Spend a day above and under the sea in San Diego: SUP, surf and scuba

"You can't just make the shark signal!" My scuba dive buddy spat out his mouthpiece and barked.

"But they were small sharks! You must have missed the part where I hand signaled that it was little."

I pinched my pointer finger and thumb an inch apart, then put my hand to my forehead like a fin, "Yeah, there was a horn shark. Only a foot long or so."

My dive buddy wasn't impressed. The entire time I'd enjoyed our scuba dive through kelp and temperate reef, he was looking over his shoulder for a toothy predator. While sharks are an irrational fear among San Diegans — like sitting on a jacuzzi drain and having your insides sucked out — sharks are a real threat for people like my dive buddy, who hails from Western Australia, one of the sharkiest places in the world.

This was the first of our adventures scuba diving, standup paddling and snorkeling around La Jolla, San Diego.

Scuba diving in La Jolla

You can rent dive gear from La Jolla Dive for $60/day for a full set. If you're not an experienced diver and prefer to go with a guide, La Jolla Dive can arrange that too. When both swell and surge are down, you can snorkel or dive around the La Jolla caves, where curious sea lions often swim up to divers for a challenge.

We opted to dive at La Jolla Shores, a few hundred feet out from one of the lifeguard towers. The dive shop manager told us to swim out until we saw a pink buoy, then drop down. We saw two pink buoys and being overachievers, we chose the closest one and dropped down.

The water turned from chilly to ice cold, making me grateful for the 5 mm of neoprene surrounding my body. Tall stalks of kelp surrounded us like a forest and crayfish hid under rocky ledges. On our second dive, juvenile horn sharks camouflaged themselves against the sea floor.

Standup paddling through the La Jolla caves

All along La Jolla Shores's main drag, Avenida de la Playa, kayak, standup paddle and bike shops compete for your coin. We grabbed two standup paddleboards from Everyday California and wheeled them to the sea, where we'd paddle towards the ominous yet stunning La Jolla caves near La Jolla Cove. The caves also happen to be a sea lion hotspot in San Diego.

I've always had a secret bond with sea lions. As a kid, I often went down to the caves with my family. One day, I let out a huge yawn. This triggered a chain reaction along the rocks, with each sea lion letting out a heartier yawn than the last. I looked down at my budding pot belly and then to the bulbous sea lions and made the connection. I am one of them.

Ever since becoming the sea lion whisperer, I've spent tens of hours snorkeling around the La Jolla caves, where you can see hundreds of fish, stalks of kelp and even leopard sharks.

Excited to show my friend my species, we ventured to the caves and saw neon orange Garibaldis, the California state fish, swimming beneath our boards. Sea lions barked and flopped along the rocks. Kayakers sped ahead of us. We weaved in and out of the caves, taking care not to bump our heads on any overhangs.

The caves near La Jolla Cove

When our arms burned, we turned back and surfed the standup paddleboards in ankle-high waves. Both of us being experienced surfers but not standup paddleboarders, the huge size of the board and extra paddle felt clunky and hard to maneuver.

We wiped out on nearly every wave.

La Jolla Shores is one of the best places to learn how to surf, by the way. The crowds are friendly, the waves are gentle, and the lifeguards actually pay attention. Though experienced surfers are better off going north along the beach to Scripps or Black's Beach. You can rent boards of all types along Avenida de la Playa or take lessons from Surf Diva.

After a full day above and under the sea, I remembered why La Jolla is one of my favorite places in California. There are so many creatures waiting to be discovered. And if you're lucky enough, you might just find a special animal tribe of your own.

Chantae Reden is a travel, adventure, and action sports journalist from San Diego. You can find more of her writing on her blog, Chantae.com.

All photos provided by the author.