Excitement can be conveyed with a regulator in your mouth: Even from 20 feet above, I can hear grunts and see bubble-burble explosions. Every now and again, an explorer stands.
“Gum butt chicken!” (That would be gumboot chiton; animal identification is not yet a strong suit.)
For 30 minutes, the explorers dissolve into a world many of them have never before seen, their instructors gently guiding them along. Afterward, the kids clamber up the stairs, producing a babbling din. They worm from their suits and then drink hot chocolate (a dry suit, as its name implies, keeps most of you dry, but still, the water in the tide pool is 59 degrees ), chattering to their parents, each other, and anyone who will listen.
One clear-eyed little fellow looks at me. “I wanna do that again and again until I don’t have feeling in my body anymore!” he says.
“See?” says Swing with a smile. “They go in a little apprehensive, and they come out wanting to be marine biologists. It can be pretty dramatic for them.”
I HAVE HAD the opportunity to dive around the world, and I will tell you that diving in the open ocean is a life-changing experience. But here’s something the dive magazines won’t tell you: It is also possible to board a plane in Los Angeles, fl y to Papua New Guinea, spend 10 days on a heaving boat, and see nothing more than silty water and the rim of the commode.