Naked Snorkeling Changed My Life: Confessions of a Free Diving Inventor

Hi. My name is Steve Underwood and I’ve loved water forever.

My first favorite book featured a free diving duck. Bath time was the best time, and, at the impressionable age of seven, I got hooked on naked snorkeling. Hey man, it was the 60’s… (Cue ‘Brady Bunch’ theme song) “Here’s the story…”

'Underwaterguy' - the early years.
‘Underwaterguy’ — the early years.

My newly widowed dad, and my new mom — also widowed — marry the day after Christmas, 1964. They each have three kids, overlapping in ages. After the “throwing of the rice” the whole crew flies from Boston to St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. for the honeymoon. All six kids in one room, grownups in the other.

After breakfast on day #1 we head off to a beautiful secluded little beach. Dad casually suggests naked snorkeling as a way to bond the two tribes. I’m not sure about this… Naked?

Mom: “Just mind your P’s & Q’s, strip down and get in the water — quick!

So… we… do! It’s so warm… and so blue! And… everybody’s naked!

    The "pre-Brady" Brady Bunch in the USVI.
The “pre-Brady” Brady Bunch in the USVI

I dive down and peek up at the crowd. “Hmm, grownups look different…” Then something catches my eye. Actually, everything catches my eye. Hundreds of iridescent fish! Mountains of colorful coral! Conch shells, sea urchins, sea turtles! So much to see! Can we live here?

    "No seat belts, no child seats, no problem." Family snorkeling, 1964...
No seat belts, no child seats, no problem.” Family snorkeling, 1964…

I didn’t have a camera back then, but it’s as clear in my mind now as it was in 64’.

Maine is home these days. I’ve officially been a free diver since 2007. That’s when I first heard about the sport and took two four-day courses in Ft. Lauderdale with the world champion, Martin Stepanek. I loved it. On the final day, this newbie dove to 117 feet on a single breath. My deepest dive before taking the course was fifty feet. I fell in love with water all over again. The flat-calm Gulf waters were so warm… and welcoming… and then I came home.

Diving white water in Roach Pond Outlet, Northern Maine

Maine lakes get pretty warm at the surface in the summer. But ten feet down? It’s like “swimmin’ inta’ wintah”. So when I’m exploring Maine’s rivers and lakes I stick to the shallows — where the light dances, the colors pop, and fish dart about in lily pad jungles.

Video screenshots from beneath the surface — Various Maine locations

In 2009, I first sprang for a cheap point-and-shoot so I could bring home the beauty I was seeing under the surface. The footage from that pricey old camera looks worse than what a ninety-nine dollar GoPro will capture now, but it’s some of my favorite. It looks like a 10-year-old shot it; a 10-year-old who was completely enchanted by what lay hidden below the surface. Soon thereafter, the HD revolution began gathering momentum.

Eventually, after a bit of hesitation, I took the plunge and bought a DSLR/Housing combo and dove into video big-time. I’ve barely been dry since.

Heart Pond, Mid-coast Maine...
Heart Pond, Mid-coast Maine

Over the past six years (and 100 lakes and ponds later), I’ve learned a lot about filming in the wilds of Maine — and Hawaii — and Grand Cayman -and in Mexico’s cenote caves — all while holding my breath. I’ve filmed using smartphone cameras, GoPro cameras and HDSLRs. I’ve also created lots of cool, customized gear, and in the process, invented a new kind of tripod — the compact, quick-to-deploy, super-versatile “Pakpod.” If you shoot video with a Smartphone or GoPro — (above or below the surface), you might want to check one out. (Pakpod is coming to Kickstarter in September of 2015).

Pakpod

I love filming underwater, and I look forward to sharing what I learn with you.

Thanks for reading and stayed tuned! See you in the water…

'Underwaterguy' crawling onto a sandbar, Androscoggin River, Maine
‘Underwaterguy’ crawling onto a sandbar, Androscoggin River, Maine

Aquatically Yours,

Steve Underwood

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