Written by: Kharin Gibson | Photography by: D.J. Struntz and Jonathan C. Ward
Whether you are a resident or visitor to the Cape Fear region, there is a commonality that is shared. It’s in the appreciation of our coastline, and it exists in the rolling waves of the Atlantic, the lulling whisper of the ocean air, and the powdery soft sand of our beaches. And for those with unstifled curiosity, this lure doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. There is an enticing world below the ocean’s surface beckoning divers to experience the majesty and grandeur within the silent depths of our ocean floor.
In a recent Readers Choice Awards poll conducted by Scuba Diving magazine, North Carolina’s coast ranked as one of the “Five Best Places for Advanced Scuba Diving in North America for 2017”. That sentiment is echoed by two gentleman with the experience and passion for what lies beneath. Owners and operators of Wrightsville Beach Diving, Brett Garner and Chris Slog, agree that the North Carolina coastline can be considered a formidable contender to some of the best dive spots worldwide.
“The diving is so amazing,” says Slog, “North Carolina has one of the richest ecosystems for marine life, you get the Gulf Stream coming up from the south and the Labrador coming down from the north, and we just get this amazing mix of species.” He points out that divers have the opportunity to see an array of marine life ranging from the tropical fish that you’d typically see in the Caribbean to bigger animals like sharks and manta rays.
Garner and Slog, feel that there is a diversity in our coastal waters make this area a notable diving destination. The two have worked in the diving industry for some time and have been diving our area for many years. Together, the two formed Wrightsville Beach Diving earlier this year which runs fully custom dive charters ranging from beginner to advanced technical dives.
With North Carolina being considered the Graveyard of the Atlantic, our coastline is littered with thousands of shipwrecks. The ocean bottom holds the remnants of wrecked vessels dating back centuries. Whether from cannonball or torpedo or from inclement weather to improper navigation, our waters harbor a treasure trove for exploration.
Wrightsville Beach Diving offers different levels of wreck diving where divers can experience the swirling, darting, and fanciful negotiation of an underwater community. “The Hyde and Markham are some of our most popular wrecks here, they are artificial reefs with 300 foot-long ships that attract so much life,” says Slog. In the summertime these wrecks are home to the docile sand tiger sharks. These two wrecks are in relatively shallow waters and are good experiences for a beginning divers.
More advanced dives are available as Garner and Slog can customize any dive, depending on the customer’s desire. Slog assures that, “We have something for everybody. We are focused on the diver experience.” One of their most popular dives includes the search for Megalodon teeth, the fossilized tooth remains of prehistoric sharks.
“It’s all about finding the right spot,” says Slog. They seem to be concentrated in small patches and both Garner and Slog are diligent in finding sites where their dive customers are almost assured on finding one. Slog explains that there is skill involved in finding the teeth, but it’s also a lot of luck. On a typical two-tank dive, most people are successful in finding a tooth. “The goal is that hopefully everyone walks away with a tooth that they found on their own,” says Garner.
Slog’s girlfriend runs a coffee shop in Wrightsville Beach called The Workshop which also doubles as a fossil gallery for some of the Megalodon teeth they have found. The teeth are on display and for sale. Some have been fashioned into jewelry. “We have people come from all over the world that come to dive just for the Meg teeth,” says Slog.
Wrightsville Beach Diving offers an array of other adventures. If spearfishing is of interest, Garner and Slog are astute in finding the ledges where fish aggregate. “With spearfishing, we are taking our customers out to where we would personally go to dive”, we’re not going to the same spots that everyone goes to. We like to give them the best experience we possibly can” says Slog.
For anyone with courage enough the brave the night ocean, Wrightsville Beach Diving offers night dives. The pair explain that during a night dive the underwater surroundings change completely. The day fish are gone and a whole new set of species emerge. You may see squid, octopus, and moray eels as the nighttime marine life becomes more active.
If you’re into extreme sports, coupled with the experience of enjoying aquatic life, then free diving may be your thing. The group offers free diving expeditions which entail diving to depths on a single breath, without the aid of a tank or snorkel. “Free diving is a sport that is becoming more and more popular. It is an emerging sport in this area and we are catering to this now,” shares Slog.
Whichever type of dive you prefer, the biggest appeal of diving with Wrightsville Beach Diving is that Garner and Slog are committed to assuring divers enjoy the experience. Through their customized approach and limited group size, divers get more personalized attention. Their charters generally have no more than six divers in a group, with no fewer than four. After years of experience, the two have found the sweet spot for full diving enjoyment. “Small groups feel part of the action, they become involved in the trip.” says Slog. This formula seems to be working well for the pair as they are already seeing many repeat customers. And, that’s the best compliment any business can get.