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First Trip Report - Kona, Hawaii


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#1 Steve Douglas

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 06:00 PM

Of the more than 200 published articles I have written, this will be my first trip report so forgive me if I leave out some important info. The famous manta dive is one that I thought I was the only one to never have done so I was truly looking forward to this trip along with my wife, my dive buddy Randy and his wife. The diving was strictly for just Randy and I. I have a friend and former dive buddy and fellow founder of the San Diego UnderSea Film Exhibition, Bob Gladden, move to Kona about 3 years ago and Randy, whose time-share we used, and I looked forward to getting on Bob's new boat and getting quite a bit of diving in when the wives weren't demanding their time.

Unfortunately, Bob came down ill the first few days and couldn't take us out. Never the less, he recommended Jack's Diving Locker, one of the many dive operations there. Okay, no problem. We went to Jack's and the people were all very nice and friendly. They asked for our C cards, mine is an advanced instructor rating(tho I do not teach anymore) and Randy has a bunch of c cards stemming from our time on the San Diego Sheriffs Search and Recovery Dive team together. I have a bit over 3,000 dives and Randy, who has been diving since the 60's, has about 2500 dives. The point being that, while no experts in everything, we both had some experience under our belts and it was made clear that we did not want to be on a cattle boat with a class of new divers and such. We were told that that was not a problem and they could fit us in on a boat with the 'more experienced divers'. It was not going to be cheap however, and it came out to $260.41 for the two of us for a two tank dive. Other than the weights and tanks, we had our own gear. Glad that as were leaving the shop I asked, extemporaneously, what kind of tanks we would be using, wondering in my head whether to switch my din 1st stage to a yoke. The reply was "steel 72s". Wow, haven't dove a steel 72 in decades and they said they would be happy to put a couple of aluminum 80's on board for us. You can't take anything for granted these days. I think this is the first operation I have seen that used 72s.

We were at the dive shop earlier than the appointed 8:30am time and we were given a choice to go either on their shuttle to the harbor or take our rented car. We took our car and got to the boat. It was a good sized boat of 46ft called the Kea Nui and had 19 paid divers on board. I won't say it was a cattle boat but it was very crowded. Okay, so remember, this was a boat we were told was for the more advanced divers, so I really was quite shocked to see several little kids between, and I'm guessing here, 10 and 13 years old come on board saying they were going to get their final certification dive that day. HUH!!

Randy and I were asked if we wanted to set up our own gear or have the crew do it. Nice of them to ask, I appreciated the courtesy but preferred to set up my own gear. Of the other divers, I don't know who had their own and who were renting, but my guess is that the majority were all renting equipment.

The divemasters split the boat into 3 groups with Randy and I place in the 'more advanced' group that would hit the water first. After a short dive briefing we motored to a dive spot they called 'the Sand Chute'. Randy and I wasted no time jumping in as we looked forward to some fantastic diving. OMG, this was a dive spot? Absolutely nothing but a slope of dead coral going down to a 64ft bottom of bare sand. Yes, there was a small fish here or there but REALLY? I am not exaggerating, even looking for the tiniest of creatures to film, there was nothing of interest. I had seen more the day before just snorkeling in one of the bays, at least there we had a few schools and a couple of turtles. Here at the 'Sand Chute', absolutely nothing. The divemaster who was assigned our group got into the water about 10 minutes into our dive and though he probably was looking, found but one long nosed black hawkfish to point out to us. I could be wrong about the species of fish, but that is the only thing he pointed out. Maybe it was the army of student divers that came in 15 minutes after we did criss crossing our paths that chased anything else away. Who knows.

Back on board with a half tank left and right before lunch, one little round tyke exclaimed, "Yay, I got my certification, how do I put on this regulator and where's lunch." Maybe that is a paraphrase but it is as close to a quote as I can get. It did make me laugh when I heard it. We ate the provided lunch. It consisted of 3 two foot Subway sandwiches cut into 2" parts, one tuna, one turkey and the other ham. The ham was not kosher for those who are interested. These were scoffed up pretty quick so you had to be satisfied with one section and hope there would be an opportunity for a 2nd. In the end, a couple did manage to grab a second piece of the sandwich. Some cookies were also served and there was plenty of lemonade or water to hydrate yourself with. As we sat and waited one of the 'advanced' divers was complaining about how he dropped his weights and couldn't get down. Hmmm, interesting.

Okay, now Randy and I are praying for a decent 2nd dive and the boat motored to a site called 'Honokuluu' which was about 20-25 feet from land. Heck, anyone could have shore dove the sucker, didn't need a boat for this one. Randy and I get in the water, drop down, and wait for the divemaster assigned to us. After waiting 15 minutes we say the heck with it and move on on our own. A pretty site with coral that, at least, was alive at this time and some small schools of fish here and there but nothing that would float the boat of anyone who has been in the water more than a dozen or so times. No mantas, no turtles, saw a couple of nice morays and that's about it. Finally the classes of divers got in and appeared to do well following their leaders. I never saw ours again until we had boarded the boat and he came up to me and said "I thought you were going to wait for me". Yep, we were but got tired of growing older. After the dive, a female divemaster mentioned that Honokuluu was one of her favorite spots. Okay, good enough for me, maybe the marine life was just somewhere else that day. It does happen and she was sincere about what she was saying.

For Randy and I, the diving was a bust and boring beyond belief. If I had my macro lens on, maybe I would have searched harder under the dead stuff or in the holes but not this time.

Two days later Randy and I went back to the shop to rent tanks and weights because Bob had recovered and was going to take us to the night manta spot. Rental for the 2 tanks and weights came to $62.50 for the both of us with the rental good for 24 hours. Off of Bob's boat we had two wonderful dives and yes, the Mantas were amazing. I was testing out some new video lights for an upcoming review and the lights just blew the doors off of anyone else's in power and light dispersion, but more on that when time to publish. We had a great 2 dives.

The next morning Randy and I returned the tanks and weights to Jack's Diving Locker and I asked to see the owner. She was in a hurry to leave for a meeting of some sort as was certainly not dressed for dive shop operation and she quickly got the shop manager to come out. No problem, she had a legit need to be somewhere else. The manager came out and invited me into an office. I recognized him since he had been standing next the employee the day we signed up for their boat dive for ' the more advanced'. I am very poor with names so forgive me if I have not mentioned the specific names of anyone. Names would be beside the point anyway.

I thought to start the conversation on a positive note. You never get anywhere by being rude or nasty and I wasn't. The crew and shop folk were all very nice and helpful and the tank fills couldn't be better at 3100 lbs. Too often we get tanks hot filled with 2700 lbs and have to grin and bare it, but the tank fills at Jack's Diving Locker were just perfect.

Then we moved on to how I felt about being told that we to be on a boat that wasn't for students even though that's is exactly what we were on. He was both calm and understanding about this and asked for suggestions to improve the situation. He wasn't patronizing but I felt the answer to his question was obvious. Just be honest about what was to be expected. He did offer to put us on another boat and didn't mention it costing us anything so I prefer to think he was offering us a freebee. I had to turn the offer down as Randy and I had wives that demanded 'their day' before we left the island and then there was that 24 hour out of the water before flying thing to take into account. While I did not ask, no mention of any kind of refund was mentioned by he or I, but I would have taken it if it had been offered. The boat dive really was THAT BAD.

So what is to be gained from this report? Certainly, never take anything for granted. At least we weren't stuck with steel 72's. But, even after diving most every place around the globe, I had to relearn to ask for site description and that the word 'Advanced' can apply to a person with 3 dives on their belt as opposed to only 2. Jack's Diving Locker is a large and professional operation with a pretty good sized retail end as well. Probably most of their divers are from the mainland and they really don't have a way of knowing just how experienced someone may be. Some divers tend to exaggerate their skill levels. Better to ere on the side of caution, I understand that. Never the less, after leading trips around the world many times over the years and after owning my own dive shop as well, this shouldn't have happened. These sites were great for the student diver, calm water, not too deep and very safe surroundings and topography but definitely not what we were told the diving would be like and certainly the Sand Chute would be good only for someone just getting their certifications. In the end, I guess I should have grilled them more before signing up.

Happy diving,
Steve
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I have worked as an unpaid reviewer for the editing websites since 2002. Most all hardware and software is sent to me free of charge, however, in no way am I obligated to provide either positive or negative evaluations. Any suggestions I make regarding products are a result of my own, completely, personal opinions and experiences with said products.

#2 Steve Williams

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 06:28 PM

So the big question, is the new 7D still dry?

Fingers crossed,
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#3 Steve Douglas

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Posted 29 June 2011 - 08:46 AM

Nope and will call you soon.
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#4 bvanant

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 08:38 AM

Steve:
Sorry to hear that your diving wasn't so good. We dive quite a bit with Jack's and find them pretty easy to work with. They usually run an advanced trip (on a smaller boat) to some of the more interesting spots but that being said, Kona is not really a place that you can compare to say the South Pacific, or even here in the Channel Islands. There just isn't a lot of stuff there in terms of macro lilfe like nudis at least. There are of course big stuff that you can occasionally see like turtles/dolphins/mantas/sharks but that is hit and miss like most places. It is too bad that you didn't do the night time pelagic dive where you can see some of the weirdest critters. If you ever go back dive the Naked Lady, one of the sites that does have some really nice critters, frogfish, longnose hawkfish etc.

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#5 Oceanshutter

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 05:50 PM

Steve,

Sorry about the trip. I have to say, that my wife and I totally agree with you on Kona and JAck's Dive locker. We just returned the first part of june. Kona is the worst value in diving that I have even seen. The Caribbean is much better IMO. (as you said the south pacific isn't even in the conversation in comparing) We too wanted an advanced dive so we did the 3 tank dive that Jacks offered. Again, I didn't have any problem with crew themselves. They were great. and the air fills were impressive. But the dive sites were terrible. Again, could have shore dove. But in all honesty it isn't worth the effort. The life was non existent. No fish and no coral. (although better than oahu, where the dive guide had to write my wifes name on a rock to keep us entertained.). So for $500 for me and my wife, that was the worst money ever spent on a day of diving. We did do the black night dive, which was entertaining, as we saw creatures we have never seen. You had more luck than we did on the manta dive. We did it 3 times (at the airport location) and not a single manta. 3 times!!!! I couldn't believe it. Obviously, this isn't the dive shops fault. But it added to the overall disappointing trip. So that was another $700 down the drain.

We have decided we are done with Hawaii. Horrible diving, and too damn expensive for not only diving but hotel and food. We figured we could have gone to the Philippines TWICE for the price of the kona trip. I haven't been able to figure out how a liveaboard stays in business over there. The only thing I can figure, is that people get comfortable with a location and they keep going back. And the fact that its still in the USA might be another reason people feel comfortable. We met a guy from California and he has only been diving there. We told him he doesn't know what he is missing! I don't have as much experience as you do, but of all the places I have gone, Each place was fun and exciting in its own way. I can still do 5 dives a day in the Caribbean, and suck every last breathe out of my tank and be having a good time. In fact, I've never had a dive trip where I came home saying I wouldn't go back to the destination (maybe different operator or resort) In Kona, I was counting down the psi to get the dive over with. I'm really not that negative, I just wasn't impressed.

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#6 Steve Douglas

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Posted 03 July 2011 - 01:06 PM

My problem with Jack's was only that they weren't honest and upfront about the diving we would be doing or that there would be several little kids doing their check out dives. Yes, the sites were a mixture of horrible and disappointing and , yes, we saw more just snorkeling around on our own but I must say that when my friend recovered and took us for the night manta, it was an incredible experience. I also would have loved to do the night pelagic dive but Jack's just left a bad taste in our mouths and we decided against it. If, and that's a big IF, I ever go back I would want to do the night pelagic dive and the manta dive again. A real shame though that 3 times for the mantas and you didn't see one.

I did like the Philippines at both Dumagette and Puerta Gallera but for macro, I still think Lembeh beats it all the way. I am leading a full trip to the Cocos Islands on July 29th and it will be my 12th trip there. Nothing beats it for large pelagic marine life unless you go there at the wrong time of year. It is my favorite place of all.
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#7 davephdv

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Posted 03 July 2011 - 04:04 PM

Haven't been there in over 10 years, but I have dove on two different trips with Jack's diving locker. i felt they did a good job and we went to good sites.

I was there on business. I don't believe I would go to Hawaii as a dive destination. I wonder if the quality of the spots have declined. I remember on Oahu that there was a lot of private fish collecting for personal aquariums.
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#8 Steve Douglas

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Posted 03 July 2011 - 04:16 PM

While I have not ever dove Oahu, I have been told that they are seriously trying to curtail the catching for aquariums trade. Not sure how though. A few years back we dove Kauii and Nihiou where I was able to film the monk seals. The diving was great and I got some excellent footage at the time.
I just wouldn't use Jacks at Kona if I went back to Kona.
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#9 Oceanshutter

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Posted 03 July 2011 - 08:23 PM

Talking to one of the guides. It seems kona has issues the aquarium trade as well. One day one of the guides found a garbage bag full of 500 or so yellow Tangs. Thrown away for who knows what reason.

We dove with kona honu divers and found much more down to earth and laid back. If I went again, which I wouldn't. I would go with them. The black dive and the manta dives would be the only dives that are worth it. Assuming the mantas show up.

We did dumaguete last year and loved it. And we went to anilao in march and that was the most productive trip my wife (she does photos, I do video) has had. I would love to do lembeh. Unfortunately, delta doesn't fly there (ff miles). And I rely on that to keep the trips in budget. Will be going to Palau for the second time in November. Cocos is defiantly on my list but, my wife has tough time with seasickness and have heard the ride out to cocos can be a bit rough. So that concerns me. Plus the price is pretty high. One day!

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#10 scaper

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Posted 04 July 2011 - 07:14 AM

Steve, sorry about the disappointing diving on the Big Island. I am not able to dive, but I have spent about 25 days snorkeling at various sites on the Kona coast in the last several years. I checked out someone's recent video of the Sand Chute on the Scuba board thread you started on the same topic. It looked pretty desolate and I also saw a crown of thorns starfish in that video (something I have never seen in Hawaii). Maybe that reef is getting hammered by these.

At any rate, there are many places with far greater fish numbers and diversity than I saw in that video. Things can vary from day to day, with few fish one day and tons of fish another in the same area. Two Step at the Place of Refuge is a good area for shore diving or boat dives. Wanna Dive ( http://kona-scuba-diving.blogspot.com/ ) is a small operation operated by someone who would probably be a good choice for a photographer or videographer looking for a more focused trip. Also, it looks like there is a fairly sophisticated management program for the aquarium fish harvest on the Big Island, with several long-standing protected areas and a new program in response to the bag of tangs incident mentioned above:

http://www.bigisland...st-regulations/

I think the Kona coast is a great place to explore, once you know where to go and what to look for. Having said that, if someone offered me a choice between Cocos Island and Kona or Lembeh and Kona, I would probably skip Kona. A friend of mine who has dived extensively in Hawaii, the Channel Islands, and the Caribbean ranks the Channel Islands first on his list of preferences and Hawaii last - but I know he enjoys Hawaii all the same.

I hope your upcoming trip makes up for the last one!

Cheers,

Pat

Edited by scaper, 04 July 2011 - 07:15 AM.


#11 Steve Douglas

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Posted 06 July 2011 - 02:12 PM

Thanks Pat, sometimes the bear eats you and that's what happened to us. Never the less, we did get in a couple of good dives on my friends boat once he was better. We did have one gal drop out of the Cocos trip on July 29-Aug 9th if you know of anyone, preferably a female.
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#12 derway

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Posted 07 July 2011 - 03:24 PM

Alas Jack's is a cattle boat operation, and so big, and such a huge staff, that it is entirely random who you will get for dive guides.

I've been diving kona nearly every year since my parent's had the misfortune to retire there in '93..

Dive Makai ruled. Long live the queen. (And king)

Now days, Pacific Rim is superb.
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#13 scaper

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 05:33 AM

I was scouring the web yesterday to try to get a sense of exactly how the reef populations are doing on the Kona Coast. It seems that there is a lot of conflicting information. The official harvest counts may be way low. The Aquarium collection industry says things are fine, others say that they are not adequately regulated and fish numbers are in decline. Don, what's you qualitative sense of how fish numbers are doing over the last several years?.

Pat

Edited by scaper, 08 July 2011 - 05:34 AM.


#14 jkane

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 12:05 PM

Steve, I'm sorry you missed out on the better Kona diving. I agree that the site called sand chute is boring terrain and it must be a dive that Jack's wanted to take the low experience divers to. Also too bad you ended up on such a crowded boat with varied skill levels. Jack's is a good operation and has some fine employees and management, but I think it really is necessarily geared to traveling divers of average skills. I suspect from Jack's perspective, the cautious road is the way to go when they are dealing with multiple skill levels as existed on your boat (despite your request otherwise). Anyway, you did not experience Kona diving the way many locals do. There are many good dive sites out there and while a boat is useful, it is not even necessary. On simple shore dives in the right locations many good photo subjects can occasionally be seen. To name a few: manta rays, eagle rays, various jacks, enormous tight schools of bigeye scads, pods of spinner dolphin, turtles, monk seals, a large variety of eels, butterflyfish and surgeonfish, and even tiger, hammerhead and whale sharks. With access to a boat, offshore in very clear water can be really exciting with potential for various whales (including pilot, pygmy killer, mellonhead, sperm, beaked, humpback) and oceanic white tip sharks are not rare. Are Kona reefs as prolific as reefs in the tropical western Pacific and Indian Oceans? No, they're very different, and you probably knew that beforehand. But is Kona diving represented by what you saw in a couple dives on a tourist boat? No, of course not. It's too bad that your buddy here got sick and that you didn't have more time to see the real Kona diving. I understand that most of your report involved business aspects, but I did want to mention a little about diving here.

Aloha

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#15 tie

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 01:28 PM

Your expectations may have betrayed you. If you want to find turtles out of Honokohau, you really have to ask the captain to go to one particular cleaning station, as you usually won't see them elsewhere. You'll find many more turtles snorkeling almost anywhere, e.g., at Kahalu'u or Two-step or... Mantas during the day are not very common; with a week of diving you might see one but just as a fly-by, not great for photography. You can dive with dolphins, but you need to go to the right spot and they need to be there---snorkeling with them is more fun, anyway. If, as you say, you weren't willing to look into holes, then yes you aren't going to see too much on a typical day dive. There is a lot of cool stuff there if you look for it. As to schools of fish in the open, I also think that the aquarium trade has been hitting some areas hard, sadly.

I've only dived with Jack's on the black-water dive (well worth it) and once on a day dive, so can't say much about their typical service. I don't think their snacks are supposed to be lunch, though maybe with the crowd your boat went out much later.

#16 Steve Douglas

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 04:09 PM

Steve, I understand that most of your report involved business aspects, but I did want to mention a little about diving here.

Aloha

Jerry


Hey Jerry,
I am positive that Kona diving has much to offer and do hope to go there again one day. Not soured on diving there, just didn't have the best experience. That's how we learn...and never stop learning.
Steve
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#17 gina

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 05:32 PM

Steve,

I'm sorry you had such a bad experience with Jack's Diving Locker, but I can certainly sympathize. I dove with them once, in 2006, at the recommendation of our local (San Francisco) dive shop. I was an experienced diver, bringing a group of newly-certified friends to Hawaii for their first dive trip.

When we arrived at the shop and the person at the counter saw that I was certified as a divemaster I was immediately offered a job there. At the time I laughed it off as a joke, but in hindsight this may have been how their other divemasters were hired; one of our guides was a teenage college girl who had just learned to swim the previous summer. After checking in for our reservations they sent us around back to organize our gear and load it onto the truck (for some dives the shop shuttles you from the store to the pier, where there is no parking). My husband and I own all our own gear and needed only tanks and weights. On every dive trip I've been on, I've carried my gear bags onto the boat, but Jack's wouldn't let us take our own bags aboard; they made us unpack everything into their own, numbered bags. We later discovered that other people were allowed to bring their own bags aboard, so this was disconcerting.

It was soon clear that Jack's is a cattle boat operation, that they are used to inexperienced divers and they treat everyone as such. It took a half-hour for the gear and passengers to be loaded up in the trucks and ready to drive to the pier to meet the boat. Once at the pier, all the gear was moved onto the boats and another half-hour was wasted as the crew set up the divers' gear. Only after that was done did the boat captain give the required Coast Guard briefing and let the passengers board. I've never been on any boat before where a) the gear was set up before the boat ever left the dock, or b) divers were discouraged from setting up their gear.

We told the crew from the start that we wanted to set up all of our own gear, period. Even after saying this we had to constantly be vigilant or the crew would start grabbing our gear and moving things around. I was unable to touch my own gear without one or more members of the crew watching, and one crew member verbally criticized me.

Our guide for the first two dives was the aforementioned girl who was not yet old enough to drink, yet made condescending comments towards us. On the dives she would swim out in front of the group; I saw her stop and look back for stragglers two or three times total. At one point she was trying to convince the six divers following her to enter a dark cavern without lights, despite the shallow depth, the cavern ceiling, and the surge that was moving us all about.

Our guide for the second two dives was a middle-aged man who several times picked up coral-covered rocks and moved them around, looking for critters. He had no objection to grabbing creatures and bringing them to other divers, ostensibly to impress them.

When our dives were over, the crew made a production of "washing" the gear by briefly dipping things in a freshwater rinse bucket, then creating one large pile of gear on the boat deck. Much confusion ensued as people attempted to find their own gear, then find their numbered gear bags, all of which look alike. All of this was done before the boat ever pulled anchor to leave the dive site, wasting yet another half-hour.

When hiring a company for boat dives, I expect to be taken to good sites that cannot be reached from shore. However, all our dives were made just yards from shore, two of the three trips we made were just minutes from the harbor, and half of those dives were literally around the corner from the dock to a site we could have easily walked to.

In addition, the standard tanks given to divers were only 72 cu ft. When paying so much for dives I want the most bottom time possible, and we did not get that with Jack's.

Needless to say, I will never dive with Jack's again, and I will recommend people do not use them.

-Gina

#18 scuba e

scuba e

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 05:52 PM

That sure hits home.
a Few years back my wife was visiting family that lived on Kona. I was still teaching at that time and this was her first trip without me. She relied on me completely for a referral. Jack's was the only one with a positive response.
After a few days of family time she set up a trip with Jacks. Again, as others have mentioned, very nice and helpful up front. The next day she was treated to a slew of students. No problem, we all learn at one point. The problems began on the dives. I had warned her that report on sealife were bleak so that was ok. But she was diving solo for the first time and the DM's seamed to have more interest with playing with each other and showing off for the students than actually looking over their assigned dive buddies. After 30 minutes of sitting outside the group and looking at dead coral she surfaced and waited for the DM to come on board. She was going to bite her tongue but when he abusively as why she did not stay with her buddy and where did she go she responded " I saw you the whole time. Did you enjoying fucking around with your boyfriend down there?". This obviously raised the attention of the students.
My wife is very cautious. She opted out of the second dive. She left without conflict or comment and called me that night very angry. Though she enjoyed the remainder of her trip with family she will never dive Kona again.

#19 Steve Douglas

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Posted 24 July 2011 - 05:20 PM

Please do not misunderstand my report....it was never critical of Kona diving as I am positive there are some wonderful places to dive. My report was only negative regarding Jack's Diving Locker, their misinformation and lack of concern for the more experienced diver. I'm sure their students love them. All the little kids on boards seemed to be having a blast, if I were 11, I am sure I would have had fun too.

I would dive Kona again, but be far more cautious and inquisitive regarding who I was diving with and to the type of sites we dove.
Steve
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I have worked as an unpaid reviewer for the editing websites since 2002. Most all hardware and software is sent to me free of charge, however, in no way am I obligated to provide either positive or negative evaluations. Any suggestions I make regarding products are a result of my own, completely, personal opinions and experiences with said products.

#20 UWphotoNewbie

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Posted 06 June 2013 - 02:07 PM

Who do you recommend for diving in Kona?  I have about 100 dives and padi advanced. I don't need a personalized experience just a competent crew that will pair me up with a buddy and let me dive with a DSLR. 


UWPhotoNewbie: Not such a newbie to diving and UW photography.

Nikon D70: 60 mm, 11-16mm, 105mm, 15mm, 10.5mm

Ikelite iTTL Housing, dual Ikelite DS125

Nikon D600 topside 14-24, 28-300, 70-200, 35,50,85