Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Monday, June 28, 1999

Legal snub leads
nephew to Snuba

When my 9-year-old nephew, Joe, moved to Hawaii 10 months ago, one of his most fervent wishes was to go scuba diving. But the age limit for scuba certification is 12, a virtual lifetime away when you're 9. Joe was sorely disappointed.

And he wasn't the only one. His dream of scuba diving could not be replaced with snorkeling, a sport I enjoy and tried to encourage in Joe. He would go with me, but his heart wasn't in it. What the boy really wanted to do was dive.

Then last week, while several family members and I were vacationing on the Big Island, Joe found a brochure advertising a sport called Snuba Diving. On the front was a picture of a child and an adult swimming underwater with regulators in their mouths. Above them, carrying an air tank, was a small yellow raft.

As Joe read the fine print, he learned that Snuba Diving was his dream-come-true: It allowed limited-depth diving with no certification required -- and the age limit was 8.

After hearing Joe talk about Snuba for days, there was nothing to do but book a session in Kona. Yes, the $60 per person was pricey, but there was a serious interest here that Joe's auntie could not ignore. I made reservations for him and his mom, my sister Michele.

Now, Michele does not share her son's dream of diving nor does she share her sister's love of snorkeling. But she's crazy about wildlife and I thought it was time she add some marine animals to her list of favorites.

When I told her I signed her up for Snuba, she shrugged. "If an 8-year-old can do it, I can probably figure it out."

At the appointed time, we all trooped to the water's edge, where a pleasant dive master named Steve helped Joe and Michele gear up. In about 10 seconds, Joe was swimming underwater like he had been born with a regulator in his mouth.

Michele, however, did not take to it as easily. She was miserably cold, bit down so hard on her mouthpiece her jaws ached, and had trouble clearing her ears. When I saw the distress on her face, I realized my mistake. I trotted back to the beach to pull on a wet suit and take her place.

By the time I returned, however, I was astounded to find Joe and Michele swimming beneath their little raft toward the outside reef. Steve, in scuba gear, guided the two while I, in mask and snorkel, watched from above.

One of the Snuba divers I gazed down at swam smoothly, looked around continually and ended up tugging at his 20-foot leash to go deeper and see more. Joe is truly a natural in the water.

His mom was another story. She got water in her mask, then swallowed some while trying to clear it. She looked stiff with cold, swam erratically and nicked her knee on the coral.

During all this, Steve pointed out Kona's exquisite marine life. A sea turtle swam by and a moray eel flexed its muscles. Steve showed us a slate pencil urchin and captured a small pufferfish, which we passed around, then released.

After an hour or so, we were back on shore. Michele pulled off her mask, checked her scraped knee, then stared at me, shivering, dripping and bedraggled. She hated it, I thought. Then she spoke. "Was that fantastic little thing a pufferfish? He was adorable! And that eel -- it was a moray?" She gave me a big hug. "Susan, I can do this!"

Joe, still underwater, could not be persuaded to come up until Steve shut off his air. Then, Joe's head popped up. With eyes shining, he told us about all the animals he'd seen.

Seeing my sister and nephew having such fun diving gives me hope that we will share many more good marine moments.

Marine science writer Susan Scott's Ocean Watch column
appears Mondays in the Star-Bulletin. Contact her at

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