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Crystal River Family Vacation Adventure Getting SCUBA Certified.Bird's Underwater Crystal River Diving Learning to dive on vacation - how cool is that? And doing it with my sister and two cousins - even better but SCUBA is not about swimming, it is about diving which is a whole other thing.

My reality check. The first time I stepped into a scuba diving suit I felt somewhat like an alien. I could not bend my arms and legs normally. It was rather confining and then there was the gear. That is the SCUBA (self -contained underwater breathing apparatus) part.The wetsuit plus the gear that includes BCD (buoyancy control device), air tank, flippers, mask, weights, respirator, and snorkel makes an awkward combination on dry land. I felt completely foolish waddling around the dive shop in my suit, carrying my gear.

 Because before I even got my gear and wetsuit there was the PADI dive class for certification. Mine was at Bird’s Underwater Dive Shop in Crystal River. I took a compressed 3-day course that meant when I arrived at the dive shop I had already watched the PADI training video, read the training manual and practiced some of the exercises. That was the case for everyone in the class making the (tedious) time we had to spend in the classroom shorter and the actual practice (fun stuff) in the water easier.

Here's the scoop. I was lucky enough to get certified in the same class with my sister and my two cousins. We stayed in a vacation house near Crystal River. Early in the morning we headed Bird’s Underwater (A PADI 5-Star Dive Shop) to start our SCUBA training. Our instructor was Wayne Bjorken, an interesting man with many underwater stories to tell. We spent four hours in the classroom reviewing the different skills we would need. For example, things like buddy breathing, underwater mask clearing, equalizing and how to set up our equipment. We took quizzes on everything we learned. Then we had a lunch break. When we returned, we headed to a pool to practice everything we had learning in an enclosed underwater environment. It was all easy - no stress.Bird's Underwater Crystal River Dive Shop

The first time I got into the water in full scuba gear I felt extremely weird. I had trouble staying under the water my first time. The rest of the drills were easy enough (even though I thought they would be difficult). Some of them took me a few tries but Wayne, my instructor, was very helpful and I never once felt pushed. At the end of the afternoon each of us was required to do a 5-minute safety float, without the gear of course. Then we cleaned our gear and put it away.

The next day, we went back to class and practiced more skills. In the afternoon, after the lunch break, we headed out for our first open water dive. I was needless to say excited. We stopped half way there to do our swim test in the open water. The air seemed chilly and the water was cold but so what? (Swim team was worse than this.) When I finished I returned quickly to the boat. I was obvious to me then why we needed wet suits!  As we got closer to our predetermined dive destination, I got more worried. I had done well in the pool but what if it was different in the river? I would be  down 25 feet and if I could not equalize or clear my mask, that would not be good.

Each of us performed our equipment check and lined up to enter the water. I was the second one into the water and my nerves grew rapidly edgy. We swam to the marker where we would be diving. It was within the manatee refuge. While treading water and waiting for the others I began to calm down. All if a sudden a huge gray mass swam directly under me about two feet from my facemask. For a moment I felt panic. It really hadn’t yet dawned on me that I would be swimming with manatees. I was already in a nervous state so the “friendly giant” was not what I expected to see. I instantly recalled that manatees are herbivores but I did not want top Bird's Underwater Crystal River PADI Certificationbe mistaken for a cabbage.

Our instructor gave final instructions and we began our descent, one person at a time.  I was last to go down besides our dive captain. (Let me clarify really quickly about the dive captain and the dive instructor. The dive captain is the captain of the boat. The dive instructor teaches us. So I went down before the dive captain.) I suddenly felt awkward and out of place. My mouth began to hurt from biting down to hard on the mouthpiece. I could not seem to equalize my ears past ten feet. I didn’t want to go any farther. The dive captain swam up next to me. Using the dive signals I had learned in class, I informed him of my problem. He helped me though the equalizing and he and I continued the slow descent. It took me a good five minutes to get down to where the others were waiting.

I found our instructor and he signaled me to flood my mask. I did all of the drills with ease. This was starting to be fun! I swam away to find my sister and cousin. We explored and did flips and turns and lots of other goofy things. I became more and more relaxed. I saw several more manatees in the distance. There were schools of fish and interesting rock formations. We made up our own signals for things and enjoyed using them to talk to one another. When the dive instructor signaled for us to ascend to the surface, I was sad it was over. We went back to the boat, took of our gear off, and headed back to class. We filled out our dive logs and headed home.

The next day was the same. We went to class; took our final dive exam; went lunch and then headed out to dive. This time I wasn’t nervous just excited. I couldn’t wait to dive again. We went down in the same place. It was colder day topside but the water seemed comfortable and warm. We had more complex drills to perform, like removing our mask, and a controlled emergency ascent. We also had time for more exploring. I saw other divers heading for one of the caves. We swam under the refuge volunteers who patrol in kayaks.Bird's Underwater Crystal River SCUBA Lessons

And now - PADI Diver Certification. When our dives were done for the day we returned to the classroom. I filled out my dive logs and dive papers for my diver’s license. We all said farewell to our dive instructor who had informed us we would receive our license in the mail. We headed out both relieved and sad it was over. In the car going home my sister and I began to plan our next dive trip. I can’t wait! I am now a certified PADI open water diver.

Family Vacaton Planning Details

Bird's Underwater. The dive shop is located on Kings Bay in Crystal River, on the West Coast of Florida, near the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 60 miles North of Tampa on Highway 19. (320 N.W. Highway 19, Crystal River, FL 34428.Toll-free 1-800-771-2763,(352) 563-2763 or

PADI Diver Certification. PADI is a world-class multi national organization that provides standardized diver certification courses among many other services. The organization and its members through out the world set the standard for diving safety and education. PADI exists to develop programs that encourage and fulfill the public interest in recreational scuba and snorkel diving worldwide. PADI's courses have been independently evaluated and recommended for college credit equivalency by the American Council on Education (ACE). For details or to locate a dive facility go to (The office of PADI Americas is 30151 Tomas Street, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688-2125. USA Toll-free 1-800-729-7234 or (949) 858-7234.)

Project AWARE.  Conservation begins with understanding the need to protect waters necessary for life. Each year Project AWARE introduces a new public awareness and education campaign to address environmental issues and involve individuals in solutions. Project AWARE also teaches enthusiasts how to sustainably interact with aquatic resources and apply these skills to conservation. To learn more go to 

In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” Baba Dioum, Senegalese Conservationist.

About the author. Jule Nelson-Duac now holds a PADI Diver Certification and often contributes to the family travel Copyright 2006 - Updated 2014.

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