SOUTH OGDEN — These certainly weren’t official Olympic events: the egg and spoon race, the pool-bottom run, submerged tic-tack-toe.
And the teams represented not nations, but “Finding Nemo” characters Nemo and Bruce the Shark.
A group of scuba divers who train and travel with Great Adventure West Scuba, of South Ogden, staged their first unofficial Olympics on Saturday as a way to sharpen underwater skills and prepare for an upcoming dive off Catalina Island, Calif.
“There’s nothing else like diving,” said Kevin Youngberg, 60, of South Weber. “It’s a ball.”
The divers, from eight to 10 at different points, arrived ready to play. They put on jackets with buoyancy compensation devices to neutralize buoyancy underwater; oxygen tanks with regulators; masks with snorkels; and dive boots and fins. Bulky on land, they were weightless once in the 22- by 50-foot pool.
The single spectator was a dive shop customer who watched as the first event was announced. The underwater relay run would be harder than anyone suspected, said dive teacher Eve Claydon. Divers must run the length of the pool bottom without using their hands for propulsion.
Claydon gave the signal, and they were off. Silence ensued, as the spectator and judges watched the slow progress of the ripply, submerged blobs visible from the surface. Turns out running the 50 feet, submerged takes about 45 seconds; after tagging a waiting diver, the return run takes about the same time.
Divers surfaced, breaking the silence with fin splashes and talking, which echoed through the large space.
“We just thought this would be fun,” said Lynnette Gibson, who owns Great Adventure West Scuba with husband, Doug. “We’ve got people in the pool who are instructors and rescue divers, and we’ve got new divers. We’ve got all skill levels. And for those who are traveling with us in a few weeks, it’s a good way to sharpen their skills and to get excited about the trip.”
The Bruce the Sharks took an early lead by winning the underwater run and the missile throw, which required players to throw a small, cigar-shaped object through a submerged hoop. The Nemos tied the Bruces in the tug of war, but the Bruces prevailed in buddy tow and the three-finned race (think three-legged race, but horizontal and submerged).
The Nemos tasted their first taste of victory with the egg and spoon race, in which the spoon was turned bowl down and the egg was replaced by a yellow pingpong ball. The Nemos rallied again in the bucket race, which asked divers to transfer air trapped in containers turned downward.
But the Bruces finished first in find the golf ball. Underwater tic-tack-toe was a wash when nobody could agree on a scoring method.
Finally, the athletes faced off in a tie-breaker, conveniently ignoring the fact there was no tie. The Bruce the Sharks won a second round of bucket race.
“I loved the games,” said Helen Williams, 41, of Layton. “This is my second year of diving. My husband dives, and I decided to learn. I want to train and be a rescue diver. You hear about people who drown, and the search for their bodies. My dad was a fireman and I would like to do something to help people, too. Diving seems scary at first, but it’s really enjoyable. I can’t wait to do my first deep dive, and my first night dive.”
Youngberg learned to dive three and a half years ago after a business trip took him to Guam. His friends spent a day diving and returned describing how they could spread their arms and touch both a sunken World War II Japanese ship and a World War I German ship.
Jealous of their adventure, Youngberg came home and signed up for dive classes at Great Adventure West Scuba. He’s since explored underwater sites all over the Pacific.
“You see things very few other people ever see,” Youngberg said. “You get in the water and you’re weightless, and you kick your fins and shoot off.
“You swim around a corner and see a manta ray, then turn another corner and see a shark. Who else in my neighborhood has done that?”
Youngberg has explored a World War II Japanese fighter plane, long settled into the white sand off Oahu, Hawaii, surrounded by garden eels. He has swum with manta rays off Yap, one of the Caroline Islands in Micronesia.
“They’re 12-feet across, and their eyes are the size of your fist,” Youngberg said. “They hovered over my friend, letting the bubbles tickle them. When they tire of playing, there’s one flap and they disappear. Now do you understand why I dive?”