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  MOM'S WHO SCUBA DIVE  by Janice Raber

When pondering the question, “What should I get Mom for Mother’s Day,” would you think of a knife with a five inch blade, a hooked notch and a serrated edge in a sheath that could be strapped to one’s leg?  Who would be delighted with such a gift?  Why a Mom who scuba dives, of course! 

Contrary to popular belief, scuba diving on Long Island is not just for the big tough macho guys.  There are women, many of them mothers and grandmothers who submerge themselves in our local water wearing five inch knives which are not weapons for defense, but rather tools used for digging, hammering, poking around and cutting monofilament (fishing line), cords, nets and other possible entanglements.

Scuba moms escape from the noisy realities and pressures of daily living, their jobs, cooking, shopping and family commitments, to participate of an exciting adventure in quiet new underwater world where they are free to explore. They are involved in a sport that they love, a sport that challenges them, sport that often becomes a way of life. 

Darlene Reese, for example, took scuba lessons with a friend almost three years ago.  She is a 42-year-old single mother of two boys, aged 20 and 17 whose reaction when she told them her plans to dive was, “What? Are you crazy?”  However, Darlene was never a couch potato and already into Ballet and Kickboxing, so they adjusted quickly to the idea of their mom’s new quest. 

In three short years Darlene has already distinguished herself in the diving community.  Her first year she competed with other divers in The Dive Club, a social scuba group that meets in Bay Shore, in an annual event they call Death By Diving.  She was the only woman, and in fact, the only diver, to complete six dives at six different beaches sites covering two counties, in one weekend.  Her success earned her a lobster dinner reward and the respect of fellow club members.  

Darlene says she likes diving because, “you never know what will catch your eye and interest.”  She likes the camaraderie, the fun, and meeting new people.  “This is a sport you have a passion for,” she says.  “The payoff is so incredible, it never ends.  The training never ends, the new people you meet never ends.  It is a whole new world.” 

Besides beach dives, she enjoys wreck diving, and like so many local enthusiasts, she favors the wreck of the SS Oregon, in 130 feet of water.   “I dive in a dry suit now, with doubles (two tanks of air.)  It’s tough some times, but when I think about it,” Darlene says, “I’m going to wake up at 4:00 in the morning to do something I love doing and will do it as long as I can.  If I can’t get up the boat ladder with my tanks on, I will find someone to help me do it.”  She found a fancy plate on the Oregon which she thought was just a large clam until she examined it closely after she brought it up to the surface.  She is even proud of her very first artifact, “a rusty piece of something that I still have in a plastic bag,” she adds. 

Darlene’s career is a Speech Pathologist for the Islip School District.  During her training to become a Dive Master, she developed a vision to teach scuba diving, through the help of a signing interpreter, to children who are speech and hearing impaired.  She was awarded a scholarship from the Women Divers Hall of  Fame to help her with this project and has already started classes involving six students from the Cleary School for the Deaf.  She hopes to learn from her students too, and develop a better series of hand signals that can be used by all divers underwater. 

Fredricka Hughes is known as Freddie to her friends, Mom to her two sons and Grandma to her two grandchildren.  Freddie learned to dive on Long Island after taking a resort course with six lady friends during a trip to the British Virgin Islands.  When she first started diving in 1996, her husband, George, said “If man was meant to go under water, he would have gills.”   After she caught her first lobster, he became more intrigued.  He got certified a year later and now they dive together all the time and are both crew members on the Jeanne Marie Charter Boat out of Shinnecock, LI.  “I set the hook and George pulls it,” Freddie explained. 

What that means is, when Captain Ken gets his charter boat over a shipwreck site, Freddie jumps in the water with the anchor chair in her hand, descends to the wreck and ties the anchor line to a secure spot so the rest of the divers on board can make a safe descent and ascent between the boat and the shipwreck.  After a day of diving, George descends and frees the line.  This is quite an undertaking for a 51-year-old lady if you ask me!  Freddie said, “Sometimes in the beginning of the season I get a little apprehensive when I first start hooking the wreck, but then I think to myself, what am I worrying about?  I have the chain to the boat in my hand.  That knowledge calms me down.”   

Together, she and George try to hit every tide during the dive season at their favorite beach site, the Ponquogue Bridge in Hampton Bays.  She describes this as “the premier place to dive on Long Island.”  “I love seeing the fish,” she adds, “especially the tropicals that are found in Long Island waters during the late summer.  We have seen French angels and the northern stargazer and last summer I saw some people bring up a lionfish.”  She likes the shipwrecks on the East End too, especially the Panther at 60 feet because it is so loaded with a diversity of fish.  “There are black fish, flat fish, and eels.  I can go down on that wreck with the anchor chain in my hand and if I land in the sand, I can see the porgies with my light and they will take me to the wreck.” 

She and her husband do a lot of dive traveling too and have been to places like Bonaire in the Caribbean and Palau in the Pacific.  She is trying underwater photography and is very active in the Bonaire talk board.  “Visit their website at webcams.com and you will see,” she says.  To women interested in learning to dive Freddie advises, “Find a good instructor, and then find a caring buddy to dive with; one who will look out for you.  Have fun, and don’t let the guys influence you to do something you are not comfortable with doing.” 

Liz Milby, a 38-year-old mother of three, has been diving for two years.  After snorkeling during a trip to the Bahamas she said “I couldn’t get deep enough to see what I wanted, so I decided to get certified.  I went with my kids and a girlfriend.”  The rest is history.  She dives with a dry suit on Long Island now and has logged 58 dives.  Her immediate goal is to become a Dive Master.  She is a single parent, and says “The hardest part is making time for diving, since my kids don’t dive up here,” but she is in the water every chance she gets.  Liz comes from a large family and so far has convinced two of her six sisters to take lessons, and is still working on her four brothers. 

Like almost every diver will tell you, she loves the camaraderie of this sport, and meeting new divers.  “It is a whole other world, so peaceful, so much to see,” she says. She has become a great ambassador for scuba and taken the responsibility of coordinating the annual Aquawoman Dive for the Long Island Divers Association, which takes place this year on July 31st. (visit www.lidaonline.com).  Liz says scuba diving has changed her life and made her more self-sufficient.  “It has helped me become very independent,” she says, adding “I put some things off and hurry to get others done so I can get diving.”   She presently works in Survivors Pub in Shirley and hopes some day  to move to the Caribbean or the Florida Keys and open her own Tiki bar.

 I will bet on this Mother’s Day you won’t find these three ladies looking at a fish on a dinner plate, they will be underwater someplace, follow one around.   Dive safe girls.  Happy Mother’s Day! 

 

4/4/04 

Janice Raber is veteran diver of 17 years, a scuba mom and grandmother herself.  She is Vice President of The Long Island Divers Association, an active member of The Dive Club, The Sea Searchers, The NY State Outdoor Writers Assoc., and The Moriches Off Shore Reef Fund.  She was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2001.  You can e-mail her at jraberlibw@aol.com.