PADI Diving Society’s Total Submersion dive festival is an annual gathering of the tribe that combines nearly non-stop diving with exclusive parties, specialized training opportunities, contests with awesome prizes and big-smile camaraderie on tap — all at a world-class dive destination. Here are my four favorite memories from the 2011 event on Curaçao at Lions Dive and Beach Resort with PADI Five-Star IDC Ocean Encounters.
1. Curaçao's Reefs
Knowing Curaçao’s reputation as one of the Caribbean’s best islands for scuba, I had high expectations for what I’d experience underwater. My first drop at Blue Bay Gardens did not disappoint. The sloping reef was packed with large brain and star corals, interlaced with large healthy gorgonians and swarming with lively reef fish. And over the next week, many of the sites I’d dive — Snake Bay, East Point, Black Rock, Barracuda Point, Sandy’s Plateau and many others — made me wish I’d had more bottom time to keep exploring and hunting for other cool critters like octopus, yellow-headed jawfish, lettuce sea slugs and more. Overall, I left with a strong appreciation for the healthy biodiversity of Curaçao’s reef system.
2. Fourth of July Party
I’ll admit to being a bit bummed that Total Sub 2011 took place over Fourth of July weekend. It’s one of my favorite holidays and one I typically revel enthusiastically (and explosively) with friends and family. Lucky for me — and all the other American’s on the trip — the Ocean Encounters and Lions Dive folks went over and above the call of duty to make us feel at home with a kick-ass party with all the usual accoutrements: cold beer, burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, hilarious games and contests and best of all — fireworks. As society members crowded the beach to star skyward at the impressive, 13-minute long display, I swear I saw a few leaky eyes (including mine).
3. Klein Curacao
Nestled approximately 15 miles off the southwest corner of Curaçao, tiny Klein Curaçao is an uninhabited haven of glorious white sand and pristine coral gardens. The special excursion, one of the most popular at Total Sub 2011, was a highlight for me, because it offered hands-down the best diving of the trip. The sloping wall just offshore was thick with thriving corals, gorgonians and other invertebrate life, including a big, healthy strand of endangered elkhorn coral that literally made my dive buddy Samantha do an underwater happy dance. Another crew of Total Subbers on a separate trip to Klein claimed to have spotted both a manta ray and whale shark. Now I know this place can deliver the goods.
4. The Ocean Encounters Crew
When you’re diving with a single operator for a week, they had better be a fun crew. The gang at Ocean Encounters — Nolo, Christian, Jeremiah, Fenna, Maaike, Chantal, Marlique and the rest — were so energetic and enthusiastic I began to suspect they were actually scuba androids programmed to please. On every boat trip, the guides were diligent about taking care of our group, from delivering detailed briefings to showing us the best of each reef and making sure everyone returned safely. And trust me — our group of 63 divers would be a challenge for any dive operation! Over the week, I witnessed many acts of over-the-top hospitality. Dive master Maaike gave one young woman the fins off her feet when cramping started to ruin her guest’s dive. When my first stage sprung a mysterious leak, gear guru Jeremiah had the problem solved in minutes. And even after the day’s diving was done, many of the crew stuck around for the evening festivities, which added to the fun, especially at the rowdy Pirate Party. The OE gang was a definitely one of the keys to Total Sub 2011’s killer success.
For information and to book your trip to PADI's 2012 Total Submersion dive festival on Grand Cayman, visit 2012 Total Sub
For an in-depth report on 2011’s Total Submersion, pick up the November/December issue of Sport Diver.