Dive N’ Surf Lobster Mobster Contest: a rite of passage for new divers
by Tony Vanore, edited by Kathy Kempton
Dive N’ Surf in Redondo Beach kicked off the 20-13 lobster season with its 37th Annual Lobster Mobster contest on September 28 at 12:01. The opening night contest is a staple for Southern California divers, including locals and participants from throughout Southern California. Over 225 divers participated.
Dive N’ Surf stayed open all night to weight lobsters, fill tanks and serve coffee and doughnuts. Prizes for the largest lobsters ranged from a BCD/regulator package to a large roller bag.
Jacob Street took first place with a 10.51 pound monster. Mike Grafton nabbed second with an 8.9 pound whopper and Abel Loera captured third with a 7.75 – pounder.
Every diver who had signed up in advance and caught at least one legal lobster received a coveted Dive N’ Surf Annual Lobster Mobster shirt. Divers Jim Cassidy, who participated in the very first Lobster Mobster in in 1976 wore his shirt from that year. Jim explained that one of his shirts, the one for the fourth-year contest, has “4rd” instead of “4th,” making it a sought-after collector’s item. When Jim entered his first Lobster Mobster, he had about 6 years of shore diving experience, and was happy just to show up with his legal lobster, but it was the sight of old-timers bringing in milk crates with large 10 pound lobsters stuffed into them that really impressed him. In anticipation of the season opener, divers flood Dive N’ Surf’s rental and repair facility to have Jocko and Chris inspect their regulators and BCDs and conduct visual inspections on their scuba cylinders. This marks one of the busiest times for the repair facility as the season creeps up on many who have waited until the last minute to get service for their equipment. Some divers only dive during lobster season and their equipment sits dormant after the end of the season in mid-March. The first Lobster Monster coincided America’s Bicentennial. Apple Computers, iPads, and cell phones hadn’t been invented. President Gerald Ford was replaced by President Jimmy Carter on November 2nd, and Dive N’ Surf and Body Glove had only been in business for 23 years. US Divers Conshelf two-stage regulators were just beginning to grow in popularity. In 1973, commercial and recreational lobster fisheries were required to have permits for the first time due to the growing attention paid to the ocean and land environment. Lobster regulations set for 1976-77 by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), included recreational and commercial fisheries, and established a limited fishing season. Regulations for a minimum legal size and release of all undersized lobsters were also issued.
Ronnie Meistrell recalls that the year he and his brother Robbie started the Lobster Mobster Contest. approximately 500 divers entered the contest. A diver with a 13-pound lobster won the first contest and received a Darrell Allen Bug-Diver 400 light. This year nearly 800 divers entered the contest.
Dive N’ Surf is a family-owned company with divers whose families have been customers for three generations. The contest sign-up pages demonstrate that hunting lobster in Southern California is a family affair. Entrants included fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and groups of extended families.
Earning a Dive N’ Surf Annual Lobster Mobster shirt is a rite of passage for new Southern California divers. But the contest is also for divers who want to keep the lobster hunting tradition alive throughout the season, like Dudley, who is in his mid 70s and quietly pops into Dive N’ Surf to fill his steel 72 tanks.
I remember working the Lobster Mobster Contests in the early 90s. I filled so many tanks that the fill station water was 20 degrees warmer than the air temperature. I had blisters on my hands from lifting tank after tank for hours on end. It was worth it to see the grins on divers’ faces when they came back from the water.
With an eye toward keeping sustainable populations for future lobster divers, over the last few years Dive N’ Surf has provided researchers from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation data on the lobsters that the divers bring in. Data on the lobsters’ measurements and abundance is used by marine scientists to better their populations and growth rates. Next year, Dive N’ Surf plans to partner with conservationists to set up a release tank for divers, particularly those catching larger lobsters who prefer to participate as catch-and-release lobster fishermen. With a thoughtful approach to enjoying California’s unique resources, Dive N’ Surf hopes to hold its Annual Lobster Monster contest for many generations to come. DZ