Everything You Need to Know About Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contests
Every October, PADI dive resorts and scuba clubs take a beloved Halloween tradition underwater — pumpkin carving contests! After participating in several of these over the years, here are my tips and tricks to nail underwater carving on your first try.
Tiffany Duong / Ocean Rebels
Use a dive weight inside a gutted pumpkin to keep it from floating away while you carve it underwater.
First thing’s first — choose the right pumpkin. Choose a “carving pumpkin” not a “pie pumpkin,” which is thinner and easier to saw into, according to the Kitchn. Make sure the one you choose is big enough to carve but still small enough for a single diver to manage underwater.
Next, prep your pumpkin. I recommend cutting the top open and pre-gutting your pumpkin on land. This saves precious time underwater when you’re focused on carving. If contest rules don’t allow for pre-gutting, make at least one cut to let trapped air out. This will help with your descent. (If you’re running an event, consider providing pre-gutted pumpkins for your divers.)
When you’re ready to go underwater, leave the pumpkin top onboard so it doesn’t float away. If you’re backrolling or taking a giant stride off a boat, do that first and then have someone hand your pumpkin to you.
Most importantly, remember that pumpkins float and are hard to get down to the seafloor. Put lead dive weight inside your pre-gutted pumpkin. Be aware of this extra weight and account for it in your dive plan.
When you surface, hand the weighted pumpkin back to a crew member or dive buddy before attempting to ascend a dive ladder.
Tools You’ll Need
Depending on contest rules, the tools you use will vary. Personally, I love using only my dive knife because this forces me to be more creative. Of course, traditional pumpkin carving tools also work and are great for small details. These tend to be tiny, however, so secure them in a pocket or add ties to them so they don’t float away.
Finally, get creative! One year, a mother-daughter dive duo at a contest I attended deconstructed their pumpkin hull into two eels swimming towards each other in front of a carved heart. The eel bodies were held up with bamboo skewers that the divers brought down with them. An underwater light placed behind the carvings lit the entire thing up! I happily took second place to them with my eagle ray carving.
Design and Carving Tips
Make life easier by drawing your design onto your pumpkin before going underwater. Use a sharpie and thick lines for better visibility underwater.
Now, for carving. If your dive site has a sandy patch and you won’t harm delicate seafloor ecosystems, consider kneeling or adding a little extra weight to your dive kit. This will help stabilize you so you can better focus on carving and not become task-loaded. From my experience, it's easiest to start with smaller details and cuts towards the center of the design, working your way to the bigger sections.
Tiffany Duong / Ocean Rebels
JD Reinbott hugs his octopus-carved pumpkin as he ascends.
As always, be careful with your knives and put tools away when not in use. Stow all knives before descending and ascending.
Most importantly, don’t forget to monitor your air supply, depth and surroundings—often. It’s easy to get hyper-focused on fun tasks, but you don’t want to be caught low on air.
Take a mesh bag down with you to collect big pumpkin scraps, especially if you are gutting your pumpkins underwater, to minimize how much pumpkin is left behind.
Local fish will come by as you carve and some guts escape. They’re curious but don’t tend to like the taste of pumpkin. If you are crew, let clients know this will happen and not to be startled.
Tips For Hosting Your Own Contest
If you’re hosting your own underwater carving contest, consider:
- Pre-buying and pre-gutting the pumpkins.
- Set the rules: Will it be dive knives only or are specialty carving tools allowed? Will divers carve for one dive or two? What cool prizes can you offer?
- Having your captain and crew judge the contest.
- A theme like conservation or ocean animals.
Whatever your contest looks like in the end, take lots of pictures and videos, and tag @ScubaDivingMag or using the #ScubaDivingMag when sharing the fun online so divers around the world can join the fun!