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Published: Sunday, 10/31/2004

Divers surface with fresh slice of tricky Halloween tradition



Mr. Smith put two small pumpkins in a mesh bag and attached a paring knife to his wrist to carve one with a happy face and the second with a sad one. A theater theme, if you will.

Mrs. Dellisanti packed a bag with small purple feet, glasses with big eyeballs on springs, and a clump of fake fall leaves, which she planned to use as hair.

The two scuba divers then sank into White Star Quarry for the annual underwater pumpkin carving contest.

About 15 divers spent about 30 minutes underwater yesterday carving out eyes and mouths on pumpkins of various sizes. Sponsored by the Bay Area Divers, a local scuba club, the event brought another 15 or so divers who submerged in the 63-degree water - without a pumpkin - just to watch.

"You have to be concerned about holding onto everything. If you let go of the pumpkin, it shoots to the surface," said Mrs. Dellisanti, 53, of Huron, who dove with her husband, Doug.

"It's fun. And there's a friendly competitive spirit that goes with it," she said.

Divers such as Scott Lang of Fremont add another degree of difficulty to Halloween pumpkin-carving by wielding the knife 40 feet underwater in the Gibsonburg quarry. Divers such as Scott Lang of Fremont add another degree of difficulty to Halloween pumpkin-carving by wielding the knife 40 feet underwater in the Gibsonburg quarry.

The underwater competition has been a Halloween tradition for area divers off and on for the last 20 years, said Mr. Dellisanti, president of the Bay Area Divers.

The rules are simple: Divers bring their own pumpkins but cannot draw on them ahead of time. They also have a choice of carving knives, although using a dive knife, which is serrated and usually bulkier, is more impressive. Divers can poke a hole in the pumpkin to let some water in to help submerge it, but cleaning out the insides before being underwater is forbidden.

"The pumpkin wants to get away from you, it wants to go up," explained Mr. Dellisanti, 53, an engineering manager. "It's not that much different than doing it above water but if you let your tools go, they may float away."

Mrs. Dellisanti won top honors for her creativity, and five other pumpkins were awarded scuba-related prizes, said Scott Lang, 34, the group's Web master. The coveted pumpkin award - a lamp depicting a pumpkin with top hat - is given to the dive group that brings out the most participants. Yesterday, Bay Area Divers regained the award after it spent a year with the Aquamasters, a group based near Cleveland.

But it wasn't the prizes that brought the divers out, it was the camaraderie. Divers joked with each other as pumpkins with skewed faces and pumpkin pulp emerged from the water. For some participants, the annual carving event is the last local dive of the season, a last time to don mask and fins before waiting for warmer temperatures next summer.

Recovering from a head cold, longtime underwater pumpkin carver John Holly, 54, of Port Clinton, chose to stay dry yesterday, lending a hand to divers.

"The thing is, it's fun," he said. "It doesn't matter what they look like, it's fun."

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-724-6076.

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