The Zonies are coming, the Zonies are coming! Friends of ours, actually, fleeing the heat of a Phoenix summer and looking to rent a house near the ocean. The first item on their agenda is scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) diving. Not that any of them have done it before. I said I’d look into it.
Michael Simpson, owner of Poseidon’s Divers in Mission Bay (858-568-2710; poseidonsdivers.org) told me that his course involves “four hours for four days. It starts off with swim qualifications — you have to perform a survival swim test. We’ll spend two hours each day in the classroom and two in the water. In class, you learn about the gear — things such as your buoyancy compensator. That’s like a life-jacket for divers. You want to be neutrally buoyant when you’re underwater. That’s tricky, because saltwater is really dense — you need weights to keep from floating to the surface. But you also don’t want to crash into the bottom or smash a reef. The buoyancy compensator allows you to take on air, so you stay suspended in the water.”
The classroom work covers 12 chapters of material, and there’s a 100-question test at the end. After the classroom, it’s into the water.
“For water work,” said Simpson, “I like to train in the bay. I used to train people in the pool, but I found that people would freak out when it came time to do their check-out dives in the ocean, because the ocean water isn’t clear and warm. Plus, they would have this big, heavy wetsuit on [for the first time]. Now I’ve found a good spot with about 20 feet of visibility, and I issue a full set of gear from day one. When you’re done with that, we go to La Jolla Cove and do four scuba dives and one snorkel dive.”
Gear includes “wetsuits, booties, gloves, hoods, facemasks, snorkels, regulators, tanks, and weights. Total cost is $400, and after you’re done you have NAUI [National Association for Underwater Instructors] certification. Or, for $150, we offer a four-hour scuba adventure, which is pretty much a crash course and a 45-minute dive with me.”
Rick Nare, owner of Rick’s Diving Locker in Escondido (760-746-8980; ricksdivinglocker.com) sends his students online for their coursework. “It takes from 8 to 12 hours. Then you come to us, and we have a review session to clarify what you’ve learned and answer any questions. Then we spend a weekend doing pool work — Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. You learn to assemble the gear and how to dive safely. Finally, over Saturday and Sunday of the following weekend, we do four ocean dives. Typically we go to La Jolla, but sometimes we do boat trips to dive at Catalina or in the Point Loma kelp forest.” Then you’re PADI certified (similar to NAUI). “PADI stands for Professional Association of Diving Instructors. We’re a PADI five-star instructor development center, which means that we train everyone from beginners to people who want to become instructors.”
The course costs $420 and includes “the online course, the scuba equipment, and the wetsuit. But you’ll need to purchase your own personal equipment — things such as a face mask, snorkel, and fins. That can run $200 or more. We’re running a special this month: $150 off the price of the training course if you purchase your basic gear from us.”
At the Dive Shack in El Cajon (619-447-7400, gotodiveshack.com), owner Rick Tuttle told me that he charges $275 for a beginning open-water course. “I think we’re the lowest price in San Diego. That price includes the book you use for the coursework, the use of scuba gear, the one-time fee for the PADI certification, and the two-week course — including the ocean dives. You need to buy your own equipment, which can run $275 to $400. For example, there are facemasks that cost $42 and facemasks that cost $150. If you buy your equipment from us, we’ll take 10 percent off the class.”
Coursework begins at home with the textbook, said Tuttle. “You read it and then come in for the classroom session. There you learn about the equipment, how to stay warm, the different types of wetsuits. We do two two-and-a-half-hour sessions in the pool — we use local high schools — and then four dives at La Jolla Shores.”