Take Time To Savor Life’s Treats
Take time to savor life’s treats is not something I did on a blazing summer day in Santa Monica, a house with a pool, an adult party, and a thirteen-year-old boy at loose ends. That’s how I first went diving. I was at the bottom of the pool on a J-valve tank, with a twin hose reg that I figured out poolside when adults started jumping into the water to ‘rescue’ me. More than forty years and 2000 dives later I found a very different sort of rescue that has revitalized my love of blowing bubbles. I officially learned to dive while an undergraduate and went all the way through the ranks to OWSI at the PADI College in Sydney, Australia. I worked as an instructor in Australia, then returned home to the USA and became a marine biologist. Along the way, there have been many important dives. But those dives pale in significance to the life changes. I married in Belize. Sharalyn and I had two children, and we moved to a small island north of Seattle to a marine station.
A little moment, a shared sense of wonder, and an instant rapport gave me an unusual opportunity to get a completely new, and wholly transformative view of diving. With my good friend Dr. Bob Rubin, I voyaged on the Quino El Guardian to the manta ray soup of the Revillagigedo Islands. They dropped us and 14 other dive fanatics into the water surrounding four little volcanic specks. Steep sided, battered by swell, with a constant current, this dive site was not for the faint of heart. But when we dropped over the side the first time, there was a whale shark, 6 giant ocean mantas, a pod of dolphins, and more than 40 silky sharks,well, you get the idea.
It was SCUBA paradise. I loved it, and I was getting interesting data on wing movements in the mantas. As I stripped out of my too-thin wetsuit I realized the guy standing next to me had paused, a silly grin on his face, wetsuit around his ankles and heel straps between his toes, eyes twinkling away. This bearded, blissed-out guy was just dumbstruck by that dive and was taking a few moments to really let it sink in. I don’t meet many people who take time to savor life’s treats as much as I do, and I was immediately drawn to this character.
Tom Peyton, co-owner of Kids Sea Camp. A friendship developed, he was as deeply touched by these dives as I was. And we shared other things as well.
We were both missing our families and wished we could have them there with us. Tom’s wish was more realistic than mine, since his wife Margo is in the Women Divers Hall of Fame, and both their kids are dive instructors. At that time my kids were five and ten, and my wife is a PADI Rescue diver with 150 dives, but none since our son was born. The logistics were just too crazy to figure out diving with tiny kids. And that’s where Tom schooled me on his wife’s brilliant idea. Kids Sea Camp is the only kind of camp I could send my kids to. I started a family late and I have no desire to have them hare off to neat places without me. I want to see them experience the things I love. I want to see new places in completely different ways because of their unique perspective. Kids Sea Camp is designed to allow just that. Tom explained that the kids really do learn to dive. The older ones get honest to golly PADI dive certifications. The younger ones gain experience with the sport, and they follow a SASY or Seal Team curriculum that sets them up for certification the moment they hit that magic decade mark.
This sounded like a fabulous idea, but a set of fortuitous circumstances combined to open up our Thanksgiving holiday and leave us with close friends looking for an adventure. Margo and Tom pointed out that they would be serving a traditional turkey dinner at Buddy Dive Bonaire and all the diving we could possibly want. So, three adults, one of whom had never put her face into saltwater, and four kids (seven, eight, twelve and twelve) took the plunge and headed to kids Sea Camp Bonaire to dive. My son Abel was a SASY, his friend Henry a SEAL, while Henry’s brother Ollie and my daughter Ellie were in the PADI junior open water course. Our friend Libby did an open water course and Sharalyn and I just signed up to dive. Together. What a concept.
As it turned out the Kids Sea Camp idea was revolutionary in our understanding of vacations. The drill is simple, the kids meet their friends and instructors each morning after breakfast. The adults are then free to head off to dive – with other adults. And dive at outstanding dive sites, with top-notch guides, lovely fellow divers, and wonderfully competent and entertaining boat crew. When two tanks have been sucked as dry as PADI allows we return to the resort to eat more good food than should be legal. Our offspring are very happy to learn and play in the ocean with their friends. We don’t see the younger set until mid-afternoon; a little scheduling magic with big implications for bonding with other adults, and allowing kids to own their newfound skills. Then, tired and victorious, we get our kids back, damp and bursting with tales, in time to rest up for a siege of the dinner buffet. After dinner, there is often some presentations – a couple of times it was me talking about the marine research that is my day job. Then everyone passes out in preparation for doing it all again.
It is difficult to overstate how pleasantly unusual this vacation was relative to all the others I have taken. The diving was great. Buddy Dive was a joy, but the difference here was the structure of the experience that I was able to share with my family. I watched my daughter conquer fear and physical difficulty to become a certified diver, just like her mother. Ellie glowed with triumph when she came up from her final certification dive. She did a hard thing and did it with minimal support from hovering parents. That has proved to be an accomplishment that has shaped the subsequent months in significant ways. Abel cemented his certainty that the sea is the giver of all things good. From duck diving to 15 feet, to blasting on a tube across the azure waters of the Caribbean, he embraced the experience as hard as his little arms could squeeze. And, Sharalyn and I were able to connect underwater in ways we had not since before we had kids. It was such a simple joy to have her find me a young spotted drum and share again that giggle at its silly dorsal fin. It was a reaffirming delight to watch her strap on the gear, check it, and look out for all the other divers who were doing the same thing.
My daughter left Bonaire one dive short of double digits. She made it to 18 dives on another trip, several with buddies who dive every day. They were so impressed with Ellie’s skill and her attention to safety. The Kids Sea Camp ethos of ‘safety over all things’ is deeply embedded in her, and I felt very good sending her off to dive with them. A second Kids Sea Camp trip to Anse Chastanet St. Lucia, fell into our lap. Ellie has nearly 30 dives, Abel a SEAL with 8 dives, and Sharalyn and I are hooked all over again on a sport that has given me everything. I live to see the expression on their faces when we talk about where we might all dive next as a family. Roatan? The Philippines? Fiji? Time will reveal all, but I am sure that more Kids Sea Camp is in our future.
Article by Dr. Adam Summers, Dr. Summers is a professor at the University of Washington in Biology and the School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences. He has written more than 150 scientific papers and was the fish guy for Pixar’s Finding Nemo.