna Beach two weeks ago. I went snorkeling in South Laguna.

My guide, Carey Conklin, was so persuasive that this was the absolute best day of the year to bob around a reef that I changed my long-overdue hair appointment.

He wasn’t wrong.

Water temperature: 74 degrees. Surf: gentle. Breeze: non-existent.


“You have to come out here,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-year thing.”

But snorkeling? I haven’t done that since a trip to Jamaica in the early 1990s. Before that, in my early 20s, I snorkeled once at a magnificent coral reef off of Key West. Saw barracuda and trigger fish — and lived to tell the tale.

So snorkeling off Laguna was an opportunity I could not resist. I threw on my swimsuit and made a beeline for Carey’s house, right on the ocean.

We sat for a while contemplating the sea, then took a dip just to get the feel of the water. So far, so good.


We rehydrated, then, before the afternoon wore on too long, gathered our courage, and our equipment, and headed to the surf line and the reef not too far beyond it.

I had not, however, anticipated the problem of getting a face mask, snorkel and swim fins out beyond the rolling breakers and then putting them on, as Carey directed. My other snorkeling excursions involved putting on the equipment and slipping off a boat into calm waters — not tackling breakers while trying not to lose the equipment.

On the other hand, the prospect of strolling down the beach toward the water clad in fins and a mask — like someone in a Monty Python picture — also did not appeal.

Somewhat daunted, I did ask Carey for one small concession: could I bring my boogie-board, too? The boogie-board has become indispensable to me as I get older; having a flotation device (which my lifeguard father would frown on as a crutch and a potential danger) gives me a sense of confidence, especially when the breakers are high enough to knock me down.

Carey agreed, and so we headed out, he carrying the fins, and I toting the boogie-board, face mask and snorkel.

Call me a boogie-boarding snorkeler, if you will.

Due in large part to Carey’s impeccable timing, we managed to get ourselves and the equipment past the breakers without much difficulty. But pulling on swim fins while holding the mask and being tethered to the board was more than I could manage. Carey came to the rescue, putting one fin on my foot. I was able to get the other one on myself.

I’m afraid by now Carey was probably a bit worried that I’d bitten off more than I could chew, and he might have to figure out how to get me back on shore. Then there was the kelp issue.


Back on the beach, he had gently inquired whether I was afraid of kelp. Apparently the fear of kelp is common; his daughter, he said, climbs on his back in terror when the fingers of kelp appear below her. I assured him I was not, at least not now — although I admitted to having a fear of kelp as a child. I was over it, though, I was sure.

But now neither of us was sure about my ability to actually get out there and snorkel.

I pulled on my mask and tried out the snorkel, promptly getting a dose of salt water for my trouble. I swallowed some of it, removed the mask but then quickly reattached it to my face. It was then I made the monumental decision to not just pull the boogie-board along behind me for emergency use, but to employ it while snorkeling.

Holding on to the board with both hands, I began to kick with the fins, following Carey out to the reef. I found myself making good progress. Soon I was astonished to find myself suspended over a roiling mass of green and purple sea grass that was swept to and fro by the waves, revealing a bright yellow rock bed underneath. It was mesmerizing.

Here was the dreaded kelp — and it was beautiful!

Carey pointed to bright orange garibaldi — the California state fish — and we also saw a school of small bait fish, perhaps smelts, and something he called a skate, a small flat fish that scooted along on the sand.

After thoroughly exploring that reef, Carey decided against visiting one closer to shore, and therefore closer to the now-increasing breakers.

“You’re doing great!” he yelled. As you can imagine, I was pleased, and relieved.


Then Carey grabbed hold of the boogie-board on the other side and we floated around in tandem, taking in the sea life that unfolded before us.

The water was so pleasant that neither of us wanted to go in, but at last it seemed we had seen everything and anyway, the waves were getting bigger by the minute.

Now the boogie-board was employed for its true use as I caught what Carey called “a free ride” in to shore.

Boogie-board snorkeling — it’s the way to go.

CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 494-2087 or