Deep Dives & Deadheads: The Grateful Dead's Connection to Scuba Diving

Deep Dives & Deadheads: The Grateful Dead's Connection to Scuba Diving

The Grateful Dead debuted as a band in 1965 and since then, the world has never been the same. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. But the music world has certainly never been the same. Ask any Deadhead. The band had a colorful (some may say psychedelic) history throughout the 1970s as they experimented with sounds, visuals, and members. Then, throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, fans tapped into the creative energy of the Grateful Dead…and turned it into a universe. 

Grateful Diver wouldn’t be here today without the founding members of the Grateful Dead—Jerry Garcia (lead guitar, vocals), Bob Weir (rhythm guitar, vocals), and Bill Kreutzmann (drums). The late Jerry Garcia found scuba diving during the last decade of his life as he became fascinated with the underwater world off the shores of Hawaii. He was even a regular diver with our friends over at Jack’s Diving Locker in Kona, completing up to 300 dives with them! 

Here’s more background on the Grateful Dead and their connection to scuba diving and marine conservation.

Discovering A Passion For Scuba Diving 

The path to becoming a rockstar is never a straight one. And when you’re finally at the top—touring the country and selling out arenas—it can take its toll on you. After the Grateful Dead’s 1986 summer shows, Garcia passed out at his home in California and slipped into a diabetic coma for a few days. Doctors weren’t sure how he would recover, let alone, if he would ever play the guitar again.

Garcia beat the odds and made a full recovery, understanding that he needed to make some lifestyle changes so that he could enjoy the rest of his life. After all, he was only 44 years old. In the late 1980s, he traveled to Hawaii to find peace—peace with himself and peace with nature. While he was there, Garcia was introduced to scuba diving by his friend Vicki Jensen…opening up a whole new world. And lifestyle.  

“I like the water. I like the way it feels. I like slipping around in it,” Garcia shared with the LA Times in 1990. “I feel like a fish. It’s sort of like having an infinite aquarium to swim around in.”

And a fish, he was. Garcia instantly fell in love with the sport and began diving with Jack’s Diving Locker off the coast of Kona. In videos of Garcia underwater, you have to admit—he looks more graceful than the Little Mermaid. He even set a record (at the time) at Jack’s Diving Locker by staying under for 109 minutes on one tank of airan impressive feat for someone who was overweight and suffered from a coma. 

"I can’t do exercise," he told Rolling Stone in a 1991 interview. "I can’t jog. I can’t ride a bicycle. I can’t do any of that shit. And at this stage of my life, I have to do something that’s kind of healthy." 

While Garcia's involvement in scuba diving may not have been extensively documented, it was clear that this time of his life was a rebirth. Later on, Kreutzmann joined him as a dive partner, and Weir also got scuba certified…making it one big Grateful Dead diving experience.

Contributing To Ocean Conservation Efforts

We know all too well that tour and fishing boats can be disruptive to the marine environment. In the 1980s, boats were dropping anchor onto the coral reefs and damaging them…with or without knowing it. At the time, the Kona Coast didn’t have a mooring system in place to prevent this type of destruction. As Garcia became passionate about Kona diving, he testified at a Hawaii hearing in support of a mooring buoy project.

“I dive the reefs off the Kona Coast and I see the damage that anchors can cause...some of the coral is so fragile that if you touch it, it breaks...The only point of view that I have, is the point of view of any other citizen of the United States. And I think you can do yourselves a favor and make Hawaii look good and just approve this thing,” Garcia said at the Board of Land & Resources Penalty Hearing on Day Use Moorings in Hawaii in 1990.

When the project was approved, the Grateful Dead made a sizable contribution to mooring buoy installation off the Kona Coast. 

“The rainforest and other environmental concerns are something we [Grateful Dead] can all relate to; we all have kids, and we all live in this world,” said Garcia in a video interview. “We have a non-profit organization that’s designed to aid virtually any good works—anything from education to the environment. We are concerned about the survival of the coral and the habitat around here, so we’ll do whatever we can.”

And it wasn’t just Garcia who was inspired by the underwater world. Kreutzman was later inspired to transform his underwater experience into art…including the design of the Grateful Diver logo in 1995! He granted Coral Forest (now Reef Relief), a nonprofit coral reef conservation organization, the rights to use the logo for marine conservation fundraising initiatives. Weir was a member of the Coral Forest board of directors.

Continuing A Legacy

group of people hugging

The logo and respective marine conservation fundraising initiatives live on today with Grateful Diver—connecting Deadheads, divers, and conservationists from around the world. As you get on the water to find your solace, just as Garcia did in the 1980s, make sure you’re protected against the elements with neck gaiters, UV shirts, hats, and more. A portion of each purchase goes to Reef Relief's efforts to save the coral reef…coming full circle on a long, strange trip. 

Be sure to stop by the annual Jerry Garcia Birthday Bash on August 1, 2023 at The Green Parrot in Key West! For more details about the event, follow us on Facebook or Instagram

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