So I get this bright idea that it's time to learn how to SCUBA dive. It's something I've always wanted to experience and I have a few friends that dive religiously which provides me with another motivating factor. According to their adventurous tales it's a life changing experience and it's something everybody should try at least once in their life. I assume they mean breathing under water because the types of diving they do are not for the feint of heart. We're talking technical diving to very deep depths using closed circuit rebreathing equipment. Essentially the type of diving where if you make a mistake it usually results in a visit with the grim reaper. I do the usual research online, getting an overall idea of the process and what it takes to keep from killing myself. Trust me when I say I had no clue what I was getting myself into.
There's no shortage of diving schools in the Seattle, WA area. Some of the bigger names include Seattle Scuba Schools, Underwater Sports, Lighthouse Diving Center, Bubbles Below and Tacoma SCUBA. There were a few other options but I was looking for well established businesses that have been around for a while. Next you have your choice in training organizations. Some schools only focus on one institution while others have programs available from multiple organizations. Below are just a few options.
PADI - Professional Association of Underwater Instructors
NAUI - National Association of Underwater Instructors
SDI / TDI - Scuba Diving International / Technical Diving International
SSI - Scuba Schools International
IANTD - International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers
NASE - National Academy of Scuba Educators
PSAI - Professional Scuba Association International
UTD - Unified Team Diving
After visiting, in person, all of the schools above I learned my first lesson. One thing you'll quickly realize is that your local dive shop (LDS) will try to sell you a bunch of shit that you really don't need. For the love of god how do you even know if you'll enjoy the sport of SCUBA without trying it first? Why buy a bunch of expensive equipment if there's a possible chance that after your first dive you quickly realize that this just really isn't for you? The typical salesman will insist that it's important that you have your own mask, snorkel, gloves, boots, and fins so that the gear fits you correctly. Simply put, it's a bunch of BS! Any dive school with a genuine interest in educating it's students will have an ample supply of dive gear in various sizes to either rent or include in your training. Plus you'll quickly outgrow the equipment purchased above and will end up buying double of certain things especially if you plan on buying a drysuit or wetsuit down the road. If you're made of money or just like throwing it away then by all means buy the equipment.
This ruled out most of the schools above. The ones left were Seattle Scuba Schools and Tacoma SCUBA. I ended up choosing Seattle Scuba Schools for a few reasons. It was close and I was excited to start my training right away. At the time I didn't know about Tacoma SCUBA so that option wasn't available at the time. Craig Gillespie from Seattle Scuba Schools is a great guy, has diving in his blood, and a genuine interest to share and teach SCUBA with others. Aaron from Tacoma SCUBA is also a great guy so you can't go wrong with either choice.
Seattle Scuba School's training is based on the PADI organization. The study materials include a DVD with a dynamic PDF type program and video based training (works on both MAC and PC), a dive table for determining no decompression dive times, dive logbook, and various brochures that describe and explain the benefits of the PADI organization. Craig suggested that I set aside 15-20 hours of study time for the take home course and he was pretty much on the money. My attitude going into this was that I was going to do it right, learn the material in and out, and not take any short cuts. I spent the extra time to carefully read all of the material, review it a few times to make sure I understood it, and do all of the quizzes and side lessons. Over all it was entertaining, informative, and easy to comprehend. Up next, the closed water training in the pool and then the open water dives in the Puget Sound!
Here are a few links that helped with my initial SCUBA research. ScubaBoard and the Northwest Dive Club.