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A Clear-Eyed Look at Inland SCUBA Diving Participation in the U.S.A.
Airworks - 1/22/2018 2:58 PM
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Category: Educational
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A Clear-Eyed Look at Inland SCUBA Diving Participation in the U.S.A.Several months ago, I received an email from a dive acquaintance who is a dive master and instructor, in response to one I previously sent, asking if she was still living in the area and had participated in any recent inland diving.

Her response surprised me: “Hi Al, I am still in the area, but no, I have not been diving locally. I’m afraid that the local appeal is just no longer there for me. Stacey K.”

Her response echoes an all too common attitude among many people when it comes to diving at quarries and lakes. In many places throughout the U.S., the inland dive appeal is diminishing at an alarming rate. This phenomenon was recognized and acknowledged by DEMA in its 2015 Annual Report. Near the bottom of page 33, we read the following:
 
“DEMA’s data indicates the number of new divers certified in the U.S. is declining. Whatever the
profile of consumers currently being ‘targeted’ under the current U.S.-based economic and
demographic circumstances, the overall decline in new certifications since 2005 is about 13%,
or an average of about 1.5% per year. This should be a concern for all dive-related companies in
the United States, and points to the need to better understand the consumer.”
 
We’re in 2018 now, and not much has changed at inland sites since DEMA’s report. A few programs, like “Go Dive Now”, are having some success in certifying new divers, but the drop-out rate continues to be high among certified men and women who used to regularly participate in local, inland diving.

I was certified in the mid 1960’s, and have extensive experience diving in quarries and lakes. I’d like to offer what I believe are several reasons for the decline in diver participation at inland sites.

If you ask those same men and women who actively participated in recreational quarry diving, but have lessened their involvement or stopped completely, they will probably tell you that quarries are too “cold”, “green”, “dirty”, and eventually “boring”. Unfortunately, those characteristics have become stereotypical. Technically-oriented certified divers, however, find that three of those adjectives are what drives them to the water. They enjoy the opportunities of training in harsh, less-than-perfect conditions. For far more numerous recreational divers, which comprise the majority of newly certified ones, any and/or all of those descriptions tend to suppress, rather than ignite, the passion to get wet.

To break the cold-green-dirty-boring stereotype and rejuvenate diver participation at inland dive sites, something drastic must change within the underwater environment itself.

What do I mean? Consider the following.

Ocean and exotic freshwater diving have an automatic and compelling attraction. They exude vibrant colors and gratifying visual stimulation, and offer a near infinite variety of plant and animal species to look at and learn about. Even if you visit a particular area on a regular basis, you’re bound to see something new. The strong human craving for variety, our powerful sense of sight, and the almost insatiable drive to discover and explore, are huge motivators when it comes to diving in those environments.

Inland dive sites do not have anywhere near the same level of attraction. That’s the reason dive site owners and managers often submerge various small and large objects (what many consider junk!) just to give divers something to see and maybe use for some light training. Items like buses, cars, planes, etc. do offer some level of initial attraction, and provide minimal opportunities to practice and hone skills. However, those objects are rarely, if ever, rotated and replaced with other things. They soon become rusty, develop jagged edges, and become covered with silt, muck, and algae. Unfortunately, those objects remain like that for extended periods of time without regular attempts to clean and maintain them. After a while, the “WOW” factor is greatly reduced. Recreational divers soon lose the motivation to keep diving at those sites, and will usually only go back when the "itch" needs to be scratched, or to add numbers to their dive logs, and/or obtain another cert card.
 
Another factor that often discourages inland divers is the lack of adequate site accommodations and “creature comforts” made available by quarry owners and/or managers. Very basic and necessary amenities are usually provided (e.g. porta johns,), but not much else. Most divers are forced to don and doff gear out in the open, or under some type of wall-less pavilion or canopy setup. That’s probably one of the major reasons most divers, particularly females, don’t enjoy getting wet during cold days and the winter months. Cooler water temperatures found in quarries and lakes are to be expected, and are tolerated by using thicker wetsuits and drysuits. Divers who get chills while underwater can take some comfort in the fact that they will warm up once they surface and leave the water, avoiding extreme discomfort and possible hypothermia. That’s only possible, however, if the ambient temperatures and conditions are pleasant. Putting on and taking off gear when outdoor realities are frigid and windy can be absolutely miserable!

I have known many divers who had planned on performing two or three dives on any given day, but decided to abruptly end their adventure after the first one because they simply couldn’t warm up afterward. I have personally experienced that, and it is not fun!

Most recreational divers who would normally frequent quarries and lakes would like to have compelling things to see and enjoy while underwater, and even more so if they can participate at a fairly comfortable physical level.

Here’s something else: people who live in our great country, particularly young ones, have been conditioned to pursue constant sensory stimulation to keep from getting bored and restless. That’s the stark reality of our fast-paced, technologically advanced society, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. The sensory stimulation provided by saltwater and exotic freshwater environments is powerful and continues to engage both young and old.

The same can’t be said for inland diving, so the effort must be made to heighten the level of sensory stimulation at local dive sites.
 
One last observation: when people (and in our case, divers) have their senses stimulated, they also become much more inclined to learn and absorb information. This factor is what makes public and private venues like amusement parks and museums so popular. The entertainment value of these places is obvious, but the “informal education” afforded by, and obtained during visits to these locales, often lead to other educational pursuits and interests.
 
This is where the gallery/museum aspect of my project, The Divearium (divearium.com), will be particularly beneficial. The safari-like underwater environment encountered there will greatly enhance the educational drive for those that visit and participate.
 
The ultimate result will be divers that become increasingly educated about underwater life and habitats while having a sensational time doing so.
 
Hail to inland diving!
 
Al

P.S. It looks like we have finally found a quarry site for the project. It’s called Silver Lake Quarry, and it resides on the premises of Silver Lake Regional Park in Prince William County, Haymarket, Va. My business partner and I are closely working with the Directors of Parks and Recreation, in the hope of making a final presentation to the General Board for approval as a Public-Private Partner sometime this year.
We have been given permission to perform numerous exploratory dives. We also submerged and anchored a sample "aquascape" and a Jacques Cousteau Timeline. A video of these was taken in order to give the Board a visual example of what we plan to do. The video will be part of the final presentation.
Silver Lake Quarry promises to be a perfect home for the Divearium. MORE TO COME!