Scuba enthusiasts dive deep for adventure
Robert Ewald, a member of the fellowship, photographs a grouper. Photo by Dan Shepherd
On a dive trip in 1991, members of the International Fellowship of Rotarian Scuba Divers decided to take a group photo – under water.
“We practiced our formation on deck, then dived in, organized our pyramid, and took the photo,” recalls Judith Kaufman, one of the original members of the fellowship. “I suggested the caption ‘Surface Above Self.’”
The motto stuck. Gordon Stevenson, a member of the Rotary Club of Taupo Expresso, New Zealand, had founded the fellowship a year earlier. In those days, membership totaled about 10 people, according to Robert Ewald, a member of the Rotary Club of Louisville, Kentucky, USA, and editor of the group’s newsletter. The fellowship has since grown to 117 members.
Under the sea
Kaufman enjoys seeing the unusual life-forms under the sea. “And best of all, these species are not in cages or tanks. You can interact with them, photograph them.” In addition to the sense of adventure that diving provides, she says, “the quiet and serenity are rejuvenating – a total absence of cell phones and traffic noises. The only sound you hear is your own breathing.”
Although you need to be a strong swimmer to be a diver, the process of diving is not physically demanding, Kaufman explains: “Very little ‘swimming’ is involved in scuba diving. Your goal is to achieve neutral buoyancy, and thus a relaxed flutter of the fins propels you to your desired location.”
“Once you get under water and get comfortable in the environment, nothing can be easier,” Ewald says. “You adjust your weight to be neutral, and it’s like flying. Effortless.” The most difficult part, he notes, is climbing back into the boat.
Divers with physical disabilities often find the feeling of weightlessness exhilarating. One of the best programs for these divers, Ewald says, is Diveheart, headed by Jim Elliott, a member of the Rotary Club of Downers Grove, Ill., USA, and a scuba fellowship member.
Bruce Solari, president of the scuba fellowship, says that he and his wife, Johrita, both members of the Rotary Club of Anaheim, California, USA, have been on 10 dive trips since joining the fellowship a decade ago. His list of destinations indicates a preference for the Caribbean – Curacao, Bonaire, Roatan, Little Cayman, British Virgin Islands – but the couple also have splashed down in the Indian Ocean.
“We love the freedom and adventure that diving brings,” Solari says. “We have seen wondrous creatures big and small – everything from whale sharks and manta rays in the Maldives to pygmy seahorses in Indonesia that are so small you need a magnifying glass to see them.”
Giving to charity
On each trip, Ewald says, the fellowship makes donations to charitable organizations in the area. “We usually select these charities by working through local Rotary clubs,” he says. That practice began with the group’s first trip in 1991, says Solari, who estimates that its donations have exceeded $100,000 since then.
Most of the group’s members are from the United States, but it also draws people from Brazil, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, and New Zealand. The fellowship schedules two diving trips annually – one in which participants stay on land, and one in which they live aboard a boat. Each year, the divers on the current trip select the destination for the following year.
“The fellowship has given us the opportunity to go to places that we never would have traveled to on our own,” Solari says. “And we have developed strong friendships that have enriched our lives.”
Adapted for the web