Paddleboards and Florida Divers

Most coastal dive shops would love to think of a way to keep divers in the water year round and to stop the constant loss of certified divers, who, not having a boat, stop diving a few months after obtaining their C-cards. I have long wondered why they do not go back to the tried and true techniques of the early days of diving? With a little encouragement, I do believe that the paddleboard would catch on as a very satisfactory way to reach the reefs a mile or two offshore, which would take care of most of the diving from Baker's Haulover to Jupiter Inlet.

I never dove from a boat in my first two years of SCUBA diving except when we dove from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography or the Navy UDT. All my private, non-work dives in La Jolla were done from homemade paddleboards.

Paddleboards were basically big surf boards, usually made of plywood and aircraft cement. They were a tad smaller than a beginners Wind surfer. Each diver had his own and we went out in groups of two or more, for there was a buddy system even back in the early 50's. Let me describe the rig and see if it doesn't have a place in South Florida.

Take a beginners surfboard or sailboard. Remove any straps, centerboard, mast and sails. Place two inch-wide strips of inner tube rubber around the board, roughly amidships. You will soon find exactly where you want it because, with a piece of netting tied to the inner tube, you will have a storage area on your paddleboard.

In this storage net goes your mask, snorkel, tank and regulator, weight belt, lobster tickler or spear gun, underwater camera, etc. You will also have a small killick or mushroom anchor, of about three or four pounds and enough 1/8th inch nylon to reach bottom plus a little extra scope. 200 feet on a small reel would be great for anywhere a normal diver would want to go. This completes your basic paddleboard.

Carry it to the beach on your cartop carrier, take it down to the beach wherever they permit diving from the beach, place your gear under the netting and launch it next to your buddy. Once out of the surf, put on your fins and laying on the rear of the board, paddle out to the reef. They move handily under one manpower. I'd guess you could breast a knot and a half or two knot current. At the dive site drop your killick which only needs a modest grip because the board has very little drag in a current. Put on your gear and down you go, pulling your board after you anywhere on the reef.

Of course you fly a large DIVER DOWN flag to alert other boaters that there is a diver below, but you never get far from the paddleboard, dramatically reducing the danger of being hit by a boat. On a modified sailboard the flag can go in the mast step or centerboard well.

When I had a dive shop on McNab Road, many years ago I tried to get my partners to carry a couple of old sailboards so we could set up a scenario. As a group gathered to go to a dive boat we would find out which reef they were headed for. We'd leave with the paddleboards as they headed for their dive boat. We'd launch and be waiting for them when they got to the reef they planned to dive. When done diving we'd head for the beach, put boards and equipment in our cars and wait for them back at the shop.

I never could get them to try it although we did get a design for a unit much like the jet-skis of today, with a small motor and a water jet for safe propulsion and with a well for a tank and backpack and other storage space. A naval architect at Chris Craft designed it for us but it was never built or we'd be millionaires with the first jet-skis of all time!

The SCUBA kayak is a version of the paddleboard but too expensive for many would-be year round divers who could procure and rig their own paddleboard for probably less than $500.

If they wish, the dive shops can purchase surfboard or sailboard blems, rig them in an hour and make a nice profit while keeping most divers diving year round. They will have their own paddleboard at small expense after the initial purchase, for lack of boats is one of the big problems with new divers, and a paddleboard is no more expensive than a good dive computer!

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