Mike Cunningham

I started my life just north of Seattle. Around 1969 after wrapping up thirdgrade I was relocated to Orange County California, the first year in Seal Beach. That’s when I found the beaches of Orange County. Tried all the surfing type things and other beach stuff but it never took hold with me. I remembered going to the beach on the Puget Sound in the Seattle area but this beach was different, this new ocean felt a lot warmer. Little did I know that decades later I would be wrapping myself in 7/8mm of neoprene and different undergarments and a dry suit just to stays away from this cold ocean, this really cold water. It’s funny how things work out. After about a year we settled in Anaheim, the year Manson was making a name for himself. I lived about 25 miles from the beach and with the traffic, the parking, the crowds and throw in I didn’t surf I seldom went there.  

In 1998 I got lucky and found myself a job in Camarillo. To be honest I had no idea where on the map I was. I’m here for the weekend interviewing and looking for something to do. The guy at the motel told me to head to Oxnard for a day at the beach. I actually asked him after I get to Oxnard how get to the beach? That weekend I got myself a road map. Then I find out Ventura also has a beach so I grabbed my new road map and drew a line ¼ mile in from the coast and start looking for a place to live. I never liked doing the crowds and traffic for a relaxing day at the beach in OC. I settled in mid town Ventura. I could do the beach from here!

About 10 years ago I was spending time at Ventura Harbor and walked into the dive shop.  Went in, spent money, lots of money and walked out with my Open Water package. It just fit right in on that decade’s long list of stuff we’d been doing all along that me and some of my close friends figured probably should have ended at least one of us by now, but didn’t. I was thinking I’ve done some pretty dumb things over the years and this doesn’t make it very far up that list and besides I’ll actually be trained by professionals, this’ll be new and why would this guy lead me astray, what could possibly go wrong. The class went OK. The pool was going along just fine until the guy said we’re going to do some swimming! What the &@%*#* ? Tread for how long? You just taught me how to breathe underwater. You told me to inflate my BC so I can float at the surface. I don’t need to swim. I didn’t sign up for this. Don’t wanna, Don’t hafta! This isn’t diving! Well my complaints didn’t carry the moment and I found myself swimming after lunch.

My second open water dive I’m at 500 psi so I do what I’m taught, signal the instructor. He looks at my gage and we just finish what we were doing! No panic on his part! My part was different. This is where karma catches up with me. I’m thinking this is where I drown. Diving just stopped being fun. As it turns out I made it through that day and finished my first 2 open water dives. Swimming and now this, I want my money back! I’ve had more fun being cuffed by law enforcement out in the middle of the Mohave Desert.

Later I plan to finish up my certification on their new boat. The day arrives, I show up and they want to see my C card! My future wife was along as a paid passenger, a point lost on them as they kept asking to see her C card too. The first of many red flags that began piling up. They tell me there’s no instructor on board but let me set up my gear anyway, more red flags.  The boat crew then finds this guy they don’t know, he’s on the boat with a few students and he’ll take me, if he has to or at least it felt that way. Now I’m getting upset so I go up to the shop to quit this circus before they kill me when I’m informed they have a new instructor on staff and he’s on the boat today doing one of his fun dives. He’ll be more than happy to take me. They introduce me to Mike Doyon. He really seemed happy to take me on too. Inside of 2 minutes he has me feeling better than I have since I started down this path. Now I’m not looking to get my money back, let’s go diving! This might just be fun after all!

First dive at Santa Cruz we swim around while I sucked the tank down to about 500 psi in about 10 minutes. So once again I did what I was supposed to do, what I was taught to do, I was watching my gauge and I showed it to him when I should. This time it went the way I thought it should, we do a safe accent to the surface! He then very forcibly points to the boat and ordered me out of the ocean but I think I’ve impressed him with my ability to pay attention to my gauges because after that shortened dive we got the needed 2 dives in and I’m certified!

So what do I do next? Advanced, Nitrox, Night, Wreck, Dry Suit and then Rescue Diver. 50 or so dives later how about DiveMaster?  I do the drown proofing 15 minute tread and the rest of that swimming stuff. And then I do it a second time, and then I finally get it. I love diving, I hate swimming. I’ve talked about Instructor or maybe just Assistant Instructor to start. It’s still on the table but nothing yet. Hopefully soon but for now I just keep diving. Yes I know there will be swimming involved, I know.

Why do I dive? Why the Dive Club? Why the Club’s Dive Coordinator?  

After a rough start someone stepped up and put the Fun back in it. That’s Fun with a capital ‘F’. That’s a big piece of the why part. Without that I know I would not be diving today and it’s for that I will always be grateful. The Dive Club is where I guessed I’d find some other divers.  It’s a natural extension for someone in the sport.

You’re Dive Coordinator? Can’t say exactly when or why but the board said the current DC was stepping down and they had a call out for a volunteer to run for his spot. I thought it looked like something I could do and have a good time doing it. Hey it’s my turn to step up. So at the last moment right before that last call for nominees right before they passed out the ballets on that last night I spoke up, kind of, quietly asking Mike D to write my name in so I wouldn’t embarrass myself and get at least 2 votes. He then seals my fate by announcing it out load for everyone in attendance to hear. And for a very very brief moment I thought how much better I would feel getting cuffed out in the desert somewhere right now, anywhere, doesn’t matter.…….what have I just done! For months I’ve talked about this very thing with Lisa with both of us agreeing I shouldn’t do it. I kept talking about it. I couldn’t drop the idea. She backed me every time it came up. Before I left for the meeting that night she asked if I was going to put my name in. No was all I could say. And now I’m here, doing just that. When I got home she asked if I put my name in, she knew. I smiled and said, “Say hi to the new Dive Coordinator”.

I’m really glad I don’t always listen to me! I think from when they first announced the board elections I knew I wanted to try it. I’m happy I did, this is the most fun I’ve had diving since diving. I know, says the guy who sends all those emails for hikes, but I still like to dive. I’ve called for more than few and plan on doing more still. I think I’m getting better at it or maybe I just keep hoping to have more fun. Could be both I think.

If I had it to do over again, I would. I’d put my name in again this time without hesitation and I’d stay at home and not go out to the desert that one day!