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Chilly water a cross to bear

By ELENA LESLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published January 5, 2008


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TARPON SPRINGS

Demetri Halkias' dad had a creative idea for acclimating his son to Spring Bayou's chilly waters: He threw him in his grandma's pool.

"I was fully clothed," said Halkias, 16, who will dive for the Epiphany cross for the first time Sunday. "What if I'd had my cell phone on me?"

But considering the cool temperatures in Tampa Bay this week, Halkias' dad might have had the right idea. Diving for the sacred cross always induces shivers, a gaggle of teenage boys said Friday as they readied boats for Sunday's big event.

"It's windy while you're waiting on the boat," said Thanasi Poulakidas, 17, who is diving for the second time. "The water's a shock. It's chilly when you're walking around afterward, looking for your car."

And while the boys hope the temperature warms up before Sunday, they're confident holy guidance - or at least adrenaline - will lead one of them to the submerged cross.

"It's divine intervention," said Savas Amorginos, 19, explaining the futility of preparing for the dive.

But that doesn't stop people from trying. The boys went over different advantages and handicaps, as well as timing and placement strategies as they waited at Craig Park Friday for water to drain from the hulls of the boats that will be used during the ceremony.

A group of 60 will vie for the cross this year, and the boy who retrieves it will receive a special blessing.

"You've got to swan dive and get the hell away from that edge," Poulakidas said, counseling first-time divers on their initial plunge from the steps into the water. "Everyone's coming in after you."

Boat selection can be crucial. Poulakidas explained that the front right two boats are the most desirable because the archbishop "doesn't throw very far."

Older divers have the best chance of securing a prime boat spot because they jump first from the steps.

Still, there are ways to compensate.

"You can get a big leap," said Alec Konstantin, 16, referencing the win two years ago of Jack Vasilaros, a small and young diver who ended up in a boat that overturned.

"That kid swam like a fish," Amorginos said.

Or maybe he was just chosen.

"If God wants you to get it," said Christopher Nicholas, 17, "you'll get it."

Elena Lesley can be reached at elesley@sptimes.com or 727 445-4167.

[Last modified January 4, 2008, 21:07:50]


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