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Diving into the deep

Though 73 percent of the Earth is covered by water, the world that lies beneath the waves remains unexplored firsthand, visited only by the select few who decide to take the plunge and become certified scuba divers. 

At USF, there are several ways to get training on how to explore this undersea world of weightlessness, curious creatures and vivid gardens, and William Dent, the diving safety officer for the scuba certification program at USF, said he is always amazed at what excites new divers. The scuba diving program was established at USF in the 1960s. Dent has been leading the program for over 30 years and has trained nearly 5,000 divers. 

“We have a whole variety of people taking the class and they take it for a variety of reasons,” Dent said. “Some people will take it because they know that they’re going to be using it for their career, the majority of the people take it because they think it’s fun.” 

For those seeking scuba certification, USF offers a day class for course credit and a recreational night class. The day class, PEN 2136, is two credits and run through the College of Education. For the first two-thirds of the semester, students work toward their Open Water certification, which allows them to dive to 60 feet, and are then able to continue on to higher levels of certification, including Deep Diver, allowing students to dive below 60 feet, and Nitrox Diver, which teaches students to dive with enriched air. 

The recreational night program runs for four weeks. Registration for the summer non-credited programs are currently available online at the campus recreation center’s website. Dent said if students are still on the fence about signing up, they are welcome to attend the first class and make up their mind then whether or not scuba is for them . 

“The majority of diving, believe it or not, is building your self-confidence,” Dent said. “If you don’t have that self-confidence, you’re not going to feel comfortable in the water, and if you don’t feel comfortable in the water, even though you get certified, you’re not going to go out and go diving.” 

Tuition for the class costs $175 and students must also purchase the required textbook package for $80. For the in-water portion of both classes, students must provide their own mask, fins and snorkel. The university will provide students with all other scuba equipment apart from a wetsuit, which is optional for the class and can be rented for about $10. Both courses offer certification through the National Association of Underwater Instructors. 

Florida is a prime location for novice and experienced divers alike because it is rife with great dive locations, Ben Meister, a graduate of USF’s scuba certification program and now one of the instructors, said. 

“Whatever you want, Florida has it,” Meister said. “If you’re a diver in Florida, the opportunities are kind of endless. You can do freshwater spring dives, you can do saltwater Gulf diving, you can go to the Atlantic and do something called drift diving, you can go down to the Keys … we’ve got lots of opportunities.” 

During the certification course, students get to visit one of these dive sites with the class to complete their required open water dives. Blue Grotto is a freshwater spring in Williston roughly two hours from campus. The site features bright clear blue water and a ballroom-like underwater cavern. The spring’s beautiful natural rock formations create silvery pools of air and reverse waterfalls that add an air of whimsy to the dark cavern. The main cavern dips down to about 60 feet and a smaller shaft goes down to about 100 feet. At about 30 feet down, Blue Grotto has an air bell where divers can take out their regulators and breathe while still underwater. 

USF also has a student-run scuba diving club that schedules dive trips throughout the year. Many of the club’s members are graduates of Dent’s certification program. Dent said the dive certification program supports and promotes the club and joining the club is a great way to keep diving. 

“I think it’s a matter of self-achievement, too. Why does somebody go out and run a marathon … It’s a challenge,” Dent said. “You’re able to meet that challenge.”