Compared to other outdoor sports, scuba diving is easy. It is safer than sky diving, warmer than snow skiing and less strenuous than tennis. Diving requires less practice (and less frustration) than golf, less training than flying a plane and is less expensive than buying a sailboat. And, scuba is more fun than all the rest put together. It is one of the few physical activities where you can burn calories and not sweat.
Practically anyone can learn to dive – teenagers, young adults or senior citizens. Diving can be a gentle sport, enjoyed by both men and women. Millions of people have learned to dive and pursue this activity on a year-round basis. For some it becomes an all-consuming passion – the purpose for weekend trips or offshore vacations.
The point is, you can do it. It is not difficult to learn, you don’t have to go through a lot of red tape and you can enjoy the learning experience. And, you can start today.
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DIVING IS EASY TO LEARN
Learning to dive is relatively easy and can be a lot of fun while you are learning. It does not take very long, as most of the training is simply a matter of learning the basic “rules of the road” – much like driving a car.
Personal requirements are minimal. You should be in good health and in at least average physical condition. As for swimming skills, you should be able to stay afloat and swim the length of a pool. Most of all, you should feel at ease in the water. Even poor swimmers improve their water skills as their desire to explore the undersea world grows.
You should not be afraid to try this new sport. It does not require great strength, like weightlifting. There is no need for superior eye/hand coordination, as with video games. And, you don’t need the physical endurance of competitive swimming. Scuba diving is much more of a gentle sport, to be enjoyed by anyone and everyone from age 12 and over.
Scuba course training is a progressive learning experience. Prior to getting into the water, you receive classroom or poolside discussions – usually in small groups so everyone has an opportunity to ask questions and review key points about equipment and basic skills.
The in-water training is generally taken in three stages: 1) swimming pool introduction; 2) shallow open water experience; and 3) medium depth reef or wreck experience. It often begins with swimming pool introduction, a totally safe environment where you can stand up or come to the side of the pool to ask a question.
The next phase is open water training in a protected or confined area, where the depth is very shallow. In some cases, you can stand up to discuss skills or ask questions as the training is in progress. It is during the shallow water experience that you first become aware of the underwater environment surrounding you. The scuba instructor teaches you how to achieve neutral buoyancy (total weightlessness), what not to touch, where to place your hands and so on.
The final phase of basic training is a true open water dive on a shallow to medium depth reef, shipwreck or other site. The instructor conducts a pre-dive orientation of what you can expect to see, where you will be going and when you will be coming up. Now, you have a chance to perform all of your newly learned scuba skills while enjoying the undersea world around you.
WHERE DO YOU LEARN?
You can learn to dive in your own home town or on a vacation trip to a tropical island or area such as Florida. For some scuba courses, it can be a combination of both.
To learn to dive in your home area, you can check your local telephone yellow pages or contact one of the national training/certification agencies listed in our sidebar. There are 1,200 to 1,500 retail dive stores spread across the United States. In fact, there may be one or more in your neighborhood.
These dive centers do more than just sell dive equipment. Most of them conduct basic scuba training courses and provide certification (a card and certificate) at the conclusion of the program. Courses can range in length from five to eight weeks and the training is conducted at either the store pool or a nearby facility such as the YMCA, high school, college or community pool.
As for learning to dive on a vacation trip, more than 700 dive operators and island resorts now offer scuba courses throughout Florida, The Bahamas, Caribbean islands, Hawaii and other Pacific islands. These classes are conducted by certified scuba instructors and classes start every week.
What sort of scuba course is right for you? It is a matter of personal preference and budget. Scuba training has become standardized and there is a high level of competence and safety among all of the training associations and their instructor members.
You have a choice of four options:
1) Enroll in a basic open water scuba course offered by the dive store in your home area and complete the open water experience in local waters (lake, seashore, quarry, etc.).
2) Enroll in a short, introductory resort course that may be offered at the vacation island or area you plan to visit. These programs are “sampler” offerings where you learn the basics in one day and make a shallow water dive under close supervision.
3) Enroll in a full certification vacation, where you learn the complete basic scuba course in one week and become fully certified as an open water diver.
4) Enroll in a combo “home and away” scuba course, where you receive your classroom work and pool training from a home area dive store – and then go on your vacation trip where you receive the remainder of your open water training and become fully certified.
There are, of course, many variations of the four basic options but the results are the same. You learn to dive and have a lot of fun doing it.
There is one important point worth mentioning: While scuba diving is easy to learn, training and certification are necessary to ensure your personal safety. It is very much like learning to drive an automobile in order to obtain a driver’s license. In diving, the “driver’s license” is your scuba certification card. This is an industry wide standard to prevent accidents. Without a certification card, it is virtually impossible to obtain an airfill (for the scuba tank), rent scuba equipment or go out on a dive boat.
WHAT CAN YOU DO UNDERWATER?
At first, the exhilarating feeling of weightlessness and three dimensional mobility is enjoyment enough. Some people never get over this incredible feeling and just keep on diving for diving itself. You never feel heavy or clumsy. In fact, you feel capable of super human feats, such as leaping over tall rocks or flying through space.
As soon as you adjust your weightbelt for neutral buoyancy, you can achieve total weightlessness and feel as if you are drifting outside the Space Shuttle. That is why NASA uses scuba diving to train all its astronauts. This sensation is indescribable but, once you have done it, you will never forget the experience. It is absolutely wonderful!
But there is much more to scuba diving than drifting through innerspace. The underwater world is a marvelous part of nature that most land-bound people never experience.
Scuba diving is much like walking through a great forest while observing many beautiful and friendly creatures. The coral reefs are miniature worlds occupied by a whole city of animals.
There are vast stretches of sand bottoms resembling underwater deserts. At first glance, they seem vacant but upon closer examination you find many unique creatures that have made the sand their homes or hunting grounds.
There are vertical cliffs that can carry you to the depths while you enjoy the fabulous marine life that grows on the face of these remarkable formations.
Scuba diving offers you a passport to nature’s last untamed frontier, where mankind has yet to erect houses, factories or roads. There is no traffic congestion underwater.
Once you have obtained your underwater driver’s license (certification card), you will find scuba equipment is really the vehicle that can take you where you want to go and allow you to engage in a variety of different undersea activities. The number of things you can do underwater is endless, ranging from shipwreck exploration to fishwatching. Here is a sampling of some of the most popular U/W activities.
REEF EXPLORATION: Most divers spend a good part of their time underwater just exploring the reef or dive site they are visiting. They move along the bottom slowly, checking into the small nooks and crannies of the reef to behold hidden treasures such as a nesting octopus, a fish being serviced by cleaner shrimp, an odd shaped sponge and 1,000 other points of interest. Almost 80 percent of all diving is devoted to this type of activity.
NIGHT DIVING: The second most popular scuba activity is night diving – revisiting the same reef you explored during daylight hours. When the sun goes down, the reef inhabitants change places. Most of the fish you saw during daylight hours are now asleep in crevices, small caves and other protected areas. The fish that were hiding inside the reef during the day are now out hunting for food. Much of the nighttime marine life is exceptionally colorful and fascinating to watch.
WRECK DIVING: The third most popular activity is exploration of sunken ships – mostly modern day vessels constructed of steel or other metal. Sunken ships are reborn as artificial reefs, often attracting great quantities of fish and other small creatures that make the wreck their new home. Sunken ships are a haven for nesting and raising young fish, as they provide protection from numerous predators.
WALL DIVING: Another rapidly growing interest is wall diving, exploring the vertical coral drop-offs that surround many warm water islands and reefs. Wall diving provides a special exhilaration, much like freefall sky diving. The faces of these vertical formations are often adorned with colorful sponges, giant seafans and Black Coral.
UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY: More than one-half of all certified scuba divers are engaged in underwater photography; capturing on film what they see underwater. It is one way to share the beauty and excitement of diving with friends, neighbors and family members who do not dive.
UNDERWATER VIDEO: Another rapidly growing diving activity is underwater video – a motion picture version of underwater photography. Now, you can take your favorite camcorder below the surface to film the odd things fish do as well as document your very own undersea exploits.
BEGIN THE ADVENTURE
Since the dawn of civilization, mankind has retained an inexplicable desire to go into the sea. We seem drawn to it – either from curiosity or a primitive urge to explore. Books, movies and television specials only serve to fuel our imagination with dreams of new discoveries and adventurous encounters.
It does not have to be a dream. You can go beneath the sea and share in the ultimate adventure. Start now by enrolling in a scuba diving course.
Scuba diving will have a profound effect on how you see the world we live in. The earth is covered with almost 75 percent water. See what lives in the other three-quarters!
If you are planning to enroll in a scuba course, bring along a friend or family member to learn with you. The first rule of scuba diving is:
Always dive with a buddy.
Having a close friend or family member who can share your diving adventures ensures you will always have a special dive buddy.
Glossary of SCUBA TERMS
SCUBA – Acronym for Self-Contained U/W Breathing Apparatus.
Scuba tank – Aluminum or steel cylinder that contains filtered, high pressure compressed air for breathing underwater.
Tank valve – On/off valve on top of tank.
Regulator – A device that reduces the high pressure (in two stages) to a very slight pressure that the scuba diver can breathe.
Pressure gauge – A submersible pressure gauge attached to the regulator that allows the diver to monitor the air supply remaining in the scuba tank.
BCD – Acronym for Buoyancy Compensator Device. Configured much like a jacket or vest, it is attached to the tank and worn on the diver’s torso. The device is inflatable and can be used to compensate for diver buoyancy.
Instrument console – Similar in design to the pressure gauge, but incorporates other diving instruments such as a depth gauge and underwater compass.