Wednesday, November 11, 2009


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That's what some Georgians are saying as the warm-weather months heat up. Scuba diving, even in landlocked Atlanta, is becoming a hot summer activity for families.

David and Donna Scarborough, along with their 13-year-old son, Trent, have taken to the sport like fish to water. The Douglasville family has been diving together for more than a year and tries to plan a scuba getaway at least once a month. "Any longer than four weeks and my gills start closing up," jokes David, a 42-year-old electrical contractor.

They've bubbled under in Bonaire in the Caribbean, dodged eagle rays off the Florida Keys and, next weekend, will head to Cozumel for another exploration of the Caribbean.

"It's the closeness that we like," David explains. "You really do depend on your buddy when you're diving. And these trips give us lots of shared experiences to talk about later."

Their enthusiasm is good news for the scuba industry, which has declared June National Scuba Month. Among the scheduled events is Sunday's International Dive-In Day, when divers at 50 locations around the world, including Georgia's Lake Lanier, will attempt to break the record for the largest group dive.

Scuba diving has long had a macho image --- remember the burly squad on "Sea Hunt"? --- but recently more women and children have taken the plunge. According to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, the number of new female divers shot up 112 percent in the past decade; women accounted for about a third of all certified divers in 1999. (Divers must be certified to rent equipment, get air tanks filled and other essentials.)

"These days, our classes usually contain more women than men, " says George Krasle, owner of Diving World, a scuba school and shop in northeast Atlanta.

Now that diving has gone coed, expect more romance stories like Tom and Ginny Peary. The couple, who live in Little Five Points, met in the online chat room rec.scuba. They've been on more than 400 dives together, from Lake Lanier to Curacao.

"Grand Cayman is our favorite," says Tom, 48, an audio equipment repairman for Norman's Electronics in Chamblee. "Everywhere you look, there are these beautiful coral heads, and the fish are so varied and plentiful. I'm afraid if I ever take Ginny back there, she's not going to want to leave."

An avid underwater photographer, Tom is also president of the Atlanta Reef Dwellers Scuba Club, one of the groups that will be participating in the Dive-In Day on Sunday. The next day, he and Ginny celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary.

The number of junior divers, children 12 to 15 who are certified to dive only with an adult present, has risen as well. These teens and preteens made up about 5 percent of total recreational divers in 1999, up a notch from the previous year. In January, the divers' association, which certifies about 70 percent of all divers, lowered its minimum certification age to 10, so the number of junior Jacques Cousteaus will likely climb.

Donna Scarborough is amazed by Trent's devotion to diving. "He's really gung-ho about it," says the 42-year-old accountant. An eighth-grader at Arlington Christian School, Trent recently received an award at his school's graduation ceremony for a science project on air consumption at different depths. "None of his teachers even knew how accurate he was," Donna says proudly.

Leroy Walker, president of the Atlanta Underwater Explorers, has also seen firsthand how diving can get kids excited about learning. His group, the local chapter of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers, annually puts one or two underprivileged youths through junior certification classes and takes them on diving trips.

"You can see the gleam in their eyes," Walker says. "Some of them have just learned to swim, and now they are going below the water to see plants and animals that they've never seen before."

A few have surfaced with goals for the future. "I've heard some of the kids say that they wanted to become marine biologists or study fossils," Walker says. "If we can get one or two kids to go into those areas, that would be great."

One reason for diving's broadening demographic may be less complicated equipment.

"Technology has made it so much easier now," says Krasle, who has been teaching scuba diving for more than 40 years. He remembers a time when divers had to go through a year's worth of intense training, including a lengthy lesson in physics, to be certified. Now, it takes about a week to complete classes.

Cost, too, has played a role. Scuba schools have kept class tuition low --- around $300 a diver --- and while divers of old had to buy their own scuba gear, renting is now the norm.

"You can rent $1,500 worth of equipment for about $100," Krasle says, though you'll still have to buy the basics: Fins, snorkel, bathing or wet suit and a proper-fitting mask.

Once you're outfitted, get ready to kiss surface tensions goodbye. "I have not heard one underwater telephone or pager yet," David Scarborough notes. "It's wonderful stress relief."

Source Citation
Hamilton, Doug. "BUBBLING UNDER SCUBA BOOM: MORE WOMEN, FAMILIES TAKE THE PLUNGE INTO DIVING.(Features)." Atlanta Journal-Constitution [Atlanta, GA] 10 June 2000: F1. General OneFile. Web. 11 Nov. 2009. .

Gale Document Number:CJ62665109

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