It’s not often that Alaskan’s will talk about their favorite underwater activities in the state, much less take part in those activities in the middle of winter. For the crew at LFDA, or Last Frontier Diving and Adventure, it happens to be perfect for a scuba adventure. According to owner Emily Craver, “It’s the best time to dive, visibility is the best.” Last week, Craver went down to Whittier for a dive in water that was 41 degrees. Around ten years ago the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, installed an artificial reef; a manmade structure that can mimic some of the characteristics of a natural reef. The concrete pyramids and spheres that once were thought ugly have now become home to some of the fascinating creatures that Alaskan scuba divers can experience, and it makes a great navigational point for students of LFDA.
Craver manages an entire crew at LFDA that takes care of anything that beginners or experienced scuba fans could want. “We have shop staffers, dive masters which are assistants to the instructors, and they can take out certified divers, and instructors who do the teaching, and then I oversee everyone.” The shop also offers certification, retail sales, and services all the equipment and types of equipment that they have in the retail space. This is in addition to the education that is offered, and of course the trips in Alaska and around the world that make up the adventure part of their title. Customers of LFDA often become friends and dive buddies and even if they move out of state stay connected to Craver and her crew. “We have customers that have moved all over the U.S. that still join up with us for trips, so we still get to see them.”
While the trips around the world may offer tropical views and exotic undersea creatures, Craver tells of the fascinating animals that are found right here in the 49th state. “We have stingless moon jellies which are beautiful, but in a congregation, you will generally see a red jellyfish, that’s a lion’s mane and they will hurt you. You will see some predation because the lion’s mane is eating the moon jellies.” She has also seen wolf eels, and often sees the long feather like sea pens as well. The giant Pacific octopus is often in the same waters as the divers and sometimes even otters and sea lions. “Imagine being down at 100 feet and being surprised by a sea lion and her baby!” Sea stars are easy to spot with their distinctive shape, but the decorator crabs along the ocean floor are sometimes camouflaged. “The decorator crabs are cute because it looks like moving seaweed, and then you look closely and it’s a crab.” One of the most unique experiences was during a dive a couple of years ago. “If you have ever been to the Seward Sealife center and seen the murres, the seabirds, a couple of winters ago we were out, and the seabirds were so desperate for food they were diving 20 and 30 feet into the water. So, you’re diving and it’s like oh jellyfish, decorator crab, bird. Bird? It was pretty unusual.”
While LFDA offers plenty of education and certification for those that are sure that scuba diving is something that they want to explore there is also a chance for people that want to just dip their toe in, so to speak. During a Discover Scuba session, you spend about two hours with an instructor and even get a chance to put on the gear and get into a pool. The activity is often a unique date night or friend activity and Craver explained “You come to the shop, we have a flip chart, we explain the gear, is and we will talk about how pressure affects the body, some of the things that we do underwater, size you up in some gear and show you how to put it together. Then we get you in the pool in some shallow water and then if all goes well, we drop down and go deeper.” If you already have a vacation planned to somewhere warm and you aren’t sure about the cold Alaskan waters you can also get started on your certification here during a referral class, and finish during your vacation with your open water portion.
For Craver the world of scuba diving is a beneficial for her as it is for the students she teaches. “I love being underwater, I love seeing all the amazing animals, I love looking up and seeing the sun shine through the water. I love being able to teach. I love seeing the look on someone’s face when they breathe underwater for the first time ever. I find it really gratifying when a student learns a difficult skill for them. Then one day you are in the water, diving with them, and they are your buddy and you remember when they could not get past skill four!” She describes scuba diving as life changing, saying that “they travel more, they make friends, they become more confident and competent. Almost anybody can do it. You don’t have to have a lot of athletic ability.”
As far as the benefits for herself as an avid diver herself, it is the feelings she gets while in the ocean. “It’s relaxing. It’s one of the only activities I do where that is all I am focused on. When I am underwater, I am not thinking about my voicemail, or what I need to buy at the grocery store, or what we are having for dinner. I am completely focused on how deep I am, how much air I have left, is that a mated pair of butterfly fish? You aren’t just on land where it just one dimension. It’s an escape.” For those reasons alone, scuba diving could be a beneficial experience for us all.