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July 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 28, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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What Happens to Those Aging Dive Guides?

the Lahaina Divers 35th reunion

from the July, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

I once wrote a story entitled "Getting Wet after Forty," in which I mused that for divers of any age, diving was a great lifestyle, but for many dive guides who were in their 20s, I hoped eventually they would either own their dive store or find another occupation. From my perspective, schlepping tanks with bad backs and wobbly knees for tourists, and getting low wages for it (nobody tipped them back then), would be no way to live out the years.

When I wrote that, I was thinking about people I had dived with on Grand Cayman, Bonaire and, of course, Hawaii, which I visited frequently in the 70s because it was the only tropical Pacific/Indian Ocean dive destination we Americans visited. Fiji was a dream and Indonesia wasn't even a consideration. In clear Hawaiian waters, I would see white-tip reef sharks, cowrie shells the size of my fist, and creatures not found in the Caribbean, at least not then (such as lionfish). The guides were great, and I loved Lahaina, a small, friendly town on the island of Maui, before the tourist onslaught had yet to start. (You might enjoy reading about diving in Maui then, so with this online issue, I'm including a copy of the 1977 print issue.)

I've been wondering what happened to those youthful dive guides with sun-bleached hair and sunbrowned bodies, now that they're graying and paling. Did they remain mesmerized by the lifestyle and end up in eternal Margaritaville, or did they move on? I got a partial answer during the first weekend in June, when I attended the 35th Reunion of Lahaina Divers. I accompanied my wife, who, as a Lahaina Divers PADI instructor, was a pioneer in those days, perhaps the first woman actually teaching diving on Maui. She certified hundreds of new divers.

Putting the Diving on Wine LabelsBlain Roberts arrived in Maui in 1976, after hanging on Southern California beaches and winning a few surfing championships. He bought a car (he had $400 left over), slept in it and eventually found gigs guiding dives and captaining dive boats before opening his own business. In a few short years, Lahaina Divers became the biggest and best on Maui. One day, he went to Westport, WA, to buy serious dive boats, and met and married Kim, an architect and charter boat captain. In the '90s they sold their business, though retaining the building they owned -- a smart move to buy Maui real estate in those days. In 2007, Blain and Kim (with daughter Carrie and son Dana, a graduate of Washington State University's viticulture and enology program) broke ground for Westport Winery ( www.westportwinery.com ), where they held the reunion. They import grapes from eastern Washington, and now, in less than six years, the winery sports the best restaurant in the area, a great bakery, a fine tasting room, and has become a significant tourist destination. Clearly, Blain and Kim got out of the water when they should have. But I wondered about all the old crew members, who might show up.

As it turned out, the competent yet fun crew (a few were known to close down the bars on their days off) have grown up, of course. There was a television producer, a realtor, an orthopedic surgeon, a restaurateur, a realtor, a craftsman, an Alaskan fishing boat owner/skipper, a medical marijuana clinic proprietor, an oncology nurse (my wife), and the current owner of Lahaina Divers, who worked for Blain for many years. Clearly, these people had moved on -- quite successfully, I might add. To a person, they said they were all thankful for the responsible training and management Blain offered to his employees in those days.

And there were stories. One spoke of peeling down his wetsuit between dives as he briefed his divers, only to realize that he had forgotten to put on his Speedo in the morning. He decided to stick with the briefing, as if that was the way they did things on Maui. Another told of catching his regulator hose on a swimthrough and being left with only his mouthpiece. As he started to inhale, Blain noticed only the mouthpiece in his mouth and passed him his second stage. Another told of the Navy foolishly exploding a long-lost bomb it discovered in the Molokini crater. As as they went to dive the next morning, scores of reef sharks were gorging themselves on thousands of tropical fish dead from the concussion. Divers avoided the crater for three days. They talked of celebrities on their dives and in their shop -- Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams. And then there was that Star Wars star who they certified, but only after a debate about whether they should flunk him because he arrived at each class stoned. In 1978, who cared?

Clearly, the attendees had all fared well, though I suppose there are others who stayed trapped in the island lifestyle, or didn't develop a serious occupation, or just seemed to have disappeared. But the Lahaina Divers Reunion proved to me that if you're smart, play your cards right, train your staff right, and treat them and your customers well -- as did Blain and Kim -- spending your youthful years diving in the tropics is a great way to live the dream.

-- Ben Davison

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