I love this time of year for diving. In the Northern Hemisphere it’s Autumn right now. The weather has cooled as has the water in most places. The sun isn’t nearly as intense as it has been for the past few months and this brings about much clearer water conditions as there isn’t nearly as much algae blooming. Where I live in Southern California we can couple this with the more frequent “Santa Ana” winds out of the East which knocks the surf WAY down, giving us some of the best near shore water conditions of the year. The kids are back in school, football rules the weekends, and the cooler weather means not as many beach goers working on their tans, so our favorite diving sites are usually not nearly as crowded. On top of this, the Halloween season brings about Underwater Pumpkin Carving contests, which gives me a chance to write about dive preparation and proper equipment for one of my favorite underwater events.
When most of us think Underwater Pumpkin Carve all we think is “I need a pumpkin, my dive gear and a knife”. And while that sums up the basics, if you truly want to have some fun there are other things to consider. First and foremost, you need a buddy! I am not of the thought that the 9 other divers carving their pumpkins qualify as your buddy. If you have an issue of any kind I can guarantee you that NONE of them are going to notice you. Not unless you swim over and start carving one of them to get some attention! And generally for this type of event a Divemaster is required for liability reasons but we all know your average divemaster has a tough enough time keeping an eye on 8 Openwater students sitting side by side on the floor of the ocean. Tasking one to watch a bunch of divers all taking part in an activity, moving about and ruining visibility is going a bit beyond the the job description and out of the abilities of the average divemaster. If you and your buddy are both taking part in the contest, arrange so that one of you carves and one stands by as the attending buddy, then reverse roles.
Once we have our buddy what other gear do we need? The number 1 item I see people not remembering is anextra lead weight. Generally a 3 or 4 pounder is useful. When you trade off with your buddy or are waiting your turn to carve your pumpkin you’ll rapidly discover your pumpkin can be buoyant. Now it’s a pain in the rear to deal with as you juggle everything else you are doing with this orange gourd that is trying to escape you the entire time. Put that extra lead weight inside and set it on the bottom where you can pick it up when ready. I strongly advise wading out into the water prior to the dive and testing the amount of lead your pumpkin will need. I can assure you, this will make life so much easier during your dive.
The next item would be your knife! Of course we all take one. Divers are taught it is an important piece of safety equipment. But the average dive knife isn’t designed for this type of activity and doesn’t always work the best. I find a smaller knife with a nice serrated edge to be easier to use for this task. The Aquatec T-Rex is my favorite as it lets me hold it like a skinning knife with my forefinger on top of the blade to more agilely direct the blade when I carve. The serrated edge allows you to carve through the pumpkin quicker and more easily with less chance of an “oops” caused by too much pressure on the straight edge being applied to cut through and then the pumpkin finally giving way. Next, if your contest has you gutting the pumpkin underwater (most allow for this at the surface) or the site is one that requires you to remove all waste from the water, including the chunks cut from the gourd, a game bag of some sort will be needed. Here’s where your buddy comes in handy once again. You can scoop, the buddy can hold the waste. The Trident Lobster Game Bag works great for this as is it’s easily operated with one hand. Squeeze the handle and the top opens up. Let go and it automatically closes.
About this time the diver creating their masterpiece remembers what they were taught about sitting on the bottom and moving about. The visibility rapidly diminishes to someplace between “yuck” and “where am I?” Most of the time all a dive light is going to do in these conditions is highlight the large cloud of sediment and debris you’ve stirred up. But some light is always better than no light. Here there are a couple ways to go. I recommend using one of the newerL.E.D. lights. They penetrate the water in a different manor than our older traditional incandescent bulbs and offer the best chance that you’ll be able to see what you are doing. If possible, a head mounted lamp would be ideal as you can position it so that it will shine where you want it and leave your hands free to carve away. Often, though, these can be hard to come by, so once again your buddy comes into play here. Although they never seem to shine where you need them to shine, once again, some light is generally better than no light. I don’t find the models of light with the wrist or Goodman mounts to be very useful on these dives for the person carving. Generally one hand is holding the pumpkin and the other your knife. Neither is pointed the right direction to help you.
Another piece of gear I feel is too often overlooked is a camera. Here’s a dive designed to be fun, silly, embarrassing and the perfect place to make new friends and memories and it seems to me this is the single most forgotten piece of gear for the event. I’ve been to these over the years where nobody, including the hosting dive shop has remembered an underwater camera. These images are never good. Never clear. Always dark due to the stirred up sediment but it never fails they are always incredibly fun to share later on at a dive club meeting or with friends over pizza and beverages. There are few images posted online that better describe the fun a person can have as a scuba diver to a non-diver than those taken at events such as underwater clean-ups or underwater pumpkin carves. They are the perfect images to use for underwater photo contests, and once again, the perfect item for that all important buddy to use and then trade off to you when it’s your turn.
As one of my friends put it. It’s not rocket science. But a little bit of the same pre-planning and thought into this dive can make it and extremely fun and entertaining event.