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Pumpkins take a deep breath

Divers find lake can be studio for their art

On these crisp fall days before Halloween, pumpkins usually are seen lined up on porches or tables, not under the icy waters of an area lake.

But that’s where a couple of the big orange gourds ended up Saturday – 25 feet under the surface of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

The pumpkins weren’t the only ones to finally come out of the 52-degree water with smiles on their faces.

The pumpkins were carved by scuba divers John Saffeels and Randy Nilsson, who decided to spend the morning competing in an underwater pumpkin carving contest.

“Why not?” posed Saffeels, who spends Monday through Friday installing heating and cooling systems.

Nilsson said he wouldn’t have missed the competition for anything, even though he worked until 3 a.m. Saturday as a cardiovascular technician, helping repairing patients’ hearts at an area hospital.

They were joined by dive instructor Jim Flodin, whose Divers West scuba shop in Coeur d’Alene sponsored the contest, and diver Daryl Phillips, a truck driver afflicted with the love of diving.

Flodin videotaped the underwater competition with a special camera (see the video at and Phillips tested a piece of diving gear.

As the four divers suited up and walked into the nippy water at Sanders Beach, they sounded as giddy as schoolboys about to go trick-or-treating.

“It’s not as easy as you might think – not by a long shot,” explained Flodin, a certified technical diver. “Pumpkins are actually quite buoyant.”

As part of a safety briefing, Flodin asked the divers to stay within sight of each other underwater.

“You can’t draw the face on the pumpkin before you go down,” he said in explaining the rules, “and you can only use your dive knife for carving.”

“If your pumpkin gets away from you and hits the surface twice, you’re disqualified,” Flodin said.

It was the second year his shop has sponsored the underwater pumpkin carving competition. There were more entrants last year, he said.

“Divers will find any excuse to get into the water,” Flodin said.

An informal group of divers from Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls meets Tuesday nights year-round for a dive in Lake Coeur d’Alene, Hayden Lake or Lake Pend Oreille.

For Saturday’s competition, the divers put their pumpkins in webbed bags that were roped or clipped to their waist belts for the trip to the depths. Flodin and Saffeels have advanced certifications to go as deep as 130 feet; Nilsson and Phillips are certified to 60 feet.

For the carving, the divers swam out about 30 feet from shore and went down to about 20 feet.

They disappeared for about 15 minutes before a few pumpkin seeds could be seen bobbing to the surface.

Nilsson was the first diver back up. “That was fun,” he said, grinning with an armload of carved pumpkin.“It’s sure different than your kitchen counter,” he said.

Saffeels said he went to the bottom and sat on a couple of submerged logs to carve his pumpkin. “It took me 18 minutes,” he said.

Back at the dive shop, Nilsson was declared the winner by a panel of “four independent judges.” He cleverly carved a dive-flag shark into the face of his pumpkin.

He was awarded a $400 diving regulator as the first-place prize.

Saffeels carved a more traditional jack-o’-lantern face – still a remarkable piece of underwater work.

The carved pumpkins will find a more typical location for the remainder of the lives: They will sit in the window of Flodin’s shop on Best Avenue in Coeur d’Alene.

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