Dale may not have found the lost city of Atlantis yet, but he’s definitely finding some cool things under Lake Michigan. As a SCUBA diving instructor in Chicago, Dale shares the unique wonders of the deep lake with hundreds of students. The lake may not exactly be the Great Barrier Reef, but there are some awesome sights, such as ship wrecks and sunken cars underneath the deep blue lake. Dale shares more about this and a few tips on how to eat seafood responsibly below.
F: How long have you been diving for?
As a kid I loved the water. However, growing up in central Illinois did not provide for too many water-related activities. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I decided I wanted to learn how to scuba dive. I talked to a couple of other fellow divers and then called up a local PADI dive shop and signed up. Once I jumped into the pool and took my first breath underwater, I knew my life wouldn’t be the same. It’s even easier to get started with scuba diving these days because of the online courses PADI provides.
F: What was it like growing up in the heart of Illinois’ Amish country? What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned from the Amish people?
I first moved to Arthur when I was 6 years old and I couldn’t even imagine why people wanted to travel by horse and buggy. I began to learn that the Amish are very simple and peaceful individuals who contribute a lot to the community and to their neighbors. They have learned to appreciate the simple things in life and to enjoy everything life offers. I think if everyone would take a little bit more time to appreciate the little things in life, the world would be a much happier and peaceful place to live.
F: Diving Lake Michigan just seems pretty treacherous – cold water with questionable fish. Can you tell us why we’re wrong?
Yes, Lake Michigan is a little bit colder than the Caribbean. However, with the appropriate wetsuit, Lake Michigan can offer something salt water environments can not: fully intact shipwrecks from the 1800’s. Because of the cooler, fresh water, there are many shipwrecks, from the 1800’s and 1900’s, which are well preserved. The wrecks also provide a unique history of the times. There is one shipwreck that sank in 1929 that has three vintage automobiles that you can dive and examine: a Hudson, an Essex and a Chevrolet touring car. In salt water, most wrecks will only last about 50 or 60 years but I have dove on wrecks in Lake Michigan that date back to the 1860’s. Plus, the reality is we live in Chicago and we are not that close to the Atlantic, Pacific or Caribbean. Therefore, why travel hours to go diving when you have a water playground in our own backyard. It is also important to note that you may find some hidden treasures in our lakes. But I do warn you, make sure you are aware of the local, state and federal laws governing the wrecks and treasures in our lakes before you decide to try and bring something up.
F: What are your best diving experiences?
My BEST moments have been on every single dive I have been on. From diving in our training lake in Kankakee to diving in Fiji or the Caribbean, I have always loved to dive where ever there is water. I have encountered a new experience every time I have dove which has included everything from the blue gills protecting their eggs to seeing my first Moorish idol to having a 15 foot Tiger shark swim 10 feet over my head. Until you have had a chance to get into the water and dive you can’t even imagine the wonder and serenity you experience every time you scuba dive.
F: If you could be any marine species for a day, which one would it be? Why?
I think I would want to be a shark for a day. They are beautiful, magnificent and powerful creatures that glide through the water commanding the attention of everything around it. I would want to experience what it would be like to be one of the most dominating marine animals in our oceans.
F: What if you were a pioneer like Jacques Cousteau, what piece of SCUBA equipment would you invent?
This is a hard question. Over the last 30 or 40 years, scuba diving manufacturers have been very innovative in the equipment they have created for the divers. I think I would have to go the Trekkie route and create a linguistic device that would enable us to talk with the fish. There have been times I have been down at 60 feet and I am face to face with a fish. Their little beady eyes staring at you and all I can think about is what is that fish thinking? I can only imagine how the conversation would go:
Me: How is it going Mrs. Parrotfish?
Parrotfish: What’s up??? Why do you keep on insisting on sticking that black box in my face and flashing that bright light into my eyes?
Me: I am just trying to take some pictures to show my friends how beautiful you are.
Parrotfish: Can’t you see I am trying to enjoy my breakfast and then make some sand???
I think a linguistic device would add to the fun of scuba diving.
F: Our readers are the curious bunch and probably want to learn how to dive. Any advice on how to get started?
Well, if anyone is serious about scuba diving, they can always email me (see info below). I work out of Scuba Emporium in Orland Park and I can help them get signed up to become a scuba diver. I can also help answer any questions anyone may have about scuba diving and what is involved to get certified. In fact, for those of you not sure if you want to sign up but maybe want to try scuba diving first, I can get you into the pool and we can do a Discover Scuba first. Trust me though, once you put your face into the water and take your first “Darth Vader” breath underwater, you will be hooked. Shoot me an email and I can help guide you on your way to becoming an elite member of scuba diving. You can also check out all of the great resources PADI.com and ScubaEmporium.com offers.
F: SCUBA divers, like some of us at funsherpa love the open water and tend to be overprotective of it because it is just damn gorgeous. What’s your advice for everyone else out there to help protect our aqua ecosystems?
First of all, I always recommend scuba divers to take the Underwater Digital Photography class. This will help you learn how to take wonderful pictures of our aqua ecosystem to share with your friends back on land. What I have learned is that many people, who are not scuba divers, do not even realize the impact we have on our oceans, lakes and rivers. By showing them not only the beautiful pictures of the marine life and colorful coral reefs but also the trash and debris found in our waterways, we begin to educate individuals about how their everyday activities and decisions may impact our aqua ecosystem.
What is interesting is that Jean Michel Cousteau recently aired a show on PBS highlighting the high level of toxins that are being found in Killer Whales. More importantly, these same man-made toxins are now being found in our own blood streams. What happens to our marine life can happen to us.
I would recommend individuals checking out organizations like: Project AWARE, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program
Both of these organizations provide a wealth of information about conservation issues and what we, as divers, can do for our waterways.
F: Do you feel guilty eating seafood? Where’s the best place to find seafood in Chicago?
When I became a scuba diver, I did begin to feel a little guilty about eating seafood. However, I wasn’t educated enough about seafood fisheries and making sustainable decisions about the choices we make. There are some types of fish that are overfished and we, as consumers, need to do our part by not eating them. There are other types of seafood that come from contaminated waters and we should eat them as well. To learn more about the types of fish that are good choices and which ones to avoid, get the Shedd Rite Bite card, or check out the Monterey Bay website.
One of my favorite seafood places is Wildfire which has locations in the burbs as well as the City. Some other great choices can be found at the Shedd website.
F: What is your favorite post-dive food and drink and where do you get it?
Especially diving in the Caribbean, I love to have my Dos Equis or Tecate after a great dive. Here in Chicago, I don’t mind stopping at Artopolis in Greektown for a nice spinach and feta artopita. They also serve a nice variety of wines and drinks.
F: Where does a scuba diver like yourself go to grab lunch…(please don’t tell us some place underwater :)) ?
I am fortunate to work around Greektown and Little Italy. However, one of my favorite lunch spots is Fontano’s located at 1058 W Polk St. They have some of the best Italian subs you can find and they provide daily specials.
F: Any cool romantic dinner spots you’d like to share with our readers?
One of the first places I took my wife to was Café Bolero. They serve some of the best Cuban cuisines I have ever tasted and the plantains are to die for.
F: Any particular dive site you’d recommend that we check out?
I am still new to diving in Lake Michigan so there are hundreds of sites I have yet to dive. However, I love to dive the Straits of Mackinac. There is a fully intact 204 feet car ferry that sits in 80 feet of water. Since I enjoy diving wrecks and going deep, this is always a great dive. However, I am sure my favorite dive site is still to come as I continue to explore other parts of Lake Michigan.
F: How do our readers get in touch with you to start learning how to dive?
Maybe you are unsure about learning how to dive or perhaps you are just looking for a dive buddy, I can help answer any questions you may have. Feel free to email me. You can also contact ScubaEmporium and let them know Dale sent you.