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.
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.
A five-star PADI instructor-development center, Sea Lions Dive Center gathers a team of friendly instructors who train aspiring divers and budding dive instructors toward their certification. They help students plunge into the water at local quarries and in Lake Michigan for technique-refresher courses and open-water-dive certification, as well as specialized training in cavern and ice diving, underwater digital photography, and advanced fish heckling. When not leading local classes and helping to maintain the dive shop's relaxed atmosphere, staff instructors also lead monthly trips to regional destinations, such as North Carolina and Florida, or the far-flung waters of the Maldives and Indonesia.
Got Air Scuba employs a staff of passionate, knowledgeable PADI-certified instructors. They teach a variety of classes, ranging from introductory courses to advanced specialty courses, such as a rescue diver course and Divemaster program. To facilitate courses, the dive shop stocks gear from ScubaPro and Bare Dive Gear. Once students have learned the ins and outs of breathing underwater, they can partake in a trip to an exotic locale. Past destinations have included Cozumel, Mexico, and some really big puddles.
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.