The birthplace of recreational diving in the Caribbean inaugurates an annual celebration of what makes the Cayman Islands a special dive destination
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands – Tanks, tuxedos and tasty Lionfish were all hits at Cayman’s first annual Legends and Lions scuba celebration, which rolled out October 4 – 11, 2014 with great success thanks to teamwork, a good turnout and perfect weather. The celebration showcased Cayman’s superb diving, honored dive legends inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame, fought invasive Lionfish and then served them up at a celebratory street party on the waterfront.
“Legends and Lions was a successful event for its first time,” says Red Sail Sports Operations Manager Rod McDowall, one of the participating dive operators. “ We hope to make it a yearly celebration that highlights the fantastic scuba diving of the Cayman Islands and the reasons we are one of the world’s leading dive destinations.”
“It went really well, I’m very pleased,” agreed Keith Sahm, General Manager for Sunset House, also one of the event dive operators. “It pulled together very nicely.”
Dive industry leaders teamed up with the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism to combine several existing scuba promotions during this traditionally slow time of year to take advantage of off-season rates. The dive deals offered by Red Sail Sports, Sunset House and Divetech attracted new divers to Cayman from as far away as Germany, and drew repeat divers from closer markets in the US back to a destination they know well and visit often.
Some visitors started the week of diving aboard a Red Sail Sports dive boat with scuba pioneers Bill Acker, Dan Orr and Leslie Leaney. The three hall of famers spoke to the group about the history of diving and their experiences in the sport. The legends and divers then hit the water together to dive Cayman’s spectacular North Wall where they explored dive sites Creole Cliff and Pinnacle Reef. It was an experience Carolyn Larrivee and her husband George from Utah won’t forget.
“I loved it! It was great to be with people who love what they do and who want to share that passion with us,” she said. “I love the camaraderie – it reassures me as a diver who loves the sport.”
“They shared this wonderful dive experience with us,” said Dan Orr, who thoroughly enjoyed the meet and greet on board. “Diving is done as a community – we are a community.”
“This is the essence of diving, which is a non-competitive sport,” agreed Leslie Leaney, a dive historian. “It’s about sharing this fun activity as a community.”
Also attending the festival were top performers from dive shops and booking agents participating in Cayman’s Tanks A Lot Rewards Program, courtesy of the Department of Tourism and Cayman’s dive industry. A couple of the FAM attendees – Paula and Dean of The Dive Academy in Ontario – celebrated by getting engaged and then picking out a ring. The weeklong fun continued with topside events that Lionfish culling certifications and culling dives to remove the predators from Cayman’s reefs. The day’s catch was then cooked up and served during a street party sponsored by Aqua Lung.
“I’ve never had Lionfish before and it’s tasty!” said a surprised and pleased Rich Peterson, visiting the island from Jacksonville, Florida. The meal included Caribbean staples rice and peas, plantain and “cho cho” a tropical fruit.
Legends and Lions also hosted a photo contest during the week that drew local, as well as visiting underwater photographers. The winners received prizes awarded by Scubapro, Guy Harvey and the Cathy Church Underwater Photo Centre. Coordinator Keith Sahm says the images submitted for the event were astounding and the response to the collections has been great. Categories included; Unusual, Macro, and Turtles, Stingrays and Fish. Winners included local divers Charlie Reaney, Brittany Slade, Amanda Nicholls, Chase Darnell, Courtney Platt and Ellen Cuylaerts.
“The response that we have received from our social medial site showing off the winners has been absolutely fabulous and it give us great pleasure showing off these talented photographers work,” he said. “Next year, we will get started much earlier, now that we have a new format in place. We’ll have more prizes, more categories, the goal is to get more entries.”
The scuba week celebration was capped off with a formal, black tie International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame Induction Dinner hosted by the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism. These year’s inductees were Alese and Mort Pechter, Bill Acker, Chuck Nicklin, Dan Orr and Neal Watson. Rod McDowall of Red Sail Sports was also honored for his contributions to Cayman’s dive industry through the years.
“The induction into the local Cayman Islands Scuba Hall of Fame is appreciated,” said McDowall. “It’s always nice to get recognition for just doing your job in a diving paradise.”
The dive legends inducted to the hall of fame had this to say:
Alese Pechter: “What a fantastic weekend we had! Thank you so much for making absolutely everything so perfect. Grand Cayman has always held a special place in our hearts and this weekend just solidified that feeling even more.”
Neal Watson: “Thanks a million for the hospitality extended to my friends, family and the ‘Dive God’.”
Dan Orr: “Keith, it was a wonderful week thanks largely to you and Karin. Having all of our family stay at Sunset House was the best decision – our family loved every bit of it. The rooms, the staff, the food and the diving were all first rate. We sincerely thank you and Karin for everything! ”
Bill Acker: “Thank you so very much, for your help, hospitality and friendship during the past week in the Cayman Islands. My entire family as well as our friends from Germany had a wonderful time at Sunset House.”
Chuck Nicklin: “Thanks to the Cayman Department of Tourism and to the hospitality of Karin and Keith Sahm of the Sunset House Dive Resort, Leslie Leaney, our eloquent MC and Co-founder of the Historical Diving Society, and to the many friends who attended. Congratulations to all inductees! It was a great event!”
Everyone involved in Legends and Lions is anxious to get started on plans for 2015 since this first event was so successful – there are new ideas to discuss for next year.
“We want to put this event on every divers calendar – fantastic diving, great dive deals, diving with industry celebrities and a street party – the perfect Cayman Islands dive vacation!” said Rod McDowall.