Take the Plunge into Scuba
Story By Katie Ryalen | Photos by Wynne Feret
Being on the shores of Lake Ontario, we’re perfectly positioned to take advantage of our natural freshwater landscape for recreational activities. Paddleboarding, sailing, fishing—these are all fantastic water-based activities. But for a different take on what to do on the water, think instead about what you can do under the water. Think scuba diving.
Now, when we say scuba, you might be picturing coral reefs, tropical fish and turquoise oceans. While exotic diving is certainly a must-try, Southern Ontario has some of the best inland freshwater diving in the world. The variety and concentration of our marine life is not to be missed, and the Great Lakes have some of the most memorable shipwrecks in the world within driving distance from Durham.
If we’ve piqued your interest, then you’ll be excited to learn that you don’t need to go far to become a certified scuba diver. We have organizations and businesses in our region to help you get started on your path to a lifetime of underwater diving adventure.
InnerSpace Divers Supply
Pickering’s InnerSpace Divers Supply teaches and certifies scuba diving students. It also sells, rents and repairs diving equipment. Certified diving instructor Roman Mizanski has owned the shop for more than thirty years, and can’t imagine doing anything else. “Once you’re a diver, you’re a diver for life,” he states. “Diving is a sensation activity. It is what you feel in the water, to be in three dimensional space. What you see is gravy.”
Roman is enthusiastic about diving conditions in Southern Ontario, and keeps his dive charter boat in the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River. “To go below the waters in the St. Lawrence is as fine as anything you might see in the Caribbean,” he insists. “We have conditions that are quite spectacular, and in an inland body of water relative to just about any place in Ontario, probably the greatest concentration in both numbers and species of fish and other marine life.”
Believe it or not, local diving is actually a possibility. In fact, we have two shipwrecks here in Durham. The Juno, which sank in 1914, was a barge that was used to carry gravel. Today, it lies in approximately fifteen feet of water at the bottom of Waverley Road in Bowmanville, and is often visited by local scuba divers. In Port Hope, the P.B. Locke is a designated historical site, and buoys maintained by local diving clubs mark the final resting place of this schooner-turned-barge which sank in a storm in 1912.
“If people are diving locally and are certified, and most particularly if they already own their own equipment, then water is cheap,” Roman says. “To me there are no bad dives, there are only better dives. Even if you’re going off in, say, Lakeview park in Oshawa, it’s still that sensation of being in three-dimensional space that makes it worth it.”
Dive Source Scuba and Snorkeling Centre
In Oshawa, Dive Source Scuba and Snorkeling Centre teaches scuba lessons, and rents and sells equipment. It also facilitates dive travel adventures both domestically and internationally with a licensed travel agent on-staff. Students range from those who have never tried the sport before, to those who want to become fully-licensed scuba instructors.
“We’re one of the bigger dive shops in all of Ontario,” says owner Brian Pallock. “This is our twenty-second year. We started in Whitby, and then moved over to Oshawa. Today we have a dedicated clientele, both from the city and from different areas of Durham Region.”
“We enjoy what we do, and we’re proud of what we do,” he adds. “Scuba diving is a skill that once you have it, you’ll have it for the rest of your life. And you can experience it just about anywhere that you can be underwater.”
There is a long list of internationally-recognized scuba diving certifying authorities, but the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (or PADI) is probably the most well-known, that certification with PADI is honoured anywhere in the world.
Typically, the process of learning scuba diving has three components. First, students must learn the theory and science of what is taking place in the body below water when it breathes a compressed gas, and how to avoid potentially fatal conditions such as decompression sickness (commonly known as “the bends”). This component of the process is done in a classroom setting. This is also when students learn such technical aspects as how long they can stay under water and at what depth, and how many dives can safely be made in a day.
The second component is the teaching of basic skills underwater such as maintaining buoyancy and position while wearing equipment. This is done over a few sessions in a pool. These two aspects of training culminate in an open water experience, typically referred to as “certification dives,” in which the student demonstrates in a natural body of water that he or she has retained the skills and knowledge taught in the classroom and in the pool.
While this may sound like a lengthy process, many courses can be taught in a week. “It’s not rocket science,” says Roman Mizanski of InnerSpace. “Bottom age with us is 12 years old, and some even lower than that.” Being a fairly loosely regulated sport, there is a variation of course length depending on which organization you’re becoming certified through. At InnerSpace, students are offered seven classwork and pool sessions, with each session being about four hours long, before progressing to their certifying dives. At Dive Source, the basic certification program is done over a weekend and three or so weeknights—not including the required four certification dives.
Both courses, however, cost around the $500 mark in Durham Region. At both InnerSpace and Dive Source, that cost includes learning materials, classroom and pool time, certification fees, and equipment rental. From there, certified scuba divers can choose to upgrade their level of certification to (among many options) advanced diving, rescue diving, scuba instructor certification, deep water diving, and underwater photography.
Dive Source also offers a “try dive” for about $50. “That’s the basic if you want to see if you like it first,” says Brian Pallock.
Whichever instruction course you choose to go with, Roman Mizanski encourages more, rather than less, instruction. “I still value the solid training,” he says. “We do, through my facility, what is called legacy training. The courses tend to be longer, certainly more thorough, more involved and with more repetition. Scuba instruction has been divided into many levels, such that the basic level is almost like a taste to develop that comfort. But if you’re not comfortable once you’ve completed your basic course, you can take the next course and the next before you reach that comfort level.”
Whether you want to rent your equipment, buy it outright, or buy pieces here and there is a personal choice. “Scuba gear is very modular,” Brian of Dive Source says. “So if you want to buy just a wet suit or just a mask and snorkel and go rent stuff while you’re on your holiday, you can do that. Or you can go and buy everything from head to toe.”
InnerSpace Divers Supply
1790 Liverpool Rd., Unit 4, Pickering
Dive Source Scuba and Snorkeling Centre
423 Bloor St. W., Oshawa
Ajax Scuba Club
75 Centennial Rd, Ajax