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Once a year in a far away place called Long Beach over there on that "Big Island" across the San Pedro Channel, there is a religious rite attended by a strange gang of individuals. Its members are usually dressed in thick black neoprene (unless they are warm water wussies) and are considered amphibious mammals since they spend a good part of their life underwater. After all, this IS the Water Planet! Yes, I'm talking about my Brothers and Sisters, fellow SCUBA divers who gather at the Long Beach Convention Center to commune with one another... as well as search out great travel bargains to remote dive destinations.
I donned my disguise (street clothes) and took the Saturday morning Catalina Express over to join my brethren. I used to attend this magnificent Show to look for new SCUBA equipment, but am currently satisfied with my tattered and torn gear... given the (gulp) economic reality. However, like all who attend such rites, I come with dreams and visions... mostly of me being whisked off on a jet to some tropical dive resort with warm, clear water and exotic cabana girls to serve me buffalo milks on the beach. Uh... wake up, Dr. Bill. You really ARE dreaming... they don't serve buffalo milk in Asia!
After a winter of cold water and sitting at the computer editing underwater video, I was ready to start dreaming and stopped at every booth that offered an opportunity to dive somewhere new and exciting. In years past I've accepted literature from just about every vendor, and came home loaded with stuff on destinations I'd probably never get to. This year, for perhaps the first time, I concentrated my efforts on getting literature on dive specials targeted towards my near-term goals. After all, I am a dive bum, these are hard times economically, and I'm getting too old to carry 50 pounds of paper back to the island. I have yet to sort through the bags I brought home from the last three shows.
Just what are those goals you might ask? The Philippines beckon with some of the highest biodiversity in the marine world of the Water Planet, low cost-of-living and some of the most beautiful "lady-go-divers" on Planet Earth. I've been invited to film footage for a new resort on Palawan Island, and want to make a 4-6 week extended trip to dive a number of the best spots in the Philippines with the many friends I've met from there over the years. I have yet to collect any stock footage from the Indo-Pacific because the last time I dove there (SE Asia, Australia and the South Pacific) on a three month trip in 2001, I didn't carry an underwater camera in my backpack. And diving the Red Sea is another must on my list to add African to the four continents I have already dived.
Another of my "bucket list" dive trips is an around-the-world junket with stops in South America (Chile), Africa (South Africa) and Tasmania or southern New Zealand. Yes, I know... those hardly sound like tropical destinations. They more closely resemble conditions in our own kelp forests. That's why I want to go... to dive in and film the kelp beds of other regions of the world. With some 25 episodes of my proposed "Munching and Mating in the Macrocystis" cable TV series "in the can," I'm thinking of future episodes that will compare our kelp forests to others around the globe. Why, that almost sounds like something I could find grant funding for! Oops, I forgot about the state of the economy... not to mention my own bank balance.
The Show wasn't all about "impossible" dreams. There was a lot of reality thrown in as well. I'm referring to the many, many friends I had a chance to stop and talk with as I strolled the aisles. Of course it was a bit difficult to recognize some of them since I hadn't seen them with their clothes on... only their wetsuits. I have no idea how many other divers I stopped and talked with, but the first day I was at the Show from 10:00 AM until 5:00 PM, and only covered the first two rows of booths! I usually get through the entire Show two or three times in a day.
Then there were the special booths that drew my full attention. Of course ScubaBoard.com was my first stop, especially since I ran into Michelle when I first entered the hall and she was "manning" it. Many other ScubaBoard friends were present, as was beer and my beverage of choice, water (after all, I was on the mainland and driving something other than my golf cart on the freeways). I've built a good part of my "reputation" through my presence on that Internet site... aided by all the nice pictures the FBI and CIA have put outside post offices throughout the United States. It sure is nice to be "wanted!"
Dick Long of DUI stopped me to talk about a new idea he had for sinking a sculpture of the "Guardian of the Reef" along with a ship in our own Casino Point Dive Park. That would make an interesting attraction for our divers and snorkelers. Of course I think Dick secretly feels that someday I will retire my ragged (aka "holy") wetsuits and truly "dive dry" in one of his fantastic drysuits. I'll definitely give that strong consideration when I try another "bucket list" item, diving Antarctica. I then went to find my friend Joel Geldin, Chairman of California Ships-to-Reefs, at their booth to talk to him about the sculpture and possible sink event.
Rod Roddenberry and Greg Martin called me over as I walked by the Roddenberry Dive Team booth. Rod is carrying out the philosophy of his father, Gene, who created "Star Trek" by extending into the marine world. Previously they had asked me to be the Team's guest marine biologist on a dive trip to cold, remote San Miguel Island up near Santa Barbara and Point Conception. I will report on that set of dives in next week's column, if I survive the cold and... the landlord! Of course Rod will be diving with the custom Star Trek drysuit created for him by Dick Long's competitor, Whites. I'll stay out of that debate!
One former dive buddy who was instantly recognizable was Wyland, the internationally renowned marine artist whose murals of whales and other marine life have appeared on buildings, walls and other "canvases" throughout the world. Two years ago Wyland was out to dive on SCUBA Luv's King Neptune with staff from his foundation in Laguna Hills. We talked for a good part of the trip since we have a number of friends in common. When the boat arrived at Blue Car Wreck, our third dive site, Wyland asked if I'd be his dive buddy so we could film giant sea bass. I told him I was a jinx at that site and rarely saw them, but he was certain we would. And we did. Then, when we returned to the boat after the dive, Wyland asked if I had seen the 14 foot great white shark that swam past us about 30 feet away! I thought he was joking but he said he was serious. When we talked at the Show, he confirmed he wasn't kidding about the shark!
I did find out at the Show that some dreams aren't what they seem. I was standing beside Wyland as he painted a group of whales when a mermaid appeared in front of me... in a wheelchair. I immediately recognized her as one of the SCUBA Radio Show promoters since we had our picture taken together at last year's show. I posed for another picture. Had I finally met the mermaid I had searched for so long? As I gazed on her magnificent tail fin, I realized something I hadn't thought of before. I'm a leg man... and mermaids just don't cut it in my book! Sigh, another dream shattered. Fortunately, if I get to the Philippines later this year, I'll have the pleasure of diving with "Princess" Mia from Manila. Now she has a pair of legs this SCUBA enthusiast would... ah, dive for!
Image caption: Wyland painting whales and with his one-time dive buddy Dr. Bill; Brian Ko (Clammy) at the ScubaBoard booth and Dr. Bill... finally with his mermaid... NOT!