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Recreational Sports

Scuba students dive right in, safely


It's not for everyone. However, becoming certified for scuba diving can be done in a fun and effective manner, especially when it's being offered at your local rec center pool or YMCA. Though it takes time. Most courses are generally two to three weeks long and require time in open water before you can pick up certification. "People underestimate what they are getting into sometimes," said Jack Farrell, who teaches the YMCA scuba certification course at the Hernando Branch in Spring Hill as well as out of his own business, Fun Travel & Dive. "It's a common-sense sport and not complicated." Scuba isn't complicated to grasp, but it is for those who can stomach the whole breathing under water gig. So this reporter went to scout out just what it takes to get scuba certified.

Teachers and books

First things first: becoming certified means homework. There will be four quizzes, five knowledge reviews and a final exam, where you need a score of 80 to pass. Farrell and longtime diving partner Mark Butler, who, combined, have more than 30 years of diving experience, will use the knowledge reviews to see just who's lying about dogs eating their homework, but don't fret, there's no detention. During the first class, they also will teach imperative hand signals to use underwater for communication.

Pop pop

Farrell and Butler also will discuss the Valsalva maneuver, which, in nontechnical speak, is to clear your ears from the pressure of going deep underwater. There is no "right way" to do it. Divers can hold their nose and blow, swallow or flex their jaw to pop their ears. There is, however, a wrong way to do it, and that's blowing too hard, which can pop eardrums.

Assembly required

Out of the classroom and into the pool, divers will get their gear and be shown how to put it together. They learn how to attach the tank to the vest and secure the valves so air leads down to the regulators properly. They are also shown how to read the submersive pressure gauge, or the doohickey that lets you know how much air you have left, as well as a depth gauge.

Breathe in, breathe out

Next, Farrell and Butler have new divers test their regulators, not only to see if they work, but to adjust so people should breathe in and out with their mouths. This is where Farrell will again go over the importance of the Valsalva maneuver; however, it's difficult to practice well in the pool since most don't go deep enough to require it.

It's a splash

Once divers get into the pool, they buddy up with a class peer and help each other put their equipment on. That's when the work begins. There are certain water skills each diver must practice, and as Farrell said, they are designed to make people comfortable underwater and to keep panic on dry land. "It is okay to be underwater. It's not a scary thing, but when they panic, that's a scary thing, even in 4 feet of water at a pool. We show them how to stay cool underwater."

Three skills include flooding the mask and then clearing it; ditching the dive gear, then diving down to put it on underwater; and the giant stride (a.k.a. jumping off the end of a boat). "Some people just can't grasp clearing the mask," Farrell said. "And then some just refuse to do the giant stride and others, it will take three or four times to put their equipment on right. Each person varies, but each skill takes some work."

That's kind of fishy

New divers also will have to do the swimming skills, which are a 200-yard swim, swim 30 feet down on one breath, and float in the water for 10 minutes. New divers also will have to assemble their gear at least five times and perform some skills underwater without a mask, to learn not to freak out when their masks get knocked off. Included are sitting in the water for about two minutes as well as swimming two lengths of the pool without a mask.

All the while, new divers will be practicing hand signals with each other, as well as getting more and more comfortable being underwater. "It's tough," Farrell said. "People are not used to having water in their nose (with the mask off) and they have to retrain themselves."

Divers also will have to do four open-water dives to become certified, and out there, they will practice the skills and more situations that could arise on a real dive.

"This is something you do for yourself, not for someone else," Farrell said. "People who do it don't have apprehension or fear. If they are uncomfortable underwater, then they shouldn't do it."

Community Sports Editor Mike Camunas can be reached at or (352) 544-1771.

Fast facts

YMCA scuba certification course

Where: YMCA Hernando Branch, 1300 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill

When: Each six-session course is from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and is taught by Fun Travel & Dive.

Cost: $140; course is for ages 15 and older.

For information on the course at the YMCA, call (352) 688-9622; for information on Fun Travel & Dive, call toll-free at 1-800-633-1633 or visit www.funtravel There are other scuba certifications, usually based at dive shops. To find those, consult the Yellow Pages or search the Web.
About this story: Community Sports Editor Mike Camunas participated in the first of six classes for scuba certification at the YMCA Hernando Branch. He sat through a 45-minute classroom session and then jumped into the pool with the 40-pound-plus equipment and went through drills, learned hand signals and swam underwater for about two hours. It was Camunas' first time using scuba equipment, doing so to get a better feel for what a scuba certification class would be like.

Scuba students dive right in, safely 10/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 16, 2008 7:24pm]
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