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November 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 42, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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An American Immersion: The First Woman To Dive All 50 States

from the November, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

An American Immersion - Dive book by Jennifer Idol

Jennifer Idol and I never met, but we both experienced the ultimate American scuba diving adventure. So when Ben Davison asked me to review her book, I was thrilled.

An American Immersion takes the reader to every state for a visual feast of underwater exploration. It chronicles an adventure that goes far beyond the typical resort diving most divers experience. Coral reefs are not featured in this book -- and let's face it, after a while, reefs might all begin to look alike.

Jennifer is not only the first woman to dive every American state, but also, she's a talented underwater photographer who has the images to prove it. On this journey, she took more than 105,000 photos and displays their immense variety in her spectacular photo essay of underwater America.

Jennifer writes that inspiration came while flying over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. She didn't capture the flaming wreckage, but decided instead to photograph our neglected American waters in a more positive manner. This led to her goal of becoming the first woman to dive all 50 American states. She completed her quest by driving 72,000 miles over five years. And she did it the hard way, by lugging heavy camera gear from state to non-contiguous state!

While Jennifer and I had the same objective to dive every American state, our inspirations differed. In the '90s, I discovered what I coined "safari diving" while traveling a thousand miles in South Africa. I packed a multitude of distinctive dives into a month-long expedition. This drive-and-dive concept inspired me to plan my American journey.

I also wanted to dispel the notion that scuba diving only exists on tropical reefs. My mission was to explore the most distinctive dives in every state, complete it in a year-long dive safari, and then write a book about it.

This approach would not work for Jennifer. As a photojournalist, she needed to take her time, plan her dives over vacations, and persevere until the end. And perseverance is what it's all about. Her North Dakota dive, for instance, required more than 3,700 miles of driving from her Texas home -- for just one dive!

My 2002 book, An American Underwater Odyssey, 50 Dives in 50 States, included snapshots taken along the way. Jennifer's book provides a rich, more visual experience. Her images of diving in steaming-hot craters, alongside bottomless oil rigs, and in ghostly shipwrecks place you behind the diver's mask. The endless caves and bizarre quarries provide an armchair diver the experience of practically being there. Many shots brought back my memories of mysterious spires in Yellowstone Lake, fossil diving in South Carolina and the gin-clear waters of inland Oregon. While Jennifer didn't dive the nuclear missile site I enjoyed in her home state of Texas, her ice diving shots in Ohio and Minnesota made me shiver with envy.

While I'm said to be the first person to dive all 50 states, being first wasn't my focus. Jennifer was inspired by an environmental issue, but her quest to become the first woman to dive every state tends to obstruct that narrative. I would have hoped that she had emphasized her inspiration and provided greater attention to the environmental theme of our threatened domestic waters.

What she accomplished, however, is a remarkable achievement by any standard. In addition to driving 72,000 miles, Jennifer took 80 flights and spent $158,000 to complete her quest. That's true dedication, whether it's to get in the record book or to publish a record book of her spectacular adventure. I highly recommend you buy her book and take her grand tour of underwater America. Your diving outlook might very well change. Click here to buy the book directly from Amazon.

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Reviewer Chuck Ballinger's book, An American Underwater Odyssey, 50 Dives in 50 States, is available from Amazon and can be purchased by clicking here.

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