The Love of Water--The Closest Thing to Flying.
I grew up landlocked in Lincoln, Nebraska, yet loving the water. I have always been fascinated with ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers . . . virtually anything with water, and possibly fish, in it. So, it is not surprising that I took to swimming and almost lived at the pool in the summers.
One day when I was 9 or 10 some divers put on an exhibition at our pool from the one and three meter boards. Watching them soar and somersault in the air, I realized that was what I wanted to do. That seemed like flying to me. This pushed me to learn to dive. One of the life guards coached me and I honed my skills. I dove competitively in high school and later became a diver on the men’s swim team at Colorado State University. That was the closest thing to flying I could imagine. And through it all I continued with my love of water, swimming and diving.
When I went to Australia to teach in 1976 the gods smiled on me. I was assigned to teach in Geelong, Victoria, at Corio Technical School. The best part was that I got a place to live in Jan Juc, next to Torquay, a surfing center thirty minutes drive from my school. My bungalow was a few hundred meters from the Jan Juc surf beach and just five kilometers from the famous Bells Beach—Bells Beach is a well-known surfing spot where international surfing competitions are held. Finally I was living next to the ocean and I intended to make the most of it.
I had a wet suit custom made at the Rip Curl surf shop and, every day after school spent the late afternoon on the beach in the waves. I learned to body surf and board surf there. I still missed the mountains but less so because of the beach that more than made up for it. At night as I lay in bed I could hear the waves of the Southern Ocean crashing onto the beach. It was the best.
I considered learning to scuba dive while there in Australia, but was too wrapped up in surfing and all of that. So, it wasn’t until I returned to the States that I took up scuba diving because of my wife, Paula. We had met in Australia. Paula was also from Nebraska, our hometowns a hundred miles apart, but we’d met in Melbourne at a Yank party. Paula was also teaching in Australia, living in Melbourne. She took scuba lessons while there and when we returned to the States she urged me to get certified so we could scuba together.
I took a class in scuba diving from a Fort Collins scuba shop and did my open water in Grand Lake, Colorado. If it had been any colder we could have played hockey on the lake and the visibility sucked, but it was still exciting. Learning to dive gave Paula and me even more of a reason to get involved in dive-travel. I’ll never forget my first open water dive in the tropical gin clear water of Cozumel, Mexico. I was hooked—it was the closest thing to flying.
By buying an underwater camera and learning how to use it, I wedded my love for the water with my love for photography. Over the years Paula and I have traveled to dive in Florida, Mexico, Honduras, the Philippines, Australia, Fiji, Hawaii, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.
And in almost all of those places you can leave the tanks and regulator behind and simply snorkel. All you need is a mask, snorkel, and good fins. You can get a good workout if you combine snorkeling with free diving. You don’t have to dive that deep to see neat stuff in tropical waters. We have seen shark, moray eel, and many other beautiful tropical fish and coral while snorkeling. Actually there’s less to see as one goes deeper. It’s just that things get bigger and you can stay down longer with scuba gear. Those of you who scuba know what I mean. There is nothing like the thrill of dropping into new waters, to explore the coral reef, and see what you can discover there.
Practicing what you love to do in foreign lands is the best part of adventure travel. You meet people with a common interest and involve yourself in more than simple sightseeing. I experienced this with skiing, climbing and mountaineering, and Aikido, as well as scuba diving and underwater photography, and snorkeling.
One doesn’t have to be a fantastic swimmer to scuba dive, but one should be comfortable in the water. The activity is extremely safe if you have the training and follow the proper safety procedures, but, as in so many activities, the potential for danger is there. It is an equipment intensive sport. Paula and I chose to take our own equipment with us when we traveled, but in most cases you can rent equipment at your destination.
Finally, many resorts in countries overseas offer introductory scuba diving experiences for people who have had little or no proper training. I would discourage people from doing that. If you are the least bit interested in scuba diving you should take instruction from someone in your area before you go overseas. Even our little mountain resort/ski town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, has a scuba diving store that sells equipment and gives lessons. So, it should be easy for you to find a shop where you can get the instruction and equipment you need and can afford.
I encourage people to get involved with scuba diving and/or snorkeling—it is the closest thing to flying and gives you a wonderful activity to involve yourself at your beach destination.