Tom Carter enjoys nothing more than the calm waters of Lake Tahoe - just after the sun comes up. It is the best time of day for the 61-year-old stand-up paddle boarder. "It's tranquil," he says. The water is so still this time of day that he can see dozens of feet below; a beautiful sight, until something caught his eye. "A tire. It was like a speed bump and you go like, that shouldn't be there!"
Tom studied its position and thought, "Oh, that's close enough. I'm going to get that!" Ever since his first retrieval last summer, Tom has been on a mission to pull dozens of tires out of the lake. Not all are easy to collect though. "Some will totally be filled with soot and rocks, because they've been down there for maybe 50 years or more."
Tom works at Waterman's Landing in Carnelian Bay. His job is to rent out recreational equipment lake-goers and he also offers lessons for aspiring kayakers and stand-up paddlers. He knows a lot about this part of Lake Tahoe and says this area served as a transportation hub for boats many years ago. Back in the day, he says, tires served as bumpers on piers. "So, it didn't mar the boats up. And when those piers were taken out by storms, they truly flotsam and jetsam right there on the water and sank." Although, he says, we cannot judge yesterday by today's standards, he is diving in head first to fix the problem.
Over the last two summers, Tom has collected 40 tires from the bottom of the lake. On average, he dives between 20 and 30 feet, with nothing more than a lung full of air. "I've let go of the tires before when I've gone, 'uh, I'm still like 10 feet below the surface.'" Eventually, however, he swims them all up to the top, throws them on his board and paddles back to shore. "It's like they're my trophy tires, right?!" He is not finished yet. "I have them mapped out. I know there's two more here and there are a couple over by Rocky Point. He needs your help finding more. If you spot a tire while you are out on the lake, contact Tom at Waterman's Landing at (530) 546-3590.
As for what happens to his trophy tires, Tom has teamed up with Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal to recycle them.
Written by Kristen Remington