Below the waves is a world like no other. According to those who travel there, it is serene, surreal, and like “an out-of-body experience.” They say the feeling of adventure is profound. And, although scuba diving is, by definition, a self-contained activity, the adventure is anything but solitary.
To begin with, no one dives alone. That is RULE NUMBER ONE. Diving is always done with at least one partner, or as is the case of a group of friends here in Yakima, with a bunch of other underwater enthusiasts. Despite the landlocked nature of the Valley, there are hundreds of scuba divers here.
Diane L. and Willard Nelson began diving in 1988. He is a master instructor in five specialties and she is a dive master. They teach the skill and also travel internationally to dive. While a diving certification is a lifelong designation, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors recommends taking a refresher course after a year without diving, so most folks try to dive at least once a year, preferably more. And there is the thrill of a different journey every time. As with most social circles, the enjoyment of time spent with friends spurs the activity.
Recently, the Nelsons and their dive buddies met at the home of two group members to swap stories of their adventures. Dives off the coast of Honduras and Cozumel, Mexico, are special favorites. They have also spent weekends submerged in the chilly waters of Hood Canal and Puget Sound. Those waters are also where several members became certified divers, under the tutelage of the Nelsons.
For Tami Bigby, a dive to look for crabs near Langley on Whidbey Island was a favorite, despite tide, high winds, and low visibility — conditions the divers are trained to handle. Bigby was introduced to the sport by her fiancé. He was already a scuba diver and friends with the Nelsons. She was headed to Seattle for an open dive with them when she ran into old friend Sharri Bailey, who happened to be traveling to the same event.
And so it goes with desert-dwelling divers. Most know each other and they learn to seek out a variety of water sources. The pools they frequent include those in backyards, a local city swimming facility, and the nearest saltwater they can find. Each diver began the sport for different reasons. Willard explained that his last name was the reason he learned.
“I watched ‘Sea Hunt’ as kid and loved the lead character, Mike Nelson,” he said. “We lived on the bay in Shelton and I loved it, but I moved to Yakima before becoming a certified diver.”
Bailey holds cold- and warm-water certifications and said her love of the water was a major motivation to dive. Despite dives across the globe, Cozumel remains a favorite site. “It is really beautiful and the people are so good to us,” she said. Cozumel waters are teeming with sea life because the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park is home to the world’s second-largest coral barrier reef.
Aquatic life adds great excitement to a dive. Willard has had several close encounters with octopuses who are apparently fascinated with bubbles. But as he pointed out, the best encounters do not all occur in warm water. Puget Sound is full of fascinating creatures as well.
“While on a dive near Seattle’s Alki Point, an octopus about a foot and a half across got on my face,” he remembered. Sea creatures in the Sound also include huge Bluntnose sixgill sharks, crabs, and eels.
While enthusiasts travel worldwide in search of clear, warm waters, this group of friends all said the cold waters near our shores provide wonderful dive sites, especially in the winter when there is less plankton.
Whether seeking out tropical water or the 47-degree Hood Canal section of the Sound’s Salish Sea, scuba divers hope for the thrills that accompany all adventure sports. And diving is available to anyone who enjoys the water and is in fairly good physical condition.
Among the friends, some became certified divers in their 20s and others not until well into their 40s. As Bailey’s fiance Robert Greene explained, diving is an exciting sport, but one that requires education and an adherence to the rules and regulations assigned to it. As with most high adventure sports, it can become quite expensive.
Those costs can include additional certifications or training, such as night diver, wreck diver, advanced skills, or technical diving and instructor courses. As Greene explained, the sport does have a learning curve. But he added that curve is not steep and it is fun and safe.
“Common sense goes far,” he said.
Greene noted that he has “always been in the water,” saying that his first experience diving was at age 13 in the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets when he was dropped off a cruise ship at night. Greene said he has loved it ever since and pointed out that location definitely determines participation.
“We go twice a year, but if I lived in Seattle I would go all of the time. It is just fun,” according to Greene. “I like to think if you can’t make it to the moon, you can make it to the sea.”