Thursday, October 16, 2003

Scuba lovers add water and mix

When temperatures take a dip, landlocked friends from this area head south to do the same

By Shauna Scott Rhone
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Marvel Gentry Davis and her daughter, Epiphany, 13, are dedicated and experienced divers.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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If people who head south for the winter are called snowbirds, what do you call people who leave chilly Cincinnati to "swim with the fishes?"

Scuba divers.

When Loveland resident Marvel Gentry Davis "goes deep," she feels like a cross between an astronaut and an explorer.

"If you can imagine outer space as being like another world, deep sea is like that," says the 49-year-old software sales executive. "You can't talk to anybody, so you just concentrate on what you see and feel."

Two years ago, Davis joined the 2.3 million Americans who scuba dive in waters around the world. According to Scuba Diving magazine, 45 percent of them are women, and the average age is 35. These divers head for the seas year-round, but they really splash it up in warmer climes during the winter, while the Midwest bundles up. Many are planning now for island trips in December and January.

[IMAGE] Mother and daughter underwater
(Provided photo)
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Since her first dive in Hawaii, Davis, her sister Jennifer Gentry, and 13-year-old daughter, Epiphany, have explored the waters of Jamaica, the Grand Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Mexico, St. Thomas and Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

"I had no idea I would see what I saw," says Gentry, 42, of Silverton. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections chemical dependency specialist calls it a "life-altering experience."

"On my very first dive I saw a shark, which was amazing. It's neat to see sharks and sea turtles up close. My tour guide taught me how to let stingrays swim right into me by holding my arms out in front," says Davis. "They swam right up."

Scuba, which stands for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, now has deep roots in the Tristate; Ohio ranks seventh in the nation in numbers of divers, according to Dive Training magazine.

Greater Cincinnati scuba clubs
Cincinnati Underwater Explorers, 681-7802
Gavia Scuba Club, 932-5983
Hammerheads, 521-3483
Kentucky scuba shops
Aquarius Dive Shop, Ludlow, (859) 431-8626
Central Coast Dive Center, Edgewood,; (859) 426-0020
The Scuba Shack, Florence,; (859) 283-1550
Ohio scuba shops
Cincinnati Diving Center in Finneytown,; 521-3483
Planet Ocean in Batavia,; 753-3483
Scuba Adventures in Anderson Township, 474-9600, and Blue Ash, 531-0700
Scuba Dew Dive Center in Fairfield, 939-3483
Scuba Enterprises in Hamilton, 474-9600
Scuba Unlimited in Rossmoyne,; 793-4747
Tri-State Scuba in Fairfax,; 271-2800
Underwater World in Maineville,; 697-1111
Both the Blue Ash (contact Scuba Unlimited) and M.E. Lyons (474-1400) branches of the YMCA offer scuba classes;
The area supports three scuba shops in Northern Kentucky and nine in Greater Cincinnati. Each shop supports an informal "club" - groups of people who dive together but don't meet on a regular basis.

Jennifer Rehberger, 33, of Covington is the diving program coordinator at Scuba Unlimited in Rossmoyne (though the new mother is taking time off from diving). She says customers there flock to activities for divers but don't consider themselves members of a group. Instead, they hook up as dive buddies and small groups of divers, then head for the deep blue sea.

A lot of divers here

"With all the shops in such a land-locked area, there has to be a lot of people interested in diving," Rehberger says.

Indeed - the three independent clubs in the area (Hammerheads, Gavia Scuba Club and Cincinnati Underwater Explorers) each boast memberships between 30-50 divers. .

Davis says she heard about Cincinnati Underwater Explorers (CUE) while she was in dive certification training. It's a group of African-Americans who travel and dive all over the world - as well as closer to home at the Blue Springs Quarry in Waldron, Ind., and Gilboa Quarry in Ottawa, Ohio (Putman County).

"I went to my first meeting and joined that night," says Davis.

"We all have something in common, and diving with other African-American divers provides an added dimension of fun, especially on the quarry dives. On all of my non-CUE dives, my dive buddy and myself were the only African-Americans on the excursion."

Gene Seay, who is African-American, says he gets lots of looks when he arrives at the marina during trips with his friends -a group of African-American youngsters, ages 12-17, who live in Price Hill. He is a Cincinnati police officer.

"When we go places, we stand out," says Seay, 41, of Avondale. "We stand out when people see us strap up and go scuba diving. They'll ask, 'How did you learn this?' "

He's taken the group to Blue Springs and Key Largo and Ponce de Leon, Fla., for diving sessions after teaching them at Tri-State Scuba in Fairfax,where he is a certified instructor. Fund-raisers helped pay for the trips.

"I wanted to expand my youth ministry," says Seay. "It was a vision of my friend Eric Smoot to expose African-American kids to the sport and since then, it's been my job to recruit kids into the club."

He says scuba helps the youngsters to be more conscious of their health.

"I picked scuba because it requires them to stay drug-free," says Seay. "You can have serious physical problems, like decompression sickness, if you use drugs and try to dive."

During a recent trip to the Florida Keys, Seay happened on a resting sand shark during one of the group's dives. When he turned around to show the kids, their wild scampering to the water's surface told him they didn't want the introduction.

For the hundreds of scuba volunteers at the Cincinnati Zoo and Newport Aquarium, introduction is the name of the game.

Cincinnati Diving Center in Finneytown trains and manages volunteer divers who work the Manatee Springs exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. Scuba Unlimited in Rossmoyne does the same for the Newport Aquarium. Each has groups of more than 100 divers who have been stringently trained in food preparation, care and feeding for the fish or mammals they swim with at least once a month.

Aquarium volunteers

"We are one of the few (shops) in the country to have this type of program," says Rehberger, who also supervises the volunteers at the aquarium. "We're responsible for cleaning and maintaining the Amazon, coral, shark and kelp exhibits," along with smaller views throughout the tour.

The aquarium's volunteers range in age from 18 to 75, and there's a long waiting list of them waiting their turn at the tanks. "When we started, we had 400 initial applicants, and we didn't even advertise," Rehberger said. "Now we have 200 applicants on a wait list."

Pat Garibay, 44, of West Chester Township was one of the aquarium's original divers when it opened in 1999.

"I'm diving in salt water, surrounded by fish and sharks and turtles," says Garibay, "and I'm still in Cincinnati. It's great."

Seay says scuba's noncompetitive and tranquil nature is what draws him into the water. "You don't have to be in a hurry," he says. "It's so quiet and relaxing and exhilarating at the same time."


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