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July 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 29, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Other Dive Travel Groups

specialized dive trips for those who don’t want the norm

from the July, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The standard dive club's travel outing is not for everyone. Say you prefer early nights but every other diver wants to party. Or you're a single diver but everyone else is coupled up. Or you'd like to do other things besides diving on your trip -- posh spa treatments or volunteer work -- and you don't know of any other diver who wants to join you.

Last month, we had an article about why it's worth signing up for dive trips organized by dive shops -- let someone else do the heavy-duty travel planning for you. But there are other, more specialized dive organizations that serve single divers, female divers, gay divers, Christian divers and others. Sure, diving is diving, but when they're not in the water, some divers want to hang out with those who share their interests and lifestyle. Even if none of these groups are right for you, you may know a fellow diver who finds one of these groups a perfect fit for his or her next overseas dive trip.

Diving Divas

Lana McGlynn worked at the Pentagon and had an out-of-office meeting on September 11, 2001, when a plane crashed into the building and killed many of her co-workers. After dealing with the grief and guilt, her sister told her, "Think of something you want to go do, and do it." So at age 52, McGlynn decided to learn to dive. But the experience wasn't great. "Doing my checkout dive in a lake in a 7-mil suit with hood and gloves, I wasn't comfortable, and my instructor wasn't friendly to older women." Then on her first dive trip, she went with a mixed group that had a lot of young divers and a lot of partying. "I was at an age at which that didn't interest me." But McGlynn didn't throw in the towel. She started looking for dive buddies, became a dive instructor and started the online group Diving Divas. "I was sure there were other women like me who wanted to dive but just didn't know how to connect with fellow divers."

Twelve years later, she runs two to three dive trips a year for women divers, with ages typically ranging from mid-30s to mid-60s, but McGlynn says no one is too old to go, "as long as your knees get you up the ladder." No single guys allowed, but husbands are. The spring 2014 trip to Utila included a veterinarian from Minnesota, a psychologist from Montana, an IT professional from Oklahoma and an assistant Secretary of State. "The women are all professionals, with interesting backgrounds, and they have stuff to talk about beyond diving," says McGlynn. "Some have come into the sport after their kids are raised, may be widowed or divorced, they're in a new phase of life, and they want to have someone to share that adventure with. They won't get that on the local dive shop outing." Besides the diving, McGlynn plans fun surface intervals. During a Bonaire trip last year, she planned a beach BBQ, a private dinner on the pier at Divi Flamingo, and a watercolor class with a local artist. "We're serious divers, but we want nice amenities and we enjoy having the spa treatments."

Trips fill up fast -- there's a wait list for the November trip aboard the Tropic Dancer in Palau, and three spots left for Little Cayman in February. The trip after that is the Sun Dancer in Belize next July. All experience levels are welcome, although some liveaboard trips, like the Palau one, require nitrox certifications. But McGlynn says all divers on her trips form quick bonds. "It's a leap of faith to come by yourself, you're not sure who you'll be rooming with, you just trust it will all work out. And because of that, we watch out for each other on dives, and loan each other gear. Being women, there's just that sense of sisterhood." ( www.divingdivas.com )

National Association of Black Divers

NABS, as it's commonly known, is the oldest dive-specific group of this bunch. It was formed in Washington D.C in 1959 when African-Americans, even those who served in the military's aquatic divisions, encountered dive clubs that resisted allowing them to join. Besides forming their own organization so they could keep diving, the founders wanted to serve a demographic that had been ignored by the dive community. Even as society changed its views on race, NABS keeps flourishing, says Zel Head, its marketing director. "NABS is neither an organization that advocates segregation, nor does it discourage non African-Americans from participating in its dive activities. The NABS identity happens to be a reflection of its past of which members are extremely proud."

NABS has various chapters nationwide, plus two in Africa, that run their own specific dive trips, but headquarters manages a big annual summit. With 150-plus members typically attending every year, NABS often books an entire dive resort (non-diving activities are offered for non-diving spouses). This year, the summit is in Cozumel November 8-15. A typical day includes a two-tank dive, with night dives an option, plus other evening events such as theme parties, talent shows and speakers from the scientific community talking about marine-specific topics. Besides diving, NABS does community outreach to benefit the local population, so members volunteer in food kitchens, provide labor and materials to fix orphanages, do environmental cleanups and buy supplies for local schools. "Our goal is that when we leave a region, it's left a better place than when we arrived," says Head. ( www.nabsdivers.org )

Single Divers

"Many solo divers booking on a group trip
end up being leftovers, and they get the
insta-buddy or insta-roomie from hell . . .
In our group, solo divers are prime time."

Kamala Shadduck started SingleDivers. com on a bet. She regularly ran wreck and shark dives off Morehead City, NC, and her clients were male divers, who bet her she couldn't get "girls" to go diving. But she convinced 13 women and 13 men to go on a dive trip together to Cozumel in January 2004, and when she got calls afterwards from other divers asking whether she was planning more dives for "singles groups," she realized there was a bigger group of divers she could cater to.

But this is not a swingin' singles' diver group, it's a group for solo divers, regardless of marital status, to travel together. "Many solo divers booking on a group trip end up being leftovers, or the third or fifth wheel," says Shadduck. "They get the insta-buddy or insta-roomie from hell, or the worst, they get stuck rooming with a member of the opposite sex to avoid paying a single supplement. In our group, solo divers are prime time. Rooming is a breeze because there are 20 potential roommate options, not just one. For dive buddy options, someone is bound to be a good fit when you have a pool of many versus a pool of few."

Each dive trip offers three boat dives, and night dives and extra dives are set up in advance -- and they actually happen, Shadduck promises. "When those dives are left till the last minute, people often change their minds or lose interest, and then the minimum number of divers isn't met. By planning early, we make it part of the agenda, and it's almost always likely we'll have enough people to offer a large slate of activities and extra dives."

SingleDivers never cancels a trip, no matter how few people are on it. A same-gender roommate is guaranteed (a detailed rooming survey is done in advance) or else the single supplement is free. Everyone has a chance to mingle, via meet-and-greets, group meals, contests and social events. "You are never required to participate, but it's there to partake of," Shadduck says. "We are totally inclusive, and we never have cliques."

SingleDivers runs 18 trips a year, and Shadduck tries to mix it up by diving skills, price point and travelers' interests. Upcoming 2014 trips include diving North Carolina's Cooper River for prehistoric fossils July 31 to August 5, two trips to Roatan in October, and three trips to the Galapagos aboard the Humboldt Explorer in December (one is a New Year's Eve trip).

Shadduck says SingleDivers is great for divers who worry they won't have fun if they go it alone on a dive trip. "If you are not a social butterfly able to talk to anyone, then having the structure that a group like mine does can be the difference between a fantastic vacation and a so-so dive trip." ( www.singledivers.com )

Undersea Expeditions for Gay Divers

Chris Winkle is an avid diver, but as a gay man, he experienced homophobia on different dive trips, which put a damper on his vacations. He thought, "If I can get a group of gay men together, I'll feel comfortable with my fellow divers, and if I can verify dive operators ahead of time, then I'll know upfront whether they're fine with us." With that idea, Winkle started the dive travel business Undersea Expeditions in 1991. Greg Hamman started traveling on Winkle's trips in 2001 and purchased the business in 2004. Homophobia is less of an issue today, he says, "But many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender divers still experience some uncomfortable moments and disapproval when traveling alone, so they join us simply because they have more fun traveling with us. We have a repeat-guest rate of 85 percent, so we're like a big group of friends traveling together and reconnecting on every trip."

Undersea Expeditions offers 12 dive trips, ranging from the Caribbean for younger new divers on a budget, to trips-of-a-lifetime in Raja Ampat and the Galapagos for more experienced divers. The next trip is to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas on October 11-18. The rest of the 2014 trips (liveaboards in Belize, Socorro Island and Maldives) are sold out, but Undersea Expeditions is taking reservations for 2015 trips to Tubbataha in the Philippines and Cuba's Gardens of the Queen.

The diving itinerary is similar to any group dive trip's, but Undersea Expeditions focuses on offering gay-friendly hotels and land excursions. "We use a gay-friendly tour operator and guides," Hamman says. "We don't go with large, standardized chain hotels. There's a gay esthetic -- they want to feel closer to the culture without giving up any comfort. And it has to feel safe. No one wants to go on vacation and have someone wince when they're introduced as the same-gender husband or wife." Because there are so many repeat travelers, Hamman often plans special trips for their anniversaries, "and they often bring their straight best friends on the trips. There's also plenty of 'gal pals,' single women who feel at ease in our group and often feel safer joining our trips."

Like any dive club, Undersea Expeditions is a close-knit dive community that stays in touch between trips. "Immediately after a trip, a lot of photos and video are shared, and we stay in touch on Facebook. We don't need to advertise much." ( www.underseax.com ; for a listing of gay scuba clubs in the U.S. by state, go to www.divingforlife.org/scubaclubs.html )

Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Association

Jim Mustoe from Pennsylvania is a Christian and a scuba diver who believes in the motto "Jesus is the regulator of my life." He enjoys overseas dive trips, but he wanted to do more to help others while visiting the typically Third World countries he visited. So in 2009, he started the Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Organization (WCSDO) for divers from all different churches, backgrounds, beliefs and world views to join. What they have in common: "We get to do great diving around the world and help people in the places we plan our dive trips," says Gary Mace, director of the WCSDO and owner of Conch Republic Divers in Key Largo, FL.

WCSDO has 500-plus members and chapters nationwide. It hosts four overseas dive trips annually, with 25 to 30 divers at a time staying in all-inclusive dive resorts. After a two- to three- tank dive day, they do mission work in the area. "You walk out of the resort and you see a lot of need outside the front gates," says Mace. In Roatan last year, WCSDO divers gathered money and purchased supplies for a church that needed a new roof, then helped church members put it on. In the Bahamas, they painted the inside of a church and built a new sign for it. In Roatan last year, divers brought food, water and clothing to families who live near the dump, children at the orphanage and inmates at the local jail. Eyeglass ministry happens on every trip -- members buy eye-glasses with certain diopters, do eye tests on locals who come by and give them glasses free of charge. Mace remembers one woman in Roatan whose eyes tested horrendously. "After we gave her glasses with -5 diopters, she looked at us and started crying because she said she could finally read."

The next WCSDO trip is to Bonaire in February. Members pay their own way, but most trips are all-inclusive. As a non-profit organization, WCSDO puts all its donations towards mission projects, and local chapters do their own dive trips and missions, too. Mace is planning mission-training workshops at his dive shop so members can learn how to lead missions on future overseas dive trips. "To enjoy the underwater world and then help the people who live near it, that's a blessing," he says. "I guarantee that going on one of our trips will be a life-changing experience."

-- Vanessa Richardson

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