Gotta love the harmony in the local diving business community

 

Or….Can’t we all just get along?

In any industry, the general rule is that what’s good for the industry is good for all the indsutry members, and the scuba industry is no exception.  So it never ceases to amaze me to see the back-stabbing, bad-mouthing and juvenile games that are played by so many owners and professionals in the industry.  This past month I have had the opportunity to experience quite a few fine examples of this, and felt that it was just too good to not share with our blog readers.  So, in no particular order, here is a sampling of what I heard and saw recently:

One local shop posted, on a public bulletin board system (BBS) website, a listing offering a “great deal” on some older Faber cylinders.  They were new, but had hydro test dates that were twelve to eighteen months old. As a result, he offered them for a reduced price, compared to the shop’s regularly posted price for the cylinders.  Well gosh, who am I to not take advantage of the Information Superhighway, as Al Gore coined it when he invented it back in the 80’s.   So I made a posting, offering Faber cylinders, with current hydro’s, plus our free lifetime inspection program, at our regular price – which was still lower than the other shop’s “great deal!”.  Well you would have thought I shot the pope, with the blasting we got on the website from the original poster, who offered to his readers the  following explanation – “Well, at least we are a reputable shop not just smoke and mirrors.”  I suppose he never passes through Harleysville!  I’ve taken the time to visit his shop; he might consider coming to see ours!  The ‘welcome mat’ is out every day! 

On the same site another poster, who came by and visited IVS’s new facility, wrote a pretty nice post telling the readers what he saw and how we were able to help him on some of his equipment needs.  The attacks he had to endure for his honest appraisal were amazing, although frankly I take it as a compliment that Indian Valley Scuba inspires such emotion from other dive shop pro’s.  Cool!

On another BBS site there was a post by another member complaining about the delays and excuses he got from his local dive shop when he needed his cylinders hydrotested.  One of our customers noted the post, and wrote that Indian Valley Scuba offered hydrotesting in-house, usually with a two day turnaround.  One poster asked for clarification on what our Free Testing for Life program included, and I wrote back, explaining that it included annual VIP’s as well as Hydro’s every five years.  Well, he wrote back, “Thanks for IVS for responding, but again, and pardon my cynism (sp?), but a dive shop having it’s own DOT certified hydro facility? Why? That equipment is expensive, the training is expensive, the re-certs are expensive. A huge outlay. Again, I am not saying there is anything askew here, just something that makes me go ‘hmmmmm?’. “   Well we’re glad we inspired him to sing about us, but gosh, you can wait weeks for your cylinders to come back from one shop, or pick them up two days later from IVS and get back to diving…you do the math. Einstein!

About a year ago DEMA, the dive industry trade association, put together a pilot program that involved running a series o ads on a cable network about scuba diving, and linking a message in the ad to direct you to a website where you could find a participating dive center near you.  DEMA representatives asked us if we would help them out and participate to help get this program going and the bugs worked out.  It was partly funded by the participating shops, and also by matching advertising dollars from DEMA, some manufacturers, and some dive destinations.  Well the area that DEMA had bought the cable coverage just barely touched on IVS’s geographic area, but we’re team players, so what the heck, we’ll buy in.  So the ads ran for about 90 days, and we got some calls as a result, and DEMA worked the bugs out of the program and got ready to launch it in more areas.  One of those areas was the greater Delaware Valley marketplace, and earlier this year they approached one of the dive shops in Philadelphia to head up the local project.  So that shop put together a list of local shops and DEMA members to invite to participate, secured the matching funds, and launched the ad campaign.  Shops from Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware and even Lehigh counties were invited to the campaign, but guess who wasn’t?  Turns out the shop who was working on DEMA’s behalf had lost some customers to Indian Valley Scuba, so they felt a need to ‘punish us’ for, well, being us!  And does DEMA do anything about this?  No, they showed their spineless nature on this one, rather than doing the right thing and working to amend this clear act of exclusion from the program.  Nice to see an association that you pay dues to and support when they need you turn out to be so one-sided when you have a situation like this come up.  Sad.

And some of our favorite customers are our Dutch Springs ‘Secret Shoppers”, who call in to Bev during the week to order items that Indian Valley Scuba actually stocks and offer at great prices, unlike some other shops, and then ask us to bring it along to Dutch Springs the next weekend for them to pick up.  Of course we do, heck why not, and we enjoy the secretive visits late in the afternoon, after the rest of their group has gone home, and they come to our tent or trailer to get their delivery in the plain paper bag.  Seems if their regular shop found out they were shopping elsewhere they would get thrown out of the group, and ostracized as some sort of turncoat.  And all because they simply wanted to have product in their hands, today, at a great price.  
 

Enough today, we’ll now return to our regular broadcast of the show in progress!

 

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Keeping Warm in the Local Pond – Dutch Springs!

 

This past weekend found IVS conducting an early season combination Advanced Open Water and Dry Suit Specialty class at Dutch Springs.  Csaba Lorinczy, assisted by Frank Gabriel, led our team of divers through their paces, including six dives to complete Advanced Open Water plus Drysuit Specialty certifications!  Congratulations to  everyone, and thanks to Csaba for having that nice warm motorhome available for surface intervals.  We’ll be back in a couple of weeks for the DUI Drysuit Demo Days, so come on out and play!

IAHD-Americas training in Bonaire!

This week has been a busy one for IAHD-Americas Intructor Trainer Dave Valaika.  A month ago, we were contacted by Diane Defeo, a young lady in Rye, NY who learned about IAHD-Americas at the Beneath the Sea show.  Diane suffers from Myotonic Dystrophy, a hereditary chromosonal disorder that affects the body and spirit in many ways.  First and foremast is the muscular degeneration and skeletal issues common to Muscular Dystrophy, but it is accompanied by a host of other challenges to those affected by it.  You can learn more about this at www.myotonicdystrophy.org

Diane’s husband, Albert, is an avid diver of many years, and his stories of what he would see and experience while diving just fueled Diane’s desire to be able to share this special sport with him.  But the onset of the disease at the age of 38 seemed to slam the door shut on the chances of this ever becoming a reality.  When they learned about IAHD-Americas and what we are doing to help share the magic of the undersea world with the disabled, they immediately called us up to see if there was anything we could do.  Dave learned all he could from Diane about what her abilities were and her restrictions, and decided that she was a candidate for diver training through the IAHD program.  The excitement was even greater as they had booked a vacation to the island of Bonaire, with expectations of Albert diving and Diane watching from shore – now that setting might be about to change!

Step one was to locate an IAHD-certified training facility in the Rye area that could work with Diane, but in spite of the IAHD-Americas appeal to dive centers to get on board, no one in the Rye area had yet stepped up.  So rather than let the program die on the vine there, Dave opted to come and train Diane himself, and contacted the Rye YMCA to gain access to an accessible pool.  Laura Tiedge, the Aquatic Director there, could not have been more helpful, giving us multiple time slots in her fully accessible pool.  Diane was sent her PADI book and training materials and given her homework assignments to complete in anticipation of Dave’s visit.

Dave traveled the 2.5 hour trip on Wednesday, stopping at the YMCA to meet the key persons and inspect the layout.  Then he headed to meet with Diane and Albert at their apartment and get started on the academics.  One long 4 hour session later, we had covered more than half the material, and we arranged to meet the next day at the pool. 

Thursday we met at the YMCA and got Diane fitted with gear for her first confined water session.  Albert geared up also to assist and work towards his IAHD Dive Partner certification.  Slowly but steadily we progressed through gearing up, getting in, getting under and finally really starting to look like a diver.  Trimming was key as Diane’s body seemed to have a mind of it’s own as to how it wanted to go in the water.  Lot’s of experimentation with placement of trim weights to help achieve not only good trim in the water, but good positioning on the surface too!  Overall it was a great session, and Diane and Albert were thrilled with the upcoming possibilities.   Friday we met again, with another five hour round trip for Dave to get through New York City, but the session went well, and we all felt good about Diane & Albert heading to Bonaire. 

The next step was to locate an IAHD Instructor in Bonaire.  The island is part of the Netherlands Antilles, and is the only group of islands in the Caribbean that does not fall into the IAHD-Americas region.  It was determined that there was currently no IAHD representation on the island, and Klaas Brower, IAHD President, gave us the green light to continue Diane’s training there.  So we set up our training at the Divi Flamingo Resort, which is a fully accessible facility and is currently HSA trained for working with disabled divers.  Serge, the dive operations manager there, could not bave been more helpful in helping us make all the necessary arrangements.

We flew down on Saturday, and started our training Sunday afternoon in the balmy waters of western shore of Bonaire.  We modified our weighting and trimming to get Diane right in the salt water with her exposure suit, and enjoyed our first two open water dives.  Monday we further refined the process, getting in two more dives, and finally, on Tuesday, we enjoyed our longest and deepest dives so far, spending 30+ minutes enjoying the reef in 30 feet of water. 

We celebrated with a few more hugs and a graduation ceremony dockside.  Diane is now officially certified as an IAHD Sport Diver!  While Dave packed up and headed home, Diane and Albert plan to relax for the next few days in Bonaire.  They plan to be joining us at Dutch Springs to continue their diving this summer.  Look for some great video footage of Diane in her biggest adventure ever on the IAHD-Americas site soon!  

So, let’s sum up this experience –

                                 3 five hour round trips to Rye, NY            $300

                                 Airfare to Bonaire                                     $810

                                Hotel & Meals                                            $574

                               The smile on Diane’s face after 6 dives   PRICELESS!

 

Manatee wrestling & alligator diving

Once again it’s time for Team IVS to head south and enjoy the manatees and diving of western central Florida. 

Tony ‘one-glove’ Johnson, Jim “where’s that light” Dalhberg, Christian “I’m working on my screaming-in-terror” PADI specialty Johnson, and Dave Valaika headed down to Homosassa Springs Thursday evening for a five day dive adventure to the Crystal River area of Florida. We checked into the Homosassa Riverside Resort to two spectacular riverfront condo’s, complete with kitchens and patios.  First class start to what we hope ends up being a first class trip! 

Friday morning we headed up to see our friends at Adventure Scuba in Crystal River.  Carl & Dave run a first class operation, with the proper amount of “laid back” factor to fit right in with us.  We chatted for a bit, exchanged good diving stories, talked about the Lorinczy’s recent visit, and headed out with Capt. Henry for a morning boat dive on the Crystal River.  As we loaded the boat we had the opportunity to watch a pair of Osprey parents catching fish and flying it up to the nest to feed the young ones.  Pretty cool.

We loaded the boat and headed out to our first stop, Three Sisters Springs.  This is a cool little cut in the middle of an island in the river that has several natural springs boiling up through the sand, providing visibility in the 100 foot plus range.  Nice little 20 ft dive to explore the area, and the only thing missing was, the manatees!  Seems we planned our trip a few weeks late this year and the majority of the local manatee population was already off enjoying the warming waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  That didn’t deter our adventurers as there is plenty to see and enjoy even without the big mammals.

Second stop was King’s Spring, which is a cavern located right out in the middle of Crystal River.  The downside is that the viz in the river was maybe 10 feet (actualy better than last year!) and you have to plummet down about 30 feet into a hole in the rocks to find the cavern entrance.  But the adrenalin rush is worth it, as the cavern opens up to a nice large area, with a couple of tighter side shoots, and the vis inside is great.  Tons of fish hanging around made for some great photo opportunities too.

Well we’re heading back in now, and hey, we still have gas in our tanks!  Can’t send them back like that, where can we dive?  So we opt for Catfish Hole and head across the river to find it.  It is actually located directly underneath a private dock, so we geared up, make a hot-drop as we pass the dock, and swim on in, Helen Keller style, through the zero viz of the river.  Finally the clarity improves, and there’s the entrance – big enough for two divers at a time.  We slip inside, and sure enough, this spring is loaded with catfish!  Pretty cool to see, and quite a bit of flow too!  It’s small though, so definately not a headliner, but a great little stop on the way back to the dock.

We head back to the dock, unload, meet up with Dave at the shop, and head north to K.P.Hole state park, the launch point for our Rainbow River drift dive.  We board the pontoon boat and Capt. Henry motors us up to the headwaters.  We encourage him to take us all the way to the top, and he obliges.  As we motor upstream, Christian is thrilled with seeing the alligators sunning themselves on the shores and tree branches along the edges of the river!  Wooo hooo!

We drop in, and being a 100 minute drift down the river – yes, 100 minutes!  Way cool as we sail over and through all sorts of grasses, through rocky areas, boiling sands, and more, taking in the variety of cool life we see, including alligator gars, turtles, bass, and more.  Very nice way to wrap up the last dive of day #1.  On the way home we are trying to locate an Outback Steakhouse, and we stop for directions at a local gas station / convenience store / live bait distributor, and we connect with a local gal who happens to be “heading that way”, and was only stopping by to load up on Bud Light.  So we follow her, and it is like 45 minutes into the woods, as we all begin hearing the theme song from “Deliverance’ playing in the back of our  minds, before we finally return to civilization, and our Outback!  Whew!

 Saturday morning it’s time to head up to a few of the springs, but we opt to stop by Adventure Diving.  When we get there we learn about an open house being held up at Forty Fathom Grotto this weekend, so how can we deny ourselves that?  So we sign up, via fax, and head off to our first location, Blue Grotto.  The place is a’hopping, and we get the pleasure of watching the antics and procedures of some of the local shops and instructors as they prep for the water.  It’s always great to watch how others conduct their programs and see if there is anything we can take home to improve ours.  Today, that was not the case!  So we gear up and head in, with Jim & I taking the longer, deeper route, and Tony and Christian opting for the more cavern-like entrance area.  Tony, just recovering from some major ACL surgery, is feeling some pain in his shoulder so he stays shallow.  Interesting but clearly depth (or pressure) related.  We wonder whether it is the depth or his dive gear that is causing the discomfort.  After a few good passes through the darkness, we’re ready to head on to our next location, practically across the street.

It’s called Devils Den, and rightly so, for the intimidating entrance down a set of stairs and into the cavern.  Once inside, it opens up to a huge cave, complete with a hole in the roof for natural lighting, and filled with crystal clear water to a depth of about 65 feet.  They’ve got a couple of platforms there for training, and there are plenty of tight little restrictions to practice on as you swim around the edges of the cavern.  Lot’s of bars and signs clearly mark the recommended limits of diving here, but hey…am I hearing “guidelines”?  So Jim & I venture in a wee bit further, and even Christian got into the adventure, as long as we gave him a bright light to explore with!  Tony’s shoulder is really acting up so he surfaces early from this one.

Well it’s only 3:00 and our gear is already wet, so hey, let’s go diving at Forty Fathom Grotto!  We motor up and as we pull up, who is there to greet us but John Galetsky, our OMS sales rep!  Small world, eh?  John gives us the nickel tour, and we learn all we need to know about this 240 foot deep hole in the ground.  As we are touring, I think I hear another voice I recognize, and as I turn, there is my favorite mermaid Angela, so how can we resist pulling up a chair, grabbing a microphone, and sharing a little IVS live with America? And all we kept thinking was “where is Eric?”.  If you missed the live broadcast, you can go to www.scubaradio.com and click on the archives for the show that day!

After that radio interview session, we decided to explore this new Florida dive site. So Jim & I slipped beneath the conspicuously dark waters to see what lay below.  And guess what it was?  More darkness, as you might imagine.  At 70 feet we completely lost sight of any indication of light above us, and the viz remained a solid 5 to 8 feet, so Jim & I enjoyed a ‘night dive in the Cooper River’ experience.  We dropped down to about 140 feet but there was no sense in going any further, as this was never going to clear up.  So we circumnavigated the main area a few times, saw all we could see, and finally called it.  We got topside just in time to see the last of the free hamburgers being given away, so we settled for chips and some leftover salads.  Not exactly the Indian Valley Scuba foodfest we’re used to, but hey, a new experience.

Sunday morning Tony decided to sit out, with his shoulder really bothering him, so Jim and I decided to up the ante on adventure and add another new location to this trip.  So we headed out to find Paradise Springs, which was pretty highly touted as a good cave location.  We drove along and finally saw the dive flag under the mailbox, and turned up a long dirt trail into the woods.  We must have traveled 5 miles up that road and were just beginning to think this was a joke, when we saw another little sign, on the other side of the railroad tracks.  So we kept going another mile, and entered a property with another sign, continued driving further through the woods, past the horses, past the fields, and finally pulled up to a single family home.  A young lady greeted us outside, asking if we were there to dive (not sure what the other options were!) and of course we said yes, so she said come on in here to the combo garage / orientation center / full-service dive shop, and watch the video and fill out the forms.  The desk was a tailgate from the truck which was conveniently parked in the garage and obviously had not moved in years, and the video was informative.  Jim & I headed down to find the spring, and there it was, a little hole deep in a hollow, measuring maybe 15 ft x 25 ft in size.  And it sat about 50 feet below grade, so we humped our gear down into the hole to check this out. 

We were not disappointed at all, as the small opening really widened as you went below into a very wide area, chock full of fossils in the walls and a lot of cool fish, including large plecostomus catfish.  Jim and I explored the cavern area, then headed down into the abyss, to lay some line and explore the cave down to about 165 deep and maybe 400 feet of penetration.  Jim handled it very well, and it was a good dive overall.  He was gushing when he came up…he’s hooked!

After that we headed over to Ginnie Springs.  This is a first class operation, with a professional staff and a system that is both efficent and customer friendly.  We got our gear and headed up to the first spring, and who do we run into but Larry Green, training director of NACD (National Association of Cave Divers).  Great chance to chat and get caught up, and finally we’re ready to dive.  The area was completely flooded with the Santa Fe river running about 4 or 5 feet above it’s banks.  The river was completely black, and the folks at Ginnie had erected canvas barricades to keep the river water out and let the spring water flow outward, keeping the cave inlets clear.  Smart folks there!  We dropped into Little Devil, and explored this fissure down to about 40 feet, just checking out the “no-mount” entryway into the limited cave system beyond.   There is something fundamentally wrong when you have to take your tanks off to get INTO a tight space to explore….maybe it’s me?  In any case, we opted to keep our gear in place, and swam down to the next inlet, Devil’s Eye, where we dropped in, and explored about 200 feet of penetration, finally emerging through Devil’s ear, but out in the river.  The water was so black and moving so fast that as soon as we cleared the opening, we could not relocate it to go back in and reverse our path.  Absolutely amazing.  So we swam back over the barrier, and dropped back in, and this time laid line to explore the cave system under the riverbed, penetrating about 300 feet into the labyrinth.  Again, very cool system, and Jim did really well.

After that we drove the car over to the main spring, past the flooded campsites, and got in a nice dive in the ballroom.  Nice wrap up to a great weekend, and we headed back to pack and head back to the airport (and reality) tomorrow.

Opening Day at Dutch Springs

Dutch Springs is officially open! And who but IVS would brave the frigid waters right away? Six of our divers headed up for opening day to do some dry suit diving in the 42 degree chilly water. The first dive went smoothly, with everyone warming up just by gearing up. They swam around for about 20 minute, making sure everyone’s buoyancy was right and practicing Tech skills. It was after they got out that the cool air really got to them. But thanks to Csaba Lorinczy, they had a nice and toasty RV to warm up in. Green tea, donuts, and some fun company made warming up between dives fun and easy. Soon everyone wanted to get back in the water.

In the second dive they went out a bit further in the water, exploring the tanker and the bus before coming out again. Once again, everyone huddled together in the RV and tried to get the feeling in their fingers back. On the third dive, they picked up a stray diver with no one to dive with and introduced him to the IVS crew. By the end of his dive, he seemed eager to hook up with IVS again!

So congrats to all the men (and woman) that didn’t let some cold water stop them from diving. Everyone had a great time, and almost all earned the ADC (All Dives with Csaba). Dave was sorely missed!