• Man's Halloween hobby includes submerged pumpkin carving

    By: DYLAN REYNOLDS, The Chronicle-Telegram

    Updated:
    NORTH RIDGEVILLE, Ohio (AP) - It's pumpkin-carving season, and while most people carve theirs on the porch or at a local pumpkin patch, one North Ridgeville man recently did it 25 feet underwater.

    Semi-retired truck driver Kevin Priest, 52, has twice participated in an underwater pumpkin carving contest at White Star Quarry in Gibsonburg, most recently on Oct. 7. He has been scuba diving for three years and decided to try out the carving contest last year with his friends.

    In his first attempt, he carved a sea turtle shape and earned second place. This year, Priest couldn't out-carve the 50 or so competitors, failing to place. But his intricate design, featuring a shark, diver and the words "Project AWARE" took more than an hour to carve and had a special meaning to him.

    "The second one, the project AWARE, that one took almost 73 minutes," he said. Project AWARE is an initiative of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, which seeks to bring divers together to clean up ocean debris and promote conservation. Priest was inspired to carve the logo into his pumpkin after participating in cleanup efforts with the initiative in Key Largo, Florida, this June, when he and the group pulled around 600 pounds of trash from the ocean.

    He said he wants to do whatever he can to reduce plastic waste, where it can sicken or kill fish and sometimes end up in seafood products. He was surprised by the amount of waste he found in Florida, including around 100 feet of rope, 30 feet of fishing line, six anchors, a lobster trap and diving weights.

    Although diving to help solve ocean waste is a complex task, the underwater pumpkin carving contest is pretty straightforward.

    "You take your knives down and you sit there and carve the pumpkin out," Priest said. Besides some minor differences from land-based carving, like having to clean and put weights inside the pumpkin, the disciplines are very similar. But Priest said carving underwater is much more of a sight to behold.

    "All these pumpkin guts are floating to the surface," he said. "It looks like Mother Earth just puked these big chunks of pumpkin to the surface."

    After semi-retiring from truck driving, Priest decided to trade the road for the water and get certified in scuba. It had been a goal of his as a child after reading Jacques Cousteau books and becoming interested in the open water.

    He said there is a community of divers in Ohio, despite the water being frigid for much of the year. He trained at the Underwater Dive Center in Elyria and did pool sessions at the North Olmsted Recreation Center, where he met a group of friends who came to be known as the "Scuba Seven."

    This isn't Priest's first adventure. The 25-year North Ridgeville resident played amateur ice hockey when he was younger. But hockey and diving led to different destinations.

    "I used to want to go to Europe and play tournaments," he said. "Now I want to go to the Caribbean and dive with sharks."

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