Take the Plunge Into Scuba
A Hawaiian vacation got Don Calendine, a former high school swim champion, back into the water.
In preparation for the trip, the 56-year-old heating and cooling specialist from Michigan earned a scuba diving certification. Once in the water, he found he loved it. "It was amazing swimming around all the fish, seeing this whole world of weird underwater life up close," he says.
Many people fall under the spell of the sea, where "the rules of physics ... no longer apply," says scuba instructor Natalie Gibb.
"The color is breathtaking," adds Vicky Cheshire-Wade, a scuba enthusiast for more than 30 years.
Jacques Cousteau is credited with inventing the first Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) in 1943. Since then, the ranks of sports divers have been rising steadily, with an increase of 50,000 new diver certifications since 2000, according to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).
A new scuba diver can expect to spend about $2,000 on equipment and certification courses. "We're seeing more people over 40 now who are looking for adventure and have the disposable income ... to afford the full equipment package," says Paul Spohr of Scuba Centers of Michigan.
Here's how you can join the world of underwater explorers:
Preparation: You don't have to be an expert swimmer to get PADI certification, but you must be able to swim at least 200 meters unaided and tread water for 10 minutes. You can prepare for your lessons by running, swimming and biking, all of which will help increase your breath and stamina. You will need a physical before you take scuba lessons, to provide the most up-to-date information on the required medical questionnaire.
Get Certified: Even if you live inland, you can find scuba training through shops that sell scuba equipment, fitness clubs or the YMCA. Most courses consist of two evenings per week for three weeks, including time spent in a pool. The classes cover basic skills such as how to clear water from your mask, swim with fins on and achieve proper weighting for buoyancy control.
Open-water certification dives, conducted at the end of the training course, are not about exploring the underwater world. Rather, they are for reviewing the skills learned in your training in a natural setting. For more information on licensing and regulations, check out PADI or the National Association of Underwater Instructors.
Equipment: Once certified, you can rent or buy a mask, snorkel and fins at a scuba shop. You will also need to rent or buy an emergency regulator, an inflatable jacket and wrist dials that measure depth and air-tank capacity.
Head for the Waves: As a certified diver, you can explore all kinds of fascinating locations. Sites such as Scuba.com list top diving spots and information about trips to dive in underwater caves, on coral reefs or around shipwrecks. Liveaboard vacations on ships and yachts are offered, too, allowing you to cruise to dive spots on the open water or snorkel while anchored offshore.
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