Soy un perdedor.
I'm a loser baby,
So why don't you kill me?
(get crazy with the cheese whiz)
After several Photo Fridays spent whining about wanting to hit the beach, it was time to make it a reality. The original plan was to visit the Chincoteague Blueberry Festival. But we talked through the options and decided that this would be our only scuba opportunity for the year. There's some excellent wreck diving in North Carolina, but that's a bit too far to drive for a short weekend. Mark researched it further, and discovered that there's some scuba options in Virginia Beach, which is less than four hours from our house. Meanwhile, I reached out to the Twitterverse and got some great recommendations for local restaurants from @vatourismpr and @VaBeachCVB, not to mention an excellent beach tip from my grrl @raelinn_wine. We got a spot on a Saturday dive trip, used my Marriott employee discount to book a room in nearby Norfolk, and we were off!
Episode One: in which our intrepid heroes hit the beach
Friday was beachalicious perfection. Quite by chance, our DC friends Tony & Christina were in VA Beach at the same time, so we spent the day at the beach with their family. Sandbridge, a quieter, less-crowded alternative south of the main drag, had been recommended several times by locals and visitors alike. We actually wound up a bit further south in Little Island Beach, where there was more parking. It was heavenly. No boardwalk, plenty of space to spread out, and some decent waves to jump around in. The kids spent the day digging holes to China and burying each other in the sand, while the grownups plastered their pasty selves with sunscreen and bodysurfed in the waves.
That evening, we met up for a fantastic meal at Croc's 19th Street Bistro, an ecobistro that features fresh local foods. This was another recommendation from my tweeps, and it was a winner! The menu is enormous, with lots of excellent sustainable seafood options plus a generous sprinkling of Lebanese flavors. Plus the happy hour specials are stellar. We commandeered a table on the patio and our wonderful waitress good-naturedly put up with our loud storytelling and silly jokes. She even posed for a pic with oktapodi. Croc's is the first "Virginia Green"-certified restaurant, and they are proud of the SOL (sustainable, organic, local) menu as well as the many green improvements to the building itself. We really enjoyed ourselves and highly recommend this place!
OK, so that was the good part, now for the downer part...
Episode Two: in which our intrepid heroine has a total scuba meltdown
And I didn't even get crazy with the cheese whiz.
In retrospect, it should have been obvious from the start. (But isn't that always the case?) I have about 50 dives under my belt, Mark just slightly less, but in the 8 or so years we've been diving it's always been outside the US. It's always been in a warm-water location, typically in a spot where people arrive there specifically to dive. We figured this would be a slightly different scenario, but had no idea what an alien experience we were in for.
My spider-senses were tingling from about the first moment we walked into the dive shop. We'd made arrangements to rent some of the necessary gear, including -gasp- 6ml full-body wetsuits. Yuck! We hadn't worn wetsuits since our certification dive all those years ago. Wearing a wetsuit is a lot like putting on pantyhose, but much thicker and covering your entire body. You feel like a neoprene sausage. It's way unfun. But, when the water's 60 degrees or less, plus thermocline, it's a necessary evil. Anyway, with all that extra buoyancy, you need more weight on your belt to keep you down. But for some reason this shop refused to rent us weights. Moreover, the guy behind the desk acted like we were complete idiots for not having our own weights. Excuse me? What's with the attitude, buddy? Why on earth would we tote an extra 10-20lbs each around the world with us whenever we want to dive? And now you're telling us we have to BUY these weights from you at nearly $5 a pound? Weights we'll never ever use again? No chance, lance.
At that point, I was ready to pack it in and spend another pleasant day at the beach. Never mind that this scuba trip was the whole reason we'd come down here. I was just not comfortable entrusting our lives to these a**holes. Granted, your average dive is not a life-and-death situation, but when you're 70+ feet underwater you do want to feel as though an experienced professional team's got your back in case something does happen to go wrong. Especially when you're paying through the nose for the priviledge. Well, for better or for worse, Mark talked me down off the ledge, and with the help of a much cuter and significantly less-surly dive shop staffer named Samantha we were able to rent the necessary weights. For an additional fee, of course.
On Saturday, things quickly went from bad to worse. Even though we showed up on time (early, even!) after being told several times that the boat would leave *promptly* at 8am, we didn't actually shove off till close to 9. And we didn't find out till we'd left that the boat wouldn't return to the dock until about 3pm, which would necessitate another night's stay at the hotel. (Fine, OK, that one was our fault.) I tried to be radically self-reliant on the trip out, drinking plenty of water, taking Dramamine as a precaution against seasickness, and trying to stay out of the sun. When it came time to put on the dreaded neoprene sausage suit, I made sure to leave plenty of time (and do it in a private spot) so I wasn't rushed or stressed. Things were looking good until we actually hit the water. I'm not sure exactly how to describe what happened, because I've never experienced this before. But something about the combination of the tight wetsuit, some other problems with ill-fitting rental gear, the huge ocean swells, and an almost complete lack of visibility... it just pushed me over the aforementioned ledge. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't get my bearings. I just completely freaked out. Panic attack, maybe? Who knows... all I knew was that I was *not* going beneath the surface in this condition. And nobody around us had any interest in helping out, not the divemasters, not the other divers, nobody.
My only choice was to slink back onto the boat, peel off the horrid suit, and attempt to regain my composure. Mark continued the dive on his own, sans buddy. This is a ginormous dive no-no, but god forbid the so-called professional staff offer to help out or pair him up with another diver or group. I spent the rest of the afternoon sipping water and quietly trying to get my s**t back together. Unfortunately I neglected to pop another Dramamine until it was a bit too late, so on top of everything else I was pretty seasick too. Didn't manage to "feed the fish" over the side of the boat or anything, but suffice it to say I was miserable, humiliated, and frustrated as hell.
Wow. Good times.
We managed to salvage the day by staying an extra night (since we had to pay for it, regardless) and going out to a nice seafood restaurant. Mahi Mah was also recommended by my tweeps, and although it paled in comparison to the previous night's dinner, it made for a fun night out and some decent peoplewatching on the boardwalk. We wandered the main drag, watched a wedding on the beach, and marveled at the "no cursing" signs sprinkled about town. (Which only made me want to get as lewd & rude as possible, right there on the street.) Between the greasy fast-food joints, the sidewalk preachers, and the portly folks squeezed into improbably tight clothing, it was a slice of Americana at its finest.
So, kiddies, what have we learned? No more cold-water diving, to be sure! Always leave plenty of time to suss out the dive shop and its staff. As with many other situations, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. And there is no such thing as too much Dramamine.
All in all, it was a nice getaway. Any opportunity to hang out in the sun and check out a new green/locavore restaurant is a good time in my book.
Croc's 19 Street Bistro
620 19th Street
Virginia Beach, VA 23451
Lynnehaven Dive Center
1413 N Great Neck Rd
Virginia Beach, VA 23454