Despite a close encounter with a hammerhead shark, Learn Scuba Chicago's Captain Bob just keeps on scuba diving. The aquatic expert got an up-close peep of shark teeth on his very first Caribbean dive, yet has scarcely taken his flippers off since. He started Learn Scuba Chicago four years ago in a garage as a grassroots effort to build community. Captain Bob and crew lead diving courses, which range from thrilling dips for beginners to instructor certifications. The calendar is flexible so students can plunge into indoor pools at their own pace at a variety of locations, such as Water's Edge Aquatic Center in Bensenville, the UIC campus, and Northeastern Illinois University campus, with open water dives held at Kankakee's Haigh Quarry.
By the clear waters of a competition-size pool, Chicago Scuba School & Dive Shop's students are guided through the fundamentals of submarine exploration. In groups of 10, fledgling divers bedeck themselves in the masks, oxygen tanks, and cardboard shark fins required to spend extended periods below the depths. Three instructors then usher students into the pool, teaching them how to properly wield the Aquamanesque powers of their scuba gear as they train in the course of four hours. The expansive pool provides plenty of space for divers to flex their flippers, and small class sizes ensure that students’ flawless underwater backflips receive extra attention. If they wish to further their aquatic expertise, Groupon-holders can opt to take a full scuba-certification course at a $100 discount.
Frogg Pond Dive is the home of Chicago Diving Schools, who introduce the gill-deprived to underwater exploration. Students new to sea can get flippered feet wet in the discover scuba class, wherein a PADI certified instructor teaches the basics of sea breathing from the safe, never-electric-eel-filled confines of a pool. For swimmers not ready to take the plunge to the bottom of the un-briny depths, there's the snorkeling class. And divers who have already completed a scuba certification program, but are out of practice or have recently had their memories erased by Secret Service agents, can regain their aquatic adeptness by enrolling in the dive refresher.
Inside one of Illinois’ oldest PADI–certified dive centers, Berry Dive Center’s eight instructors call upon a combined 100 years of experience to increase the underwater expertise of small student cohorts. Lessons unfold in both pool and classroom, with instructors sharing textbook techniques and safety tips before offering personalized critiques during supervised practice dives. The PADI five-star IDC facility—which was recently given a 35-year store award—keeps skills sharp with PADI certification courses and weekend excursions to Kankakee’s Haigh Quarry, with adventure-diving opportunities such as exploring wrecks, deep-water diving, and apprehending goldfish smugglers. The center’s dive shop also stocks a full line of diving equipment and manuals.
A PADI five-star dive center, D. D. Dive outfits novice swimmers with all the fundamental skills and knowledge necessary to swim beneath the waves. Their courses are made up of classroom sessions, pool work, and open-water excursions to prepare each student according to PADI guidelines. The instructors also offer classes in rescue diving and diving-instructor as well as dive-master training, all of which are useful skills when working to open a dive school for dolphins. Once certified, new divers can go with the school on a globetrotting trip to a diving mecca such as Bonne Terre Mine, Kona, or the Galapagos Islands.
There are treasures beyond belief under the waves. All across the Midwest, lakes large and small contain pieces of history, from a moss-coated dump truck at the bottom of Haigh Quarry to the schooner Thomas Hume, which has been a home to the fish of Lake Michigan since 1891. With favorite wet spots from Missouri to Minnesota, the teachers at Chicagoland Scuba are privy to it all. Whether offering first-time divers certification classes, leading diving trips, or learning how fish like to be hugged, exploring the underwater life is second nature to these pros—something they hope rubs off on their students, too.