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Notes from the Road
Underwater Adventure Seekers (UAS) 50th Anniversary Celebration

Washington, DC: September 18-20, 2009: by Dan Orr

About a month ago, Betty and I received an invitation to attend a very special event, the 50th Anniversary of the Underwater Adventure Seekers (UAS) Dive Club. The UAS is one of the oldest dive clubs in the world and was founded by our DAN Board member, Dr. Jose Jones. The Underwater Adventure Seekers, a Washington D.C. based dive club, was founded on February 25, 1959 by Dr. Jones after finding existing scuba diving clubs in the area were reluctant to admit and train black divers.

The first club training consisted of, as it does now, pool and quarry training followed by numerous recreational openwater dives. The Howard University pool served as the site for the first training. Armed with the latest scuba equipment from U.S. Navy diver Chet Longworthy, Dr. Jones was able to develop a successful watermanship-based training regimen which followed the basic philosophy that "good swimmers make good divers".

In the late 1950's, none of the current major US diver training organizations existed. Consequently, Dr. Jones chose the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) System formed the basis for UAS members training. When combined with the good watermanship skills, the result was very well-trained and safety-conscious divers.

During the 1960’s, dive clubs all across the US were divided into Councils. The Atlantic Skin Diving Council (ASDC) of Washington D.C., responsible for monitoring scuba diving activity in the area, accepted UAS as a member organization. This association was mutually beneficial to both the Council and UAS. The Council learned quickly that all UAS members were well-trained and avid scuba divers. As a result of Dr. Jones' critical position in key Council offices such as vice president, spear fishing chairman, rodeo chairman, and chief training officer and certifier, UAS and its members were able to gain recognition in Council diving events and demonstrate their valuable contributions to the sport. As a result of UAS members being involved in setting policy for the Council, they were able to change more than just the feeling regarding black scuba divers. Their participation in events such as the scuba rodeo competition is well documented with UAS member placing first in the competition for five consecutive years during the late sixties and seventies.

UAS members have in the past and continue today to benefit from the knowledge and experiences of UAS founder, Dr. Jones. The UAS progressive diver training system of training developed in the late 1950’s is still the basis for their training today. The club requires a standard of excellence in diving from its member divers above those of any other national or international certifying organization. With a strong emphasis on maintaining critical diving skills, the UAS still requires that its members recertify each year. This yearly recertification process is better known in the club as "Spring Training," and it assures that all members are both mentally and physically capable of performing the myriad of skills necessary for safe openwater diving. Understanding the importance of good swimming skills to safe scuba diving, the UAS has a "Swim and Stay Fit" program preceding the annual Spring Training Refresher sessions.

Beginning in 1967, the UAS sponsored and organized annual summer trips providing diving opportunities aimed at broadening the diving experiences of the members. Those trips have included Indonesia, Morocco, the Bahamas, The Caribbean, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Australia, Egypt, Thailand, Mexico, South America, Panama and Belize. Individual club members also dive throughout the world.

The public service record of UAS is also laudable. It includes: service as rescue divers for the President's Cup Regatta, free scuba demonstrations at public events, on-call search and recovery diver operation, and the training and certification of over 2000 divers without compensation. The club also has an annual crab feast from which profits go toward a college scholarship at the University of the District of Columbia in Marine Science.

During its 30th Anniversary in 1989, UAS was honored by District of Columbia Representative, Walter Fauntroy, in a Congressional Record tribute in recognition of services to the public. The District of Columbia's Mayor, Marion Barry, declared February 25, 1989 "Underwater Adventure Seekers Day" in Washington, D.C. Finally, the D.C. City Council adopted a resolution acknowledging the contributions of UAS.

In 1988-89 both Ebony and Ebony Man carried articles on the Underwater Adventure Seekers followed by an article in Underwater USA. Encouraged by phone calls from all over the United States, Dr. Jones, UAS founder, approached the club about his life-long dream of organizing black divers nationally. After more than six months of meetings, black divers from all over the United States were invited to Washington, D.C. on Martin Luther King's birthday, 1991 to attend the first annual National Association of Black Scuba Divers (NABS) summit.

The Underwater Adventure Seekers became the founding club of NABS. Attendees were asked to return home and start their own clubs. To date there are over fifty NABS clubs located all across the United States and in Nassau, Belize, Brazil, Turks and Caicos, Dominica, St. Thomas, Curaçao and the Maldives Islands.

Currently, UAS has a membership of more than 100 active certified divers. This club has trained more black divers than any other scuba diving organization in the world. The longevity of the Underwater Adventure Seekers can be attributed to a unique combination of regular social activities coupled with a strong and shared commitment to safe diving through regular diving and continuing education. (the above excerpts from www.uasdivers.org)

On Friday, Betty and I drove the 4 ½ hours to Washington, DC in order to attend the UAS regular awards ceremony at the Renaissance M Hotel. This event is an opportunity for the club to recognize members who have excelled in many of the Club’s competitive categories including spearfishing, swimming for fitness and number of dives in a year. The list of accomplishments of their members was, indeed, impressive. The award for their physical fitness program through demonstrating swimming ability through lap swimming went to a club member who swam over 3,000 laps in an Olympic size pool! The winner in the most active club diver went to a member who made 116 dives in the past twelve months! While watching the awards and talking to members, it became clear that this club is made up of divers who not only talk diving but live it to its fullest. This is like no club I’ve ever seen. Most dive clubs have a hard time getting a few members together on a monthly basis to talk about diving. The UAS members got together a few years ago and decided that monthly meetings did not give their 100 ACTIVE diver members the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the club they loved but also did not give them an opportunity to learn as much as they wanted to so they could continue to be better divers. Plus, they just all thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.

Every dive club could learn and benefit from their model. Also, that evening, one of the members approached Betty and me about a rather unique insurance question. He was leaving for Macao the next day to spend two years working for a production company similar to Cirque Soleil. They were putting together a theatrical production similar to “O” (seen in Las Vegas) and wanted some insurance advice for the crew as well as the performers both of which would be using scuba as part of the show. Betty was able to answer his questions and he would be keeping in contact with us as the show develops.

On Saturday evening, September 19, the UAS held its 50th Anniversary celebration in the Grand Ballroom at the Washington Navy Yard. This was a fantastic black tie event with more than 200 club members, NABS representatives and guest in attendance. The event organizing committee had asked me to give a tribute to Dr. Jones as part of the evening program. I was honored to accept and chose to create a Power Point presentation showing how important the club’s diving philosophy was to the safety of its members. I also inserted some photos taken of Dr. Jones during the recent Legends of Diving Program in the Bahamas where I was Master of Ceremonies. They included photos of Dr. Jones wearing a DAN Du Rag and one of Dr. Jones and me diving together. That particular photo was of Dr. Jones and I doing our safety stop at neutral buoyancy. I noticed Dr. Jones in the Lotus position and tried to do the same. As I tried to get my limbs in the same position, it became painfully clear that I was not nearly as limber as Dr. Jones. I finally gave up before I did serious physical and emotional damage to myself! My presentation ended by recognizing the UAS’ Golden Anniversary, thanking them for their contributions to diving safety and wishing them 50 more years of enjoyable and safe diving. I was presented with a 50th Anniversary medallion and UAS 50th Anniversary challenge coin.

My presentation was very well received and many members thanking DAN for everything that we have done for the UAS and for diving safety and education. Every member of the UAS is required to be a DAN member!!

Besides the tribute from DAN, James Morgan (PADI Vide President and NABS member) presented Dr. Jones and the UAS with a plaque recognizing their contribution to diver education and safety. There was also a tribute from a local television personality who had interviewed Dr. Jones as part of Black History Month. She commented that of all the interviews she had done as a seasoned reporter, her interview with Dr. Jones was one of the most moving. She highlighted Dr. Jones’ commitment to bringing the sport of scuba diving to others by training and certifying more than 2,000 divers free of charge! As a further tribute to Dr. Jones who she referred to in her interview as the “Black Jacques Cousteau”, she included a recorded tribute to Dr. Jones from Philippe Cousteau, Grandson of Jacques Cousteau.

The evening program was an exciting mix of history, entertainment and tributes to both the Club and its founder, Dr. Jones. We were happy and honored to represent DAN at this historic event. It is an emotional feeling being surrounded by so many DAN members who, to a person, share a unique and passionate commitment to scuba diving, their club and to DAN! It truly was an unforgettable experience.

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