Monday, November 12, 2001

Training for scuba diving

Professional instruction is fun and physical

By Llee Sivitz
Enquirer contributor

        Yanking on my diving mask, I bite down on the snorkel mouthpiece. After one practice breath, I stick my face in the pool. Welcome to the world of scuba diving.

        With more than 1,000 deep-sea dives, Mary Ann Burgoyne, general manager of Tri-State Scuba in Fairfax, is a master scuba instructor. She describes what lies ahead (and beneath) for her students:

        “Our classes basically run through the entire open-water scuba diving course ... We take students through a certain portion of academics (learning how equipment works and what to expect under water) and then we put them in the water to experience it. Then we put them back into academics and then back in the water. So it's back and forth, and it builds on itself in a three-week course or about a 24-hour program.”

  • Age limits in the scuba industry start at 10-years-old. There is no upper age limit.
  • Knowing how to swim is a basic requirement of the sport.
  • It's a sport anyone can do equally. “When you are in the water you are neutrally buoyant,” says Mary Ann Burgoyne, general manager of Tri-State Scuba in Fairfax.
  • Complete scuba gear costs $700-$1,500 (including a computerized gauge to monitor your dive). Generally, beginning students have to provide only their own snorkels, masks and fins because those items have to be fitted.
  • Scuba tanks contain air (not pure oxygen) from a clean source that is compressed. A typical 80-cubic-foot tank contains as much air as would be found in a walk-in phone booth.
  • Twelve scuba diving schools are listed in the Cincinnati phone book under “Divers, Diving Instructions and Consultants.”
        This day, the class is led by Jerry Yurek, a real estate appraiser for Provident Bank during his non-scuba hours. The class consists of five novice divers in complete diving gear, but no wet suits.

        “We keep our pool at 88 to 90 degrees and there is a very specific reason for that,” Ms. Burgoyne says. “People who are trying to learn a new skill are nervous to begin with. At regular lap pool temperatures (usually 78 degrees), in 30 minutes they've lost so much body heat their lips are blue. It's difficult to maintain any type of concentration.”

        Emil Paquette, 49, an engineer from Loveland, is learning scuba diving with his 10-year-old daughter, Emily.

        “To me, it's the closest you are ever going to get, for the average layman, to being in space,” he says. “I love the weightlessness and it's a really comfortable feeling down there, very peaceful.”

        Kim Massner of Mount Lookout and John Kirk of Anderson Township, both 22, are planning a trip to scuba dive in the Virgin Islands. This is their second class, and Mr. Kirk has discovered that 15 years on a swim team does not automatically make him a good diver.

        “Usually underwater, you hold your breath and with scuba you've got to continuously breathe,” he says. “That's the main challenge for me right now, to make sure I'm not holding my breath.”

        According to Ms. Burgoyne, the students' next step will be four “open water” training dives, which complete the certification process.

        “We are a PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) facility,” Ms. Burgoyne says. “Once they do their open dives, (students) are certified for life and can dive anywhere in the world. And there are additional classes they can take if they enjoy the sport and want to continue their education.”

  Because of the Firstar IMAX Theatre's relationship with the Newport Aquarium, both at Newport on the Levee, the 3-D film In the Deep will play at least through spring, says David Brown, theatre director. The movie, with previews, is 55 minutes long. Ticket prices: $9 adults and $8 children.
        But today's class is different. For the first time, after their pool workout, Tri-State Scuba students and their instructor attend a showing of the 3-D film In The Deep at the Firstar IMAX Theatre at Newport on the Levee.

        The Imax film can give potential divers a sensation as close to real diving as you can get on dry land.

        “The director of the film, who actually was underwater and worked with the cameras, said one of the things he liked most about this film is ... it almost feels like you're wet,” says David Brown, theatre director.

        Mr. Paquette thought it was great.

        “Not only was it my first experience seeing an IMAX-type movie, but just seeing the immensity of life under the water ... was incredible,” he says. “Especially the kelp beds. I could imagine myself drifting through there ... I look forward to moving up into the diving world, so that I can have more opportunities and see things like that.”

        “I can't wait to get my certification,” says Rickey Hiter of Delhi Township. “To go out and see those things in person, that would just be so amazing ... If the real thing is just a third of what that was, it will be awesome.”


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