Because it’s where the largest number of abalone are found, and because of regulations designed to protect the small populations that live elsewhere, most of California’s abalone-diving is concentrated on the coast of Mendocino County. For decades hordes of recreational divers have descended there beginning in April every year, lured by the legendary red abalone. Traditionally, abalone divers would get up as early as 4:30 in the morning and struggle into cold wetsuits, getting ready to hit the water at the crack of dawn. Beginning in 2014, however, new regulations have gone into effect because of declining abalone numbers, and now divers have to wait until 8 a.m. before heading into the water with their snorkles, abalone irons (pry bars) and gauges (required to ensure that only abalones of legal size are taken). The sport is challenging, but exhilarating. After a full day of braving frigid, murky waters and entangling kelp forests, free-diving abalone divers will tell you there is nothing that beats the rush of coming back to shore laden with the fortune of delectable abalone and its ornamental, iridescent shell.