has performed the drill thousands of times in his
31 years as a dive instructor, but it hasn't become so automatic that he
neglects to cover all the things that every diver needs to know and prepare for before they embark into the waterworld.The ritual, as he
continues instructing the assembled group on buoyancy rates and underwater currents, serves another purpose which inevitably reveals itself as the group, especially a large one like this (today there's 10, the maximum allowed) arrives at the reef.
Since the Californian first breathed off a regulator underwater at age 17 back in 1955, French
has seen and done just about anything one human being can in scuba diving.Youthful and trim at 58, with barely a fleck of grey in his
longish hair, he
still does about 400 dives per year.He
done about 15,000 dives over 40 years.At an average of about 45 minutes each, French
has breathed underwater longer than a baby normally does for the first year and three months of its life.His
career has taken him all over the globe and he's
pioneered a number of sites that have since become the "hot spots" an every diver's wish list.
...Along with longtime friend and diver Al Giddings, French established his first dive operation at Marin County in Northern California known as the Bamboo Reef Dive Shop in the early '60s.
What started out as a taste for adventure snowballed into a small global enterprise as French
owed as many as eight businesses during the peak of all this activity by the early '70s.
Near fatal encounter
But all that diving was not without its share of risks and French
almost met his
end early in his
career when he
experienced every diver's and ocean goer's worst nightmare - an attack from the most formidable killer patrolling the seas: A Great White Shark.The attack occurred off the coast of San Francisco near the Farallon Islands in 1962 when French
was only 24.Miraculously he's
lived to tell about it but the attack was severe, requiring nearly 360 stitches to sew up the damage inflicted to big torso, wrist and calf.He
spent a year in and out of hospitals and though the wounds have more or less healed, the incident remains indelibly impressed on his
memory some 34 years later as he
brush with death."He
bit me three times.He
grabbed me by the mid-section and took a piece out of my hip, came back and grabbed me by the forearm and cut all the tendons in my hand.Then he
came back and grabbed me by the calf and took a piece out of that," he
recalls somewhat shakily of the ferocious attack by the 16-foot, three-quarter ton Great White."Fortunately he
let go after that for some reason."
It wasn't until a couple of years later that French
re-entered the water with the help from his
older brother Jim, also a diver, who guided LeRoy back into the environment he
so loved. .
"I must say that first trip out was a little frightening, but it was probably the best therapy I could have had because I didn't want to give it up but on the other hand I was very apprehensive," he
remembers."From that point on I was back in the water again."
For most divers, such a life-threatening experience would have cut short their diving aspirations but French
refused to give in to fear.In fact, the legacy of the attack will be re-lived in his
own words as he's
just completed a contribution called "In The Jaws Of Death" for an upcoming book on such deadly incidents entitled 'Great Shark Tales' to be published later this year.
In the years following the attack, French
dive businesses in earnest and continued his
Began dive operation St Maarten Eventually he found his way to the Caribbean and established Grenada Divers in 1972 on Grenada, where he remained for eight years before he was lured to St. Maarten in the early '80s.
Dominique and LeRoy French
provide a wealth of diving experience at The Ocean Explorers Dive Center
...LeRoy is her teacher.
"1t's a whole new world down there," she
says with a wide grin."It's so beautiful and all you have to do is relax and breathe," she
says, not noticing she
borrowed the very phrase French used in the prep speech.
French notices me talking with the new diver."Anotherlove affair with the ocean in the making?"I offer.He