Friday, March 2, 2012

Diving In: North Shore Proves a Hotspot for Scuba Culture

By Katie Thompson
Gordon College News Service
February 29, 2012 

(This story appeared March 5, 2012, in the Boston Globe, Beverly site, March 6, 2012 in The Gloucester Times, and March 7, 2012, in the Salem News.)

BEVERLY—Instead of taking to the ski slopes this winter, Vinny Egizi took to the water. And not by boat.

“I like to get lobsters,” Egizi, 46, of Beverly said. “You go down and grab them with your hands from the back and put them in a bug bag.”

Egizi can be found on the weekends squeezing into his wetsuit, strapping on a diving tank, mask and flippers and submerging into Salem Harbor. He’s a certified scuba diver, and though the North Shore is far from the warm waters of tropical islands usually associated with scuba diving, Egizi said that’s not a problem for many in the area.

“There’s a big diving culture in the winter,” he said.

He should know. Egizi is the treasurer of the North Shore Frogmen’s Club in Salem, the oldest diving club in the country. Founded in 1957, the diving club currently has over 100 members. The “Froggies” meet every Thursday at Palmers Cove Yacht Club in Salem to socialize and talk about diving, listen to guest speakers, and plan future trips. The club goes on weekly dives every Sunday morning, and has special events like a New Year’s Day dive and an underwater Easter egg hunt.

Egizi—whose ‘real’ job is director of operations at MKS Instruments—loves the challenge of trying to catch lobsters (which he is licensed to do) without getting pinched. He also likes to look for antique bottles on the ocean floor, which he does regularly in Salem.

“It [bottles] was trash in the 1800s and now its treasure,” he said.

Egizi has gone on approximately 100 dives since he was certified in 2008, including trips to Cancun and river dives in Vermont, but 75 percent of those have been off the North Shore. He said he always enjoyed snorkeling, but after seeing a dive flag got curious about the sport.

“I was tired of seeing the tops of fish,” he said.

Meg Tennissen, 33, of Salem is an associate at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and the president of the North Shore Frogmen’s Club. Certified in 2005, Tennissen said she fell in love with the sport while practicing in a pool.

Since then, she hasn’t looked back. She plunged into 39-degree water last weekend, and also does lobster hunts, bottle dives and underwater photography.

“Sometimes I like just getting in water and seeing what you see,” she said.

Andy Moore agrees. Though not a member of the Frogmen, the attraction to the sport is simple. A Certified Public Accountant and accounting professor, Moore, 61, of Salem is an avid scuba diver when not crunching numbers.

“It relaxes me be under water,” he said.

Certified in 1969, Moore has been diving in various locations 40 to 50 times per year, and said it’s the ease that attracts him to getting in the chilly waters on the North Shore. Before moving to the area, he often dove off the coast of New Jersey and could only get to the world below via boat.  Since most locations here offer shore based diving, Moore can simply walk from the shore into the ocean and dive under.

“It’s a fun and fairly convenient way to dive,” he said.

During diving season, Moore likes to go two or three times a week early in the morning, though he said he also enjoys night diving. He typically spends about 30 minutes under water and said he goes approximately 30 feet below the surface, depending on location.
Some of his favorite dive spots include Folly Cove and Old Garden Beach, both in Rockport.

So where do divers like Moore get their gear? Enter Bob Boyle, above sea level. Boyle, 59, of Rockport, opened Undersea Divers to provide equipment for locals, but also uses his shop to create community. The shop’s Dive Society meets to learn new skills and dive together, and also has an Underwater Photo Society that meets for lessons, guest speakers and dives.

Appropriately located on Water Street in Beverly, Boyle opened Undersea Divers 25 years ago. Certified almost forty years ago, he has dived on both the east and west coasts of the U.S., as well in the Caribbean.  He also attended photography school for underwater photography.

“There’s nothing like it when you go under [water],” he said. “Every time you go, you see something different.”

Boyle said peak diving months are May through August, but based on his experience under water, the fall is the best time to see unique sea life.

“When the seasons change, marine life changes,” he said. “The best time is in the fall because we get Caribbean marine life because of the warm water.”

Boyle said it is common to swim alongside flounder, lobsters and occasionally a variety of squids. When diving this fall, he watched a group 40 to 50 yellow and white balloon shaped fish, known as northern puffer fish, float by him at Folly Cove in Rockport.  A veteran to the sport, Boyle said the diving population isn’t as big as it used to be, but that he still sees a broad range of ages, from 10 years old to 60 years old, training to be certified.

From beautiful to bizarre, the possibilities of undersea discoveries are endless. For Moore and the other seasoned divers, there are many things to explore but always one uniting attraction.

“My wife liked the pretty fish, my kids liked the warmth,” Moore said of a trip to the Bahamas. “I like diving for the sake of just being underwater.”


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