Editor-in-Chief Carina Rampelt sits down with Groundhog Divers owner Bruce Kingsbury to discuss childhood obsessions, present-day adventures, and a lifelong fascination with being under the sea.
Rock music pulses softly in the background. Flippers line the top of one wall, wetsuits hang all along another, all sporting brand names I’ve never heard of. Mares. Sherwood Scuba. Aqua Lung.
Embarrassingly enough, getting lost in summertime construction has made me a little late for my interview with Groundhog divers’ owner Bruce Kingsbury. Now it’s my turn to wait as he helps a customer. I take in the store and flip through an issue of a dive magazine, stopping on an article talking about the possible real-life equivalents for various mythical sea creatures. This would fit so well in the next issue of Blueprint, I think. Then again, I am in a dive store. It’d be hard not to find something that fit the theme of Under the Sea.
“I’ll be with you in a moment,” Kingsbury assures me and I apologize again for being late. I continue reading and in a few minutes, the cus- tomer satisfied, he leads me over to a high table to the side of the front counter, where we sit on bar stools and begin our chat.
I start by asking about his childhood. “Have you always loved the water?” I want to know.
“Not always,” he admits. He even remembers being afraid of water as a small child, especially “the bottom of pools.” But watching television series about oceanography, like those hosted by Jacques Cousteau, gave him a fascination for the undersea world. When, in his twenties, a friend of his got his hands on some diving equipment, “[they] went to a lake—[he doesn’t] remember which one—and tried it out.” Looking back, he’s grateful that first attempt went so well. “I hear so many stories about inexperienced divers that end badly,” he says, noting that getting used to breathing compressed air for the first time without proper instruction can be particularly dangerous.
After that, he knew diving was something he wanted to do more of. He soon became certified and began working toward becoming a diving instructor. He was involved with Groundhog divers “almost from the very beginning—within the first year or two” and since has logged over 5500
With that many dives under his belt, I’m sure he must have been in some scary situations. Surprisingly enough, he doesn’t think so. “It’s
all about being prepared,” he explains. “[He has] had goggles disintegrate on [him] under water” but has been able to remain calm and resolve crises because of his experience and training. Kingsbury tells me that other parts of diving safe include not diving in unknown areas, and not diving exceed- ingly deep just for the sake of it. Anyway, “the most interesting things are in the first 60 feet” and he would rather take the time to explore and enjoy than spend most of his dive time on the descent and ascent.
A natural curiosity and desire to explore has always been a part of diving for Kingsbury. He’s had the chance to dive around shipwrecks, with whales and manta rays, just to name a few. Diving around an iceberg is still something on his bucket list. Though he’s never found sunken treasure— part of safe diving means knowing what you’re getting into—he has found an old pop bottle: a collector’s item from a company that no longer exists. Most of what he brings back from his underwater adventures are memories: time spent with friends and family, and images of underwater seascapes— often recorded on video. Some of his recordings, he points out, are playing on screen in the store. They’re lovely—bright fish swimming against the dark blue background of an ethereal undersea world. When I ask him about underwater photography, he smiles. “I don’t have the patience. I just pull the stills.” Fair enough, I chuckle.
Our time coming to a close, I only have one question left to ask. How has diving shaped him as a person?
His answer surprises me. “I did not expect to like the people side of the business this much” he admits. In our conversation, Kingsbury has struck me as nothing other than warm and outgoing. However, he explains that he was a very shy, reserved teenager. Becoming an instructor forced him to come out of his shell. He’s also incredibly grateful for the opportunities diving has afforded him to travel and have adventures. When he looks at friends who followed more conventional career paths and are only now beginning to travel, he has no regrets about choosing a more modest lifestyle in order to pursue diving. “I could be hit by a bus tomorrow and die happy. I’d be thinking, ‘wow, what a ride it’s been so far.’”
What a ride indeed.