What is the American scuba diving experience all about? We all know of the Florida Keys, the East Coast wrecks and the California kelp forests. Most have heard of the Gulf Coast oil rigs and the pristine wrecks of the Great Lakes. But what about the rest of the American dive experience? In fact, all across the nation Americans are diving a huge variety of remarkable locations. To name a few, there are underwater mines, volcanoes, dams, thermal springs, caverns, underwater missile silos, rivers, lakes, quarries, underwater towns, "lost seas", even underwater graveyards!

Charles Ballinger, a dive journalist and world traveler, has been to 47 countries and has written for eight magazines in his 48 years. He now intends to bring it all back home.

Ballinger will be diving every state to chronicle the most distinctive, unusual, "not-to-be-missed" sites and even a few of the "better-missed" ones. He's contacted dive operators across the nation and will be highlighting at least one adventure in every state.

On the surface, the expedition is about discovery. How do Americans really feel about scuba diving? Is the sport growing in popularity or declining? Is it really about traveling overseas to be littered from a cattle boat onto tropical reefs? Or is it more about that commodity we call adventure? He'll be visiting divers, dive clubs, dive shops, training facilities, and a huge variety of locations to find out.

At depth, Ballinger hopes to explore a side of diving that is rarely reported: The adventure quotient, the thrill of discovery­whether it's a pristine reef in the Keys or a long-lost pickup truck at the bottom of a murky lake. He'll look at countless dive spots whose reflected surfaces look much the same­until those surfaces are penetrated.

Several years ago while reporting on the South African dive scene ("Shark Safari," Rodale's Scuba Diving­April'97), Ballinger encountered white sharks, whales, seals, ragged tooth sharks underwater and lions giraffes, elephants, and rhinos above water. Surprisingly, the highlight of the trip was none of this. It was the journey itself - traveling from destination to destination, meeting shop owners, local divemasters and the many characters along the way. It was an underwater "Endless Summer" - a dive safari.

But this expedition is not just about diving. In 1976, Peter Jenkins wrote the best selling book "A Walk Across America" as he strolled the country in search of "the real America." His journey captured the hearts and imagination of youthful baby boomers. Today, we're all a bit older. Baby boomers have settled down, launched their careers, raised kids and occasionally wonder "Is that all there is?" Lost in the modern world of beepers, faxes, answering machines, e-mail, and the internet, our notion of discovery seems to be limited to surfing the Web

Fifty Dives in Fifty States is a latter day journey, thirty years past the days of self discovery. Wide-eyed curiosity will be displaced by a bit of reflection, but the surprises and unique experiences should prove just as compelling. Ballinger isn't as spry as he used to be, but he insists adventures exist for those willing to go after them. And that's what this project is all about. The incredible diversity of diving found in our nation will reveal a side of diving not found in the pages of most dive magazines.

Of course, it's generally the people that tell the story and as a nation, we are blessed with all types. From the lobster-diving yanks of Maine to the Cajun-gulf rebels of Alabama, the urbanites, the country folk, the hip and the square - the appeal of scuba diving is universal. These people are the central cast of the story.

 
 

Ballinger's goal?

"My journal will become an All-American source of in-your-own-backyard dive adventures. I hope to show that the sport exists beyond the shores of far-off tropical islands. And I hope to chronicle the sport through many eyes, as Americans from every state participate in the great sport of scuba diving."
 
 
 

 

 
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September 2003