Between Two Worlds
A couple winters ago, Mitch Pardue, owner of Two Worlds Divers, a local scuba diving shop, performed his "funniest" dive in a pond at Appalachian Ski Mountain. It happened before President's Day, the biggest weekend of the ski season.
"Their snow making gun was clogged up, and they couldn't get any water to make snow," he said. "We had to break the ice to dive in their pond. There was a grocery bag over the intake about 15 feet deep. We pulled the bag off and stuck it in our pocket."
Pardue receives a few calls like this each year from businesses that need help underwater, but he prefers leading diving trips in warmer locales.
"I like the Caribbean," he said. "I like the warm, clear, beautiful water. We were just down in the Florida Springs, which is 72 degrees year round, this past weekend. We drove back Sunday night, 8 degrees and 8 inches of snow on the ground."
Pardue began scuba diving in the '70s, after his roommates at Appalachian State introduced him to diving in the Florida Keys. He opened the High Country's only scuba diving shop in 1989 after being bombarded with questions.
"I found more and more people who liked living here, but who loved getting away, especially in the winter, for a week in the Bahamas," he said.
Exotic places, such as Cozumel, Mexico, and Bonaire, Venezuela, are scuba diving hot spots Pardue's clientele visit whenever Boone is amidst a blizzard.
"Bonaire is the best shore diving in the world," he said. "You don't even need a boat; you just walk out and dive from the shore."
Scuba divers don't need to leave the country, let alone the state, for world class diving. The coast is home to some of the best wreck diving in the world. A portion of the coast is known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" because of the many ships sunk during storms and war.
Once a month, from May to November, Pardue travels across the state to dive in shipwrecks from the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.
There are even artificial shipwrecks, where holes are cut in decommissioned boats and sunk in desirable locations, 25 or 30 miles offshore, Pardue said.
"It's just a sandy barren stretch, no rocks, no reefs, no ledges, no nothing," he said. "These artificial wrecks are the only things attracting sea life. Thousands of fish, rays, eels, sharks come to these wrecks and live. They are separate ecosystems."
Of all the creatures in the sea, sharks are Pardue's favorite. He's seen thousands of them underwater without the safety of cages, which limit the experience, he said.
"That old 'Jaws' movie syndrome is a myth," he said. "Off the coast of North Carolina, we see sand tiger sharks. Really snaggle tooth, they look vicious, but are docile. They will swim right past you and never even sniff you."
Besides shark and wreck and reef diving, Pardue explores other types of diving, such as spear fishing for grouper, cavern diving and drift diving, where divers "cover a lot more ground" by swimming with the current as their boat floats beside them.
"There is such a variety," he said. "There is a whole world of things to see underwater - new places to go, new animals and plants to discover. The great thing about diving is you never stop learning."
Prospective divers must sign up for an open water certification course to learn about the skills, laws, and dangers of diving. The course consists of 10 hours of academics and 12 hours in the pool, which Pardue said could be completed in two weekends.
Two Worlds Divers has taught more than 1,000 new open water scuba divers, ranging from 10 to 80 years old.
"I get a lot of satisfaction teaching new people ... seeing them come along, from being brand new and anxious to becoming really good divers," Pardue said.
"I try to warn people about how addictive it is because it is so much fun," Pardue said. "When I am underwater, I have no aches and pains. I feel like I'm18 again. It's just amazing how good it feels when you are underwater."
For more information contact Two Worlds Divers at (828) 265-2255 or online at http://www.twoworldsdivers.com.
(Editor's Note: The kayaking photo appearing in the Dec. 16 TimesOut column was incorrectly attributed to Jesse Wood. The photo was taken by Michael Mayfield.)