Up Close: Trace Malinowski

Under the Sea …
You don’t have to live in California to enjoy scuba diving. Just ask Moscow area scuba diving coach, Trace Malinowski. He fell in love with the water at an early age and started diving as a teenager. He learned from some of the sport’s greatest divers: Scranton diving experts Frank and Doris Murphy for recreational diving and famous diver hailing from South Africa, Andrew Georgitsis, for technical diving. He’s traveled extensively to explore shipwrecks and train wrecks, caves and creatures that live in the sea. It seems he’s as comfortable 300 feet underwater as the rest of us are on dry land. Since we just celebrated the unofficial start to summer, we thought it would be fun to catch up with this local thrill seeker to talk about the diving culture in our region. Hang with Malinowski, and he can teach you the ins and outs of the diving world, and tell you a great sea tale or two along the way. Meet Trace Malinowski …

When did you learn to scuba dive?
It all started when I was a kid in the bathtub. My mom couldn’t get me out of the water, and she got me a little face mask. I grew up snorkeling and I just couldn’t wait to become a diver. My family went on vacation back in 1981 and I didn’t go because I was sick. Fortunately when I was feeling better, my grandfather asked me if I wanted to go for a ride to Kentucky Fried Chicken in Dunmore. And while we were on Drinker Street, I noticed a wetsuit and scuba tanks in the window of a store. When my family got back from vacation, I said to my mom, “I think there’s a real dive shop in Dunmore. I’d like to go check it out.” So my mom drove me down there, and I was a 13 year old kid, and we found out that you could actually start Junior Open Water at 14. Since my 14th birthday was just a couple weeks away, I started right away. I got my Junior Open Water (diver certification) at 14 and my full Open Water diver certification at 15, which was the minimum age. Then when I was 20, I became a divemaster, and at 21, I became an instructor.

Where can you dive locally?
There are so many lakes you can dive in — Lake Winola, Lake Wallenpaupack, Harvey’s Lake — just about anything that isn’t private access.

What are some are your favorite places regionally?
We have world-class shipwrecks that are sitting 3 and a half hours up the road at Alexandria Bay, N.Y., and the 1,000 Islands, and it’s one of the easiest places to get to. And there are shipwrecks that go back to the 1800s and even earlier that are perfectly preserved because it’s freshwater and it’s cold. The thing about the St. Lawrence that’s exceptional to other places in the world is that a lot of the old wooden wrecks will survive in cold fresh water. It’s like they’re being refrigerated all year and then they basically thaw out mid-summer. By July and August, the water will reach high 70s. So we’ll be at 250 feet exploring a shipwreck in 3mm wetsuits that you’d wear in the Caribbean and we have a 100 feet of visibility and diving at wrecks that are perfectly preserved.

Sounds like you really enjoy exploring underwater.
We’re lucky in the northeast because we have such diversity. In Lake George you can see French Bateau, the old boats from the French and Indian War in cold water and clear water. You’ll have everything from the Delaware River – which is a great place to dive. There’s actually a train wreck that sits at the Delaware Water Gap that derailed in the 70s carrying beer bottles and truck parts. But you could dive in the Susquehanna River, the St. Lawrence River, the Atlantic Ocean and one of the things we have in the northeast is the ability to dive in warm water in the summer and we’ll have ice diving in the winter.

How dangerous is diving?
It’s as safe or as dangerous as you make it. You can take a basic class, the Open Water Diver Class, and you learn how to use the equipment and learn good habits so you don’t get hurt. You learn to breathe all the time and come up slowly to avoid decompression sickness and arterial gas embolism and lung overexpansion injuries, and how not to get hurt on the gear. And you can take that and go into really shallow water and dive in a warm water coral reef in 20, 30 feet of water and your risk is really low.

Let’s talk about the other extreme — the true thrill seekers.
On the other extreme, people are actually diving as deep as 1,000 feet.  So you can be in 20 feet of water right from the start and be really safe or you can be in the world’s most hostile environment where it’s going to take a lifetime to develop the skills and the attitude and the experience in order to do it. That’s the nice thing about diving. It’s different from sports like sky diving. You go out the door and you’re totally committed, whether you’re an instructor or a first-time student, it’s pretty much the same risk.

You’ve been diving for many years and explored countless places. What’s your favorite diving experience?
Earning an Aquanaut status, which is like being an astronaut (only underwater). I lived underwater on the sea floor. So I’d be walking around in an underwater habitat wearing my favorite pair of jeans and a tee-shirt and eating pizza and watching Pirates of the Caribbean and then putting on scuba gear to drop out through a hatch in the bottom of the habitat and go diving and come back inside. It’s now called the Jule’s Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Fla. If you spend 24 or more hours on the sea floor of an underwater habitat, you become an Aquanaut. — julie imel

To learn more about the adventures diving holds for you, and how you can learn how to dive with Malinowski, visit his website at www.scubacoachtrace.com.

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