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I’m kneeling on a wooden platform, surrounded by fellow wannabe divers wearing wetsuits, tanks and gear. Facing my instructor, I take off my mask, show it to him and put it back on my face. Pressing the top of my mask tight against my forehead, I breathe out hard through my nose while raising my face to the sky. I repeat that motion once, twice, and a third time just for good measure then look at him and smile. He gives me a big hug and I sigh in relief. For me, I’ve just climbed a major hurdle toward my certification as a PADI scuba diver.
While it may sound like a simple procedure, I actually just accomplished this feat 25 feet underwater in a flooded Indiana quarry as part of my check-out dive to attain my Open Water Diver certification. After successfully completing my classroom instruction and pool training, I now demonstrate my proficiency out in the open water to receive my longed-for and highly-coveted “C” card – my PADI SCUBA certification.
Taking my mask off underwater, putting it back on and clearing it of water had proven to be a real challenge for me – hence the congratulatory hug – but, thanks to the patient training of my instructor, Randy, I finally figure out this skill and many others needed for certification. Now, my certification card in hand, I’m free to fill my tank with air, don my gear and dive 60 feet beneath the surface – with a buddy, of course.
Scuba diving may not rank up there with basketball as one of Indiana’s preferred sports, but for a state landlocked in the Midwest, it does have its fair share of enthusiasts. From dive clubs at area universities such as the Purdue Scuba Diving Club to public organizations such as the Indy Dive Club, opportunities are available to not only train and get certified, but to take part in dive trips and underwater excursions, earn college credit and meet fellow divers as well. From underwater pumpkin carving and scavenger hunts to dive trips around the world, Hoosiers of all ages are getting trained, taking part and having fun.
Unlike basketball, however, scuba diving is considered an extreme sport, necessitating the required certification. Without it, divers are unable to fill their tanks with air or gas and are unable to take part in diving activities with dive centers around the world. But diving instruction isn’t just a requirement for certification – it’s also a practical step to swim with the fishes in a safe and responsible manner too.
Scuba diving involves using a tank of pressurized air or gas, such as nitrox, and a regulator along with a buoyance control device (or BCD) to descend safely beneath the surface. The BCD combined with weights enables a diver to descend or surface in a controlled manner depending upon how much air is added to the BCD while the regulator – either a mouth piece or a full-face mask – enables the diver to breathe the air or gas in the tank. Learning how to control one’s descent and subsequent ascent to the surface is a big focus of diver training, along with safety procedures, such as how to put on your mask or regulator underwater should they be knocked loose while diving.
And it DOES happen – a wayward flipper from a too-close dive buddy can send a regulator spiraling briefly out of grasp. Moreover, learning how to avoid or contend with such emergencies as running out of air or helping a fellow diver in need of assistance are also part of the basic diving instruction. With diving, even something as simple as communication can be tricky since shouting is clearly out of the question. Fortunately those types of scenarios and many more are the focus of certification training. And I should know. Thanks to my training, I once safely vomited into my regulator while 30 feet down and lived to tell the tale.
PADI – short for Professional Association of Diving Instructors – is the world’s most widely recognized scuba diving training organization and has been around for over 40 years. PADI offers several different levels of dive training via dive centers and organizations, including several in Indiana. To get started would-be divers need to be in good health and have adequate swimming skills, but no prior experience is required.
Children as young as eight can take part in introductory programs conducted in shallow water, but they must be 10 years-old to receive their Junior Open Water Diver certification which allows them to dive to 12 meters or approximately 39 feet. Because research is non-existent on the effects of deep water diving on young, growing bodies, the best bet for now is to limit their exposure to sustained pressure created at depth.
To attain the next level of certification – Open Water Diver – individuals must be at least 15 or older but, again, no prior experience is required. The basic Open Water Diver certification enables one to dive to at least 60 feet which, frankly, opens up a big wide world of coral reefs, brightly colored fish, undulating rays and a great deal more. In fact the Florida Keys – a favorite destination for many Midwest divers – ranges mostly between five to 60 feet in depth and, with an average water temperature hovering around 78 degrees, makes for some excellent diving.
Individuals interested in a greater challenge can go on to earn their Advanced Open Water Diver certification which includes training for deeper dives in the neighborhood of 110 feet and which includes some additional competencies including options to choose between cave diving, wreck diving and night diving instruction among others.
With any level of certification, however, students must either attend instruction online or in a class room setting and are required to pass quizzes and a certification test. An essential component of diving is safe ascension – in other words, learning to avoid decompression sickness, commonly referred to as “the bends,” which is a potential deadly condition resulting from dissolved gas trapped in the body from a too rapid rise to the surface.
Diving instruction also includes learning to set-up the gear, such as properly attaching the regulator to both the BDC and the tank, and includes actual time with the gear in a pool to practice such things as underwater navigation, removing and clearing one’s mask and regulator, descending and ascending in a controlled manner and communicating with hand signals.
Several organizations in south and central Indiana offer PADI diving instruction and Hoosiers further south can take advantage of training offered at dive centers in the nearby Cincinnati area as well. Southern Indiana Scuba of Bloomington, offers a “Try Scuba” class for only $20 which includes trying out real scuba equipment in a shallow pool – meaning you can stand up at any time – to get a taste of the experience before committing to classes. The “Discover Scuba Experience” offered by Midwest Scuba Center in Avon takes it one-step further, providing the use of equipment alongside a PADI-certified instructor in deeper pool water for the cost of just $50. If that experience has you hooked, Midwest Scuba will credit that $50 toward any additional course training. Divers Supply Indy – home of the Indy Dive Club – also offers dive instruction at various levels from its home on the southeast side of Indianapolis.
Southern Indiana Scuba’s “Try Scuba” experience” is offered at the Foundation for Youth in nearby Columbus at 1:00 p.m. once a month with the next two sessions set for September 27 and October 25. For other programs, check the websites at each location to compare prices, dates and times for instruction.
Costs vary based on equipment rentals and whether you prefer private instruction (which can run $550 per person at Southern Indiana Scuba) or group classes (which run between $350 to $295 at Southern Indiana Scuba and Divers Supply Indy) or online instruction for a portion of the training. Regardless of the course taken, students are expected to bring their own mask, snorkel and fins and must complete the required check-out dives (which are not included in the costs) to obtain their certification. Check-out dives usually run from between $99 to $150 and can be completed in Indiana or at any PADI-recognized dive center around the world.
As for me, there was no turning back. Once certified, I joined my brother-in-law (Master Diver Steve Gardner, a.k.a. Scuba Steve to friends and family), on my first ocean dives in the Florida Keys. Yes, I was initially intimidated – after all, the Gulf of Mexico is a big, BIG place when land is nowhere to be seen – but once we sank below the surface and I spied actual conchs walking along the snow white sand with their massive shells intact, I was hooked. From tiny neon blue fishes to large staghorn coral, it was a world of color and life and beauty unlike anything I had seen before. Getting certified had ups and downs which challenged me and tested me in ways in which I needed to be challenged and tested. But the reward was entry into a colorful ocean of possibilities.
For more information on PADI and dive instruction in Indiana, check out the following links.
Southern Indiana Scuba – http://www.southernindianascuba.com/
Midwest Scuba – http://www.midwestscuba.com/
Divers Supply Indy – http://www.diverssupplyindy.com/
Next Week – I visit the historic homestead of Hoosier artist T.C. Steele and his wife, Selma.
Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News.