Spend your summer underwater with scuba lessons.
Were you one of those kids who used to hold your nose before jumping in the pool? Get over your fear of the deep by becoming one with it. Scuba diving allows you to swim among the fishes, and even though you'll look like a fat, mutant froglet in your wetsuit, mask and fins, the fish never snicker.
No, there aren't too many pretty tropical fish in New Mexico (outside of aquariums), but get your certification here and you're ready to dive deep when you go to Belize or Bali or the Great Barrier Reef. The process of becoming a certified diver includes classroom instruction (reading from a booklet and watching videos), pool time and real diving, usually in Santa Rosa's Blue Hole. You'll learn why divers should never hold their breath, how to share air if one of you runs out and how to maintain your buoyancy at any depth.
According to Bert Eriksson, a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) course director with Sandia Snorkel and Scuba in Albuquerque, the typical open water course takes approximately 35 hours to complete. Students spend about 10 hours watching a video and reading the course book at home, three hours in the classroom, three hours training in a pool, and a weekend diving at Blue Hole. Sandia Snorkel and Scuba offers the class twice a month, on two consecutive weekends, for $335.
The University of New Mexico, through its Recreational Services Division, also offers a scuba class through Sandia, but because the university is tax exempt (among other reasons), it's cheaper to take the class through UNM. You'll need to be flexible, however, because there are only two sessions per semester; the next session is scheduled for July 12, 14 and 15, with open water dives on July 21 and 22. You don't have to be a UNM student to register. The class includes everything you'll need, including equipment, for $295.
The New Mexico Scuba Center is based in Albuquerque, where it offers two Open Water Diver classes per month. Owner Si Minton, who says he's been diving since 1960, prefers to stretch his classes out longer than most other companies. Particularly anxious divers might find this slower pace reassuring. Minton's shop also specializes in adaptive diving programs for people with disabilities. He says he recently trained a paraglegic to dive.
The New Mexico Scuba Center also has one instructor in Santa Fe. Harvey Monroe offers scuba classes about every other month. His Scuba Rangers class puts kids ages 8 to 12 in full diving gear, and takes them 12 to 14 feet down in a pool. Kids, Monroe says, take to diving much more quickly than adults. "The hardest part is teaching them to equalize their ears," something they will need to do in only a few feet of water, "and to pay attention." Adults may listen better, but they tend to be more afraid of water and of diving.
Monroe's next Scuba Rangers class takes place in August, meeting one afternoon a week for four to five weeks, either at Salvador Perez pool or the Genoveva Chavez Community Center. Monroe's own Ranger-age son helps out with the classes, demonstrating techniques for the other kids. The cost is $250.
Monroe says he doesn't have his next adult class scheduled yet; he waits for demand to build up before he "corrals" them into a group. Adult classes also cost $250, not including basic snorkeling gear or incidentals related to the trip to Blue Hole. (Most people choose to stay overnight in Santa Rosa, but some drive back and forth each day.)
Once you've got your certification, you can dive anywhere in the world. If you're serious about diving, you'll want to buy all of your own gear (which can run about $1,500 to $1,800), or at least your own mask and fins (starting around $100). After training and equipment, diving isn't all that expensive. To put it in perspective: "A horse is pretty expensive," Bert Eriksson says, "skis aren't cheap, and when you go golfing you spend about a dollar for each whack you take on a ball!"
New Mexico Scuba Center
7618 Menaul NE, Albuquerque
$250 (not including basic equipment)
Sandia Snorkel and Scuba
2430 Alamo Ave. SE,
Suite 101, Albuquerque
$335 (including equipment)
UNM Recreational Services Department
$295 (including equipment)
The Scuba Company
2715 San Mateo NE, Albuquerque
$399 (including equipment)