The enjoyment of scuba diving doesn't hinge on superior athletic skills or even proficiency in swimming, which helps explain scuba's broad appeal. Mill around a dive dock and you'll meet divers from hometowns as distant as Ottawa and as landlocked as Fargo. And most of them will be sporting grins. Spend five minutes underwater and you'll understand why: the sensation of weightlessness, the richness of reef color, the hordes of fish, and the blue abyss of the sea. "Most sports are competitive. But with diving every-one can have fun" says Stephen Creamer, a dive instructor with Kohala Divers (www.kohaladivers.com) in Kawaihae, Hawaii. "And the more you do it, the better you get." Creamer advocates scuba for all, particularly desk jockeys. "No phones or e-mails. You've got an hour with just you and the fish." So swap the biz suit for a wetsuit and have some quality underwater time.
* BONAIRE Consistently rated the number one dive destination in the Caribbean, Bonaire attributes its allure to a combination of arid climate (less runoff means clearer underwater visibility), low-impact island atmosphere, and farsighted environmental protections dating to the 1960s: The waters surrounding the small southern Caribbean island are a designated marine park. "Our number one dive site is Bari Reef," says Jerry Ligon, a naturalist for Bonaire Dive and Adventure (www .bonairediveandadventure .com). About 60 dive sites ring the island, many accessible directly from shore. "Staff from other marine parks in the Caribbean come here to see what we're doing right," notes Ligon.
* JOHN PENNEKAMP STATE PARK, KEY LARGO, FLORIDA Like Bonaire, Pennekamp is a protected zone (part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary) and the stewardship pays off in the abundant and diverse sealife, including moray eels, pillar coral, and nurse sharks. "This is part of the third-largest barrier coral reef system in the world," says Nathan Frier, dive shop manager at Pennekamp State Park (www.pennekamppark .com), referring to the necklace of dive sites clustered just off Key Largo. The reef runs along the Keys from the Dry Tortugas, west of Key West, north to Miami. For divers, the hot spots in this neighborhood are the sanctuary's dive sites, to which Pennekamp runs daily boat trips. The sites are fairly shallow, with most bottoming out between 25 and 45 feet, depths that are welcoming to beginners and inviting to anyone who relishes extended dive time: The lower pressures at shallower depths mean divers use less air than they would if they descended to 90 or even 100 feet.
* HAWAIIAN ISLANDS Hawaii is so removed from other landmasses that encountering bizarre creatures underwater shouldn't come as a surprise. But even with that expectation, nothing can dampen the thrill of coming nose-to-nose with a frogfish, giant manta ray, or a monk seal. From the shallow reefs of Kauai, where seals share sandy, sunlit caverns with whitetip reef sharks, to the channels of Maui and the drop-offs west of the Big Island, where humpback whales sing sonorously in winter, Hawaii offers an eclectic menu of dive sites for novices and experts alike. On land, the options are equally plentiful: Few other spots on Earth allow you to lounge on a beach, stroll a loamy rain forest, mountain bike across a dormant volcano, and then view an active one from an airplane--all on the same day.
Briley, John. "Tune out and dive in: three top scuba spots get you close to life underwater." National Geographic Traveler Apr. 2008: 42+. General OneFile. Web. 16 Nov. 2009.
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