Lots of folks picked up new hobbies during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, from baking to gardening to home renovation. For Curt Bush, vice president of outpatient imaging services for U.S. Radiology Specialists of Houston, Texas, it was scuba diving.
Bush, who has worked in medical imaging for more than 25 years across assignments in Florida, Wisconsin, and Texas, has always loved being around water. He owned his first boat at 22, and lives near a canal on Tiki Island, just outside of Galveston, Texas; Bush likes to fish off the boat in Galveston, and his wife, Angie, enjoys fishing off the canal.
During the lockdowns that accompanied the pandemic, the couple found themselves for want of hobbies, their travel plans having been curtailed. They decided it would be a good time to certify as divers “because there wasn’t a lot else to do, and it’s COVID-free under the sea.”
“I thought it would be cool to do; then we found out that a lot of our neighbors were certified divers, and they’d tell stories,” Curt Bush said. “My brother was in the Navy; he got certified 20 years ago. It just sounded like something cool to do, and so we thought we’d give it a shot.”
“I think the marine life is cool,” he said; “especially since we live on the water, it’s fun to see what’s underneath it.”
The couple completed its first dive “the weekend before the world shut down,” Curt Bush said, and then had to wait until June 2020 to get certifying dives done. The first dive was done in a pool; a controlled environment that helps novice divers get used to the water and the equipment that accompanies the experience. But there was an added wrinkle: Angie, whose “biggest fear is to drown,” Curt said, had a bit more anxiety to overcome.
“Getting her in the water was quite an accomplishment,” he said. “We do most things together and she decided, ‘I’ll try it.’ ”
Gamely, Angie pressed on after the initial diving experience when the couple went for their second dive at Mammoth Lake, in Clute, Texas. Popular among area diving clubs, the lake sits upon a retired sand pit, and caters to recreational swimmers with sunken artifacts to swim in and around, including planes, buses, fire trucks and pieces of old amusement parks. At depths of 40 to 60 feet, the lake is large enough for divers to learn how to orient themselves by compass, with enough ephemera to take in that make it a memorable experience.
“There are interesting things to look at while you’re down there,” Curt Bush said.
In the pool, the bubbles from the respirator had made Angie uncomfortable; in the lake, the water was cloudy, which added a new hurdle of limited visibility. But by the time the couple made it to Key West, Florida, later in the summer, she’d fully acclimated to the experience, Curt said.
“As soon as we got into the water, she was just gone,” he said. “It’s a lot different when you’re looking at fish and stingrays.”
“Since you’re underwater, any noise is very exaggerated,” Curt Bush said. “We get each other’s attention by clanking a piece of metal on our tank. Because you don’t have the red lights down there, everything looks a lot more blue. You can attain perfect buoyancy a foot off the bottom.”
The trip to Key West was Curt’s “birthday do-over,” he said, and the couple got the opportunity to enter the water off a couple different reefs. Curt Bush described the experience as relaxing and calming. It was their first dive around marine life, and they saw sharks and grouper, among other fish. For a pair who enjoys vacationing in warmer climates, it was the first big step into a burgeoning passion.
“We’ve already been to Cabo and Cancun and Cozumel; we’re going to go back to Cabo in June, and Key Largo in May,” Curt Bush said. “Cabo was colder water; we saw a bunch of stingrays. On the Pacific side, the reefs are a little deeper, so they’re not as colorful as they are in the Caribbean. In Cancun and Cozumel, we saw sea turtles and a yellow ribbon eel; just his head was probably four feet long.”
In Playa del Carmen, the couple dove with bull sharks, once on a guided excursion and a second time for a feeding. Curt Bush recalled a moment of hesitancy when his divemates were wearing chainmail mesh to ward off shark bites, but he soon overcame it while the attendant warded off any sharks who got too close with a stick. Nonetheless, he had his own close encounter of the fish kind during the experience.
“That was fun,” Curt Bush said. “We were at the bottom, holding onto a rope. One of the sharks hit me in the back of the head with his tailfin as he went by; I thought it was Angie tapping me on the back of the head. I don’t think he saw me.”
The couple’s wish list includes Fiji, Belize, and Grand Cayman, but it’s a trip to the Galapagos Islands in December that they next have their eyes on. Curt Bush said he’s planning two days of diving, during which they’ll hope to swim with penguins and sea lions, and observe migrating whales making their way back to the Pacific Ocean. Even though the underwater experiences are capped around 45 to 50 minutes, the quality of the trips are so singular that each one stands out in the mind, he said.
“I think it’s cool,” Curt Bush said. “It’s probably not for everybody, but it’s fun just to be down there. It’s amazing that it’s this completely different world that you never get to see otherwise.”