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When it comes to carving pumpkins underwater, bigger is not better

For some divers, getting the pumpkin to sink is the hardest part of carving a jack-o’-lantern under the waves.

Carving a Halloween jack-o’-lantern is a messy business.

But what if you could take care of the whole thing underwater?

No muss no fuss — and a bonus meal of pumpkin guts for marine creatures.

That was the scene off Ocean Boulevard at Esquimalt Lagoon Sunday, as about a dozen people took part in an underwater pumpkin-carving event.

Monika Williams, a manager at Wilson Diving, which hosted the event — now in its 22nd year — said there are several rules to underwater pumpkin carving.

Each diver gets one pumpkin, which has to be pristine before it touches the water.

No pre-carving, punctures or sketches are allowed, but divers are permitted to use any tool they can bring into the water.

Divers have to descend about 10 to 15 feet to the sea floor, where they have the extra challenge of keeping the pumpkins from shooting to the surface while they’re carving. Snorkellers, meanwhile, do their carving while floating, which poses its own challenges.

Any mess is taken care of by local wildlife.

“Pumpkins are awesome fish food,” Williams said. “I’ve seen seals come in and eat them in past years, too.”

On Sunday, first-time carvers Victor Gross and Joshua Chambers surfaced with their creations after about 25 minutes. Gross carved his pumpkin — which he named Felix — with a dollar-store knife.

Chambers used a slightly more expensive dive knife, and said getting it down was the hardest part.

“It just wanted to float away,” Chambers said, adding that a wide cut to the back of the pumpkin helped reduce the buoyancy so that he could descend underwater and start carving.

The two hadn’t attended the event before but it’s well-known in the local diving community, said Wilson Diving owner Chris Blondeau, who had a few tips for newcomers.

For starters, he said, “Don’t take too big a pumpkin.

“This is one of those times where smaller is better,” he said with a grin.

It’s often helpful to bring some ballast to help combat the natural buoyancy of the pumpkin as well, he said.

Entry to the event is by donation, and the proceeds, which are matched by Wilson Diving, go to a non-profit in wildlife or marine conservation, he said. This year, it’s the B.C. SPCA Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre in Metchosin.

The carver of the best pumpkin, as well as the diver in the best costume — typically worn over a wetsuit while carving underwater — win prizes from the dive shop.

The underwater pumpkin carving experience is offered all around the world and Wilson Diving has been running a Halloween carving event in the capital region for the past 21 years.

A diving association even offers certifications for the practice, though Williams agrees that one can jump in the water and join in without formal training in underwater pumpkin carving — although you do need to know how to dive.

There are divemasters in the water supervising the event, and ­oxygen and first aid kits are at the ready.

mjlo@timescolonist.com

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