With two trips to Bonaire, a good portion of my diving has been from a shore. I love the freedom provided by not being stuck to a boat's schedule. Your dive can be as short or as long as you want, and the only other person that has to be considered is your buddy. Not to mention there are no half-hour boat rides to the dive site.
It comes with its own set of challenges, though. Waves and surge can be rough, especially with all your gear strapped to your back. In addition, many sites have a variety of rocks, coral, and ledges that have to be maneuvered while waves are crashing against you. It can catch the unaware by surprise.
The good news is a little bit of forethought goes a long ways. Here I've compiled a list of tips to improve your experience.
Spy out the best entry point. Shore diving entries are not always sandy beaches, and even if they are, there may be unseen dangers beneath the waves.
If other divers are around, watch them to see where they enter (or exit) the water. Even if they are inexperienced, watching someone else have difficulty lets you know to avoid a certain entry point. Sometimes just a quick look around can help you avoid a nasty entry.
If you have other resources, use them. For instance, Bonaire divers have a book made for this very purpose. Check for similar resources in your area.
Be prepared. Before you get in the water, make sure you and your buddy are clear on the plan for entry and descent. This becomes even more important in choppier water.
Have your fins hanging over your arm (if using open back fins). I like to strap my mask on the buckle in front of my chest. Alternatively, you could have it around your neck, backwards on your head, etc. The idea is that it is out of your way and your hands are free to grab rocks or break a fall if necessary.
Try to have nothing dangling from your body. It's a bad feeling to hear that "CRAAACK" after seeing your expensive regulator smack into a rock.
Slow down. There's no hurry. Rushing an entry can make you tired and more susceptible to stress in the water. It also increases chance of injury. Take your time, breathe, assess the situation, and make as smooth an entry as possible.
Time the waves. Slowing down gives you a chance to observe the waves / surge. This has two advantages. First, when the water goes out, you can sometimes see rocks and obstacles hidden by crashing waves.
Second, you get a feel for the timing of the water. It's not a good idea to advance while the waves are crashing. Wait until the water begins to draw out and follow it. As soon as another wave comes, find solid footing and hold your ground. It may help to bend your knees slightly (lowering your center of gravity) and turn your back to the wave's impact. After the crash, move forward again.
Float as soon as possible. After you pass rocks and other obstructions, and the water is around your chest, try to float with your inflated BCD.
Take a moment to catch your breath before putting on your fins (spring fin straps make your life easier here). If you are waiting for buddies to enter the water, you have even more time to relax.
Try swimming on your back. Swimming on your back is usually not taught (or encouraged) in open water courses, but it can be far easier, and more relaxing for swims out to drop-off points.
Before you turn over, you may want to check under the water. You could be passing over some great snorkeling sights worth checking out during the swim.
Don't forget your sunscreen. The water entry and swim out leave you exposed to the sun for more time than you think. Take this into account and apply sunscreen liberally. The back of my neck is particularly exposed during these times, so I like to put a little extra sunscreen there.
Shore diving is awesome, and everyone should try it out at some point. It can be hard work, though, so take the time to be prepared, and I hope these tips come in handy for you.
Do you have any tips to make shore diving a better experience?