By Hannah Miller | Photography by Grant Baldwin
Posted: Tuesday, Jun. 26, 2012
To an onlooker, the deep-green water at Lake Norman Quarry in south Iredell can appear cold, dark and mysterious.
But to the members of the Piedmont Diving and Rescue Association who regularly descend into its 96-foot depth, its the passageway to adventure, camaraderie and fun.
The world is 70 percent covered with water, says association president Calvin Shaw of Crouse, N.C. We only live on 30 percent. I like to go down and see a little bit more.
Along with his wife, Teresa, Shaw owns the Aquatic Pleasures scuba shops in Kings Mountain and Belmont. Hes also head of criminal justice studies at Gaston College. Over the years hes explored shipwrecks along the N.C. coast, as well as the waters around St. Maarten, the Florida Keys, and Mexico.
The Piedmont Diving and Rescue Association owns the quarry, and Shaw and other members dive into its murky depths year-round, even when theres snow on the ground and ice on the water.
Pine trees and camping and picnic facilities ring the 29-acre site, which supplied the rocks for Duke Energys Cowans Ford Dam in the 1960s. The spring-fed quarry, which is roughly 20 acres, is the perfect setting for divers to train and test their skills.
Besides veterans like Shaw, novices such as Mooresville residents Dave Bormann, Scott Rhodes and his son Nick also enjoy diving at the quarry. The three of them have been taking scuba diving lessons there with Andrew Katsamas, owner of Lake Norman Scuba in Mooresville.
During a recent diving excursion at the quarry, Scott Rhodes remarked on the number of fish he saw swimming in the water. I think theyre trying to figure out what we are and what were doing, Rhodes said as he stripped of his air tanks and other equipment.
The quarry is, in fact, stocked with a wide variety of fish, such as bream, catfish, bass, and an endangered, prehistoric-looking breed called paddlefish put there by the association to munch away underwater vegetation. (Sorry anglers, no fishing allowed at the quarry.)
Mac Robertson of Eden, the associations president emeritus and executive secretary, says the many fish help make the diving excursions more fun, and can even help alleviate a new divers fears. When he was instructing, he gave cans of squirt cheese to students to feed the fish. It helped them forget any anxieties they had, he says.
Lake Norman is one of three quarries the PDRA owns. The association has about 1,300 members from the Carolinas and Virginia. Membership is through 19 dive clubs, and ranges from recreational divers like schoolteacher Melissa Easley of Charlotte, 28, to the Cooks Community Volunteer Fire Department in northwestern Mecklenburg.
The quarry is ideal for teaching water rescue and body recovery, says the fire departments chief, Jerry Phipps. The biggest thing is no boat traffic, he says. If his officers were on a lake, theyd have to station people in boats to warn other boats away, he says. Most people dont understand what a dive flag (signifying a divers presence) is.
To create underwater landmarks that make dives more interesting, PDRA members over the years have collected and sunk a variety of objects, including a cabin cruiser, jet skis, small boats, a tow truck, the cockpit of a Cessna plane, as well as a VW bug and van. All the underwater objects are marked buoys, and reaching them requires different levels of skill. At 70 feet deep, a 25-foot-long tunnel of culvert pipe gives prospective cave divers and shipwreck divers a taste of an enclosed environment.
I love my quarry back home, says Easley, who moved to Charlotte from Chicago earlier in the spring. This is just a lot bigger. Theres more to do.
Anyone 18 or older who has certification in open-water diving from an accepted authority like PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) or SSI (Scuba Schools International), can join one of the dive clubs that make up association membership, and then join the association. PRDA membership is $90 the first year, and $70 per year after that. Children of PDRA members who are certified and are 12 or older can dive with an adult. Family memberships for children and spouses are $10.
On a recent group dive, Easley worked with quarry manager Barry Moore of Stanley, who helped her get her diving equipment properly secured, including her buoyancy vest. Easley showed similar care for others in her group when they entered the water. As someone whos dived the quarry before, she took a spot at the end of the line of divers led by Moore.
If anything happened and he couldnt see it, she said, I have a front view.
Safety, of course, is a top priority at the quarry. We dont allow any solo diving, says Shaw. And your dive buddy has to be in the water with you at all times, not sitting on the bank.
Divers often congregate at the quarry for celebrations, such as the annual Easter egg hunt, during which the eggs are tossed in the water to await discovery. At Halloween, pumpkins are gutted on the bank, and then carried into the water for competitive carving with blunt divers knives.
Once they get a taste of scuba diving at the quarry, many incorporate the activity into vacations and trips. Easley recently traveled to Key Largo for a weekend where she went diving along reefs teeming with colorful fish. And Shaw and his wife plan to lead a group of divers on a trip to Fiji next year in the South Pacific.
Its exciting, he says. But its also nice that the adventure of diving is always right here at the quarry.For more info go to www.ncpdra.org