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May 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 36, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Do You Think Local Diving is Boring?

then here’s how to change it

from the May, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Sure, money is tight these days but that doesn’t mean you have to let your diving suffer if you’re postponing your next dive vacation. Diving locally on the cheap is far from boring, and it helps you stay sharp so you’ll enjoy that dream trip even more. The trick is to plan a fun activity in local water, rather than hope something interesting happens. Work on a skill, maybe learning how to kick without stirring up a hurricane of silt or to hover motionlessly upside down. If you’re normally a reef photographer, work on exposure and natural light. My buddy and I found a large concrete “dumbbell” that some folks made out of a pair of five-gallon buckets, eyebolts, and a 4x4. It’s a challenge to lift it evenly, hold it at an agreed-on depth, bring it to the surface, and lower it gently back down. Here are a few ways to make the most of nearby dive sites.

Hone Your Navigation Skills. ‘Fess up. How many times - - in clear water - - have you “temporarily misplaced” your dive boat and surfaced 50 yards away? To hone your navigation skills locally, let’s say you find an old sunken rowboat. Can you find it again? To do so, you will use all your brains and senses. How deep was it? Is it in a certain direction from another reference point? How far? Will you plan to find it by following a contour or by following a compass bearing? Here in Michigan, limited visibility means if I’m off by 10 degrees in 100 feet, I could miss my target entirely. Underwater navigation is a whole-body puzzle-solving experience worked out in 3-D.

Build an underwater amusement park. Just off one of my nearby lakeside parks, local divers have gathered an amazing collection of non-polluting objects that were already sunk, moving them to one central location for divers to enjoy. The underwater playground includes a full set of railroad tracks 70 yards long (ties and all), a beautiful old wooden rowboat, antique iron tractor wheels, and other interesting artifacts. My buddy and I added our own attraction – and got plenty of lift bag practice – moving cinder blocks lost by local fishermen (they make cheap anchors) to build a low circular “fortress” that is now home to a number of smallmouth bass. Others have added to our fort, sticking “cannon” (sunken limbs) from the ramparts.

Volunteer for Public Safety Dives. Many local agencies take volunteer divers but you will have to fund your own equipment. Since volunteering with my local sheriff’s department, I have been trained in techniques like search and recovery, ice diving, river diving, line tending, managing operations, interviewing witnesses, evidence recovery and more. And it’s great adult camaraderie.

Dive a Regional Hotspot. Talk to the local dive shops in your region and it’s amazing how many interesting dives you will learn about. The owners of Gilboa Quarry, southwest of Toledo, OH, have created their own underwater amusement park that includes a Grumman Gulfstream aircraft, Sikorsky helicopter, school bus, even a semi-trailer, at 130 feet. Bonne Terre Mine near St. Louis, MO, offers crystal-clear water and guided dives in a brightly lit cave environment, filled with remnants of mining activity. I know of divers in San Francisco Bay who find 19th-century bottles among the crumbled pilings. There must be thousands of bottle-diving sites in the U.S. and Canada.

Participate in Local “Wednesday Night Dives.” Many dive shops or clubs organize weekly group dives during the local diving high season, a great break from the normal workweek. They can include underwater treasure hunts, poker nights, pumpkin carving, and so on. Plus, they are typically followed by a trip to the local pub for continued fellowship.

And Get a Drysuit. Your chilly local water will seem to warm up when you wear the right drysuit and undergarments. The extra hassle with gear goes away with experience (and proper weighting) but the process of gaining that experience creates its own fun. In Michigan, when most recreational divers get their gear out between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a scant three months, I’m able to dive two to three times more than that, making the per-dive cost of gear more affordable. It’s a kick to know you can walk through the snow to an open lake. For me, the brisk feeling lets me know I am alive, and the bragging rights are a nice bonus.

Paul Selden, originally certified in 1980, is a PADI and NAUI certified master diver who has done 100-plus dives in the past year.

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