Saturday, August 9, 2008

Invade the Keys 2008 - a scuba event

In early July I headed down to the Florida Keys for a huge scuba event thrown by one of the internet forums that I participate on - ScubaBoard. This event drew about 200 or so keen divers together for a weekend of diving, eating, and merry making! It was an incredible weekend and I got to meet some fabulous people that I'd only talked to via the net in person as well as catch up with some old friends. I should have taken more photos, but that's kind of the lament of my whole holiday!

My friends, Howard and Michelle rocked this event. I can't imagine how much effort they both put into it before we all arrived but I saw a small portion of how much they put in during it. I don't think they stopped at all over the weekend, even while the rest of us were relaxing and having irresponsible fun.

They even let their entire condo be overrun with stuff for the goodie bags, give-aways and other stuff that helped make ITK '08 awesome. ScubaBoard has some great sponsors and they really came through with neat gifties for the participants.

Neither was very far away from the outside world for very long thanks to the wonders of technology and computers and Blackberries were humming along every day!

I spent a lot of time with the owner of the board, Pete (NetDoc); we did a lot of talking about the board, of course, but mostly we talking diving! Pete did a lot of meet & greets so he was the perfect person to hang out with as it meant that I got to meet a lot more people each day! A group of us went to breakfast at a locals joint and I had a great time listening to all the stories ;) I made them do the group pose thing when we left. Left to right: Pete (NetDoc), Michelle, Howard, Pufferfish & Cheryl (aka Mrs Puffer).

There were so many divers around, I didn't get a chance to meet everyone and even those I did meet I so wished I would have had more time to chat with. Down to a person, everyone I met was happy, outgoing, friendly, sweet and fun. What an awesome group! I was a little amazed coz you all know what it's like when a big group gets together, there's always one who's a jerk or a group too good for anyone else. Not this group, in my experience. They were extremely welcoming and even the newbies like me didn't feel left out of things! I was able to go out diving with two different operators and I had a very good time with both. There are a lot of operators in the Keys and a lot of diving choices; I'd like to go back and do some more exploring, for sure.

We had lots of opportunities to indulge. Every ScubaBoard event had more than enough food! Pre-night dive one night there was a big pizza party...I have no idea how much was leftover, but I know quite a few took some pie home! We had the pizza party on the docks next to Conch Republic Divers so it was easy for those doing the night dive to hop on right on board.

Captain Gary of the Conch Republic is a great bloke, as we say. He skippered on the weekend, but was also King of the BBQ for a couple of events. He and his wife run a nice operation and are simply really good folks. Heading out after the pizza party

Manning the bbq at the beach

On Saturday night we had a big pig roast at a local restaurant. Even the light rains couldn't keep spirits down and the food, drink and laughter flowed freely. ScubaBoard sponsors had come through again with some great give-aways and Howard had a great time giving stuff away. I, of course, didn't win anything - what a surprise!

I didn't do as much diving as I thought I might, but that was OK. I mostly ended up spending my limited time in Florida meeting and talking to SBers, which is what it was all about for me anyway.

I want to say a huge THANK YOU to Ryan, Kelly and all the team at Reef Photo & Video. These guys really know their stuff and I recommend them to people looking for a new underwater imaging system all the time for good reason. They organized a rig for me to use on this trip since I didn't want to drag mine all the way for only a few dives. Kelly was kind enough to deliver it in person, so that made things even easier for me! Of course, it was a system I've never used before and I didn't even look at it until about 7:10am on the morning of a dive, but it turned out OK :)

The water was warm, clear and gentle on my dives. It was very pleasant just to coast around and look at all of the sponges, fans, fishies and other divers in our group so I didn't actually shoot very many frames. But I do like that clear blue water and so I burned off a few...there seemed to be great numbers of these small trumpetfish; none terribly cooperative, of course!

We had overcast skies early on one day, making things a little darker, but that's not a bad thing

Howard cruising past

One of our group (I have no idea who??) swimming behind one of the many schools of fish

My excellent dive buddy and friend, Otter, with a lazy-butt sting ray...this thing was there the entire dive and I think every single diver got up close and personal with it! My other excellent dive buddy, John, is there in the background with the video camera.

I stayed at Kawama and a big thanks to Becky (speargrl) for all of her help! She took good care of us. The condo was beautiful and very well appointed once Mrs Kraken showed me the linen closet for more towels LOL I'd happily stay there again and hope to do so in the not too terribly distant future.

I have a huge list of people to thank for taking such incredible care of me both before and during the trip. These people made the whole trip super simple for me and really went above and beyond for a new friend. I hope I don't leave anyone out!

AnnMarie and Joyce - for getting me to/from Miami airport!

Pufferfish - for the use of the reg. It breathed beautifully and it was so kind of you to offer it to me.

Howard - for all of the arranging you did for me personally, on top of all you did for the whole group and for loaning me a clippy on the boat.

Michelle - for being so cool! You guys are just too much fun to hang out with!

Pete - for taking the time to drag me around the whole time and introducing me to everyone!

Dan - for breakfast (and to Pete for sharing it)! I'd never had a Mountainman breakfast before and it was delicious...even eating with my fingers on the boat! Also thanks for being my buddy - sorry I confused you when I handed the camera off so I could fix my stupid mask!

TheKrakens - for being my roomies and my taxi all weekend! I had a great time and it was so fun to hang out with you guys. And I appreciated the mask defog, certainly made life more pleasant. A special thanks for helping to de-Smurf me at the final bbq, too!

Craig & John - for being awesome buddies, models and friends. Diving with you was perfect. I'm so glad I had such computer problems LOL

Conch Republic boat crew - awesome job in a bit of a stressful situation, Guys!

All the SBers I met - you guys really made me glad I came down for the weekend!

This was an excellent weekend and I wish that I could do it again in 2009 (it's an annual event)! I hope to see some of you down here soon but in the meantime, thank goodness for blogs, the board and Skype!

Miss you all!

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