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ISSUE 116 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/8/2002

Flying underwater

By Peter Gloviczki
Staff Writer

Friday, November 8, 2002

St. Olaf currently offers a number of classes which help fulfill the college’s Physical Activity requirement, but few are more tempting to students than the college’s scuba diving program. “It is a totally different world under the water. The biodiversity is amazing and I thought it would be fun to experience it first hand,” said Lucas Paulsen ‘05.

Indeed, the students who have taken the class, such as Luke Zaccaro ‘03, a first-time diver, have thoroughly enjoyed scuba diving, even if it was a bit daunting at first.

“[Before I took the class] I could barely even swim. As a non-swimmer, and as someone who's a little uncomfortable around water, I couldn’t hold my breath very long,” said Zaccaro. Once he got under water, however, Zaccaro found the experience remarkable. “[It was] absolutely amazing-taking the first underwater breath was one of my most incredible experiences. Being underwater, we are physically beholden to the surface with our need for air. If you can breathe underwater, you are much more free – it feels like flying,” said Zaccaro. Instructor John Campion feels that students in the class have a unique opportunity to experience the underwater world, something not available in most other sports. “Scuba, unlike a lot of sports, is an activity,” said Campion. It perhaps should not be called the Sport of Diving because we are basically sight-seeing under water, .

While the class gives students an opportunity to scuba dive underwater, they must also take part in classroom instruction. There is typically one class period a week-on Friday evenings from 6:00-7:30. Then, there are pool sessions directly after class or on the following Saturday morning. The class sessions discuss things like underwater environments, uses of the diving equipment, procedures, and other basic classroom topics. The pool sessions apply all that was learned in the class. About an hour a week was spent in the water. The class is essentially over before the half-semester mark. After that, students have one review session, followed by an open–water dive, Zaccaro explained. During open water weekend, which also serves as part of the final for the class, the students apply the lessons they have learned in the class to the water.

“There is a required open dive at Squirrel Lake in Stillwater, Minn. to get certified,” said Paulsen. Zaccaro remembers the dive test as a rather difficult task. “The lakes are not the best places to dive, since visibility is limited and the water is cold; it's more of a proving ground than a vacation,” he said. After they have proven themselves on the open water, students can receive lifetime certification as scuba divers, and Campion feels that this opportunity makes the class especially appealing to students.

“People really like the class because they figure that they will be able to go diving for the next 40-50 years. I have former students still diving in their 60's and 70's,” said Campion. Paulsen agrees that the class has helped him acquire a life-long skill. “It fills [a] physical education requirement, but more importantly it is something I will be able to use the rest of my life. It has open[ed] the door to new opportunities,” he said. “It’s showed me how much I have to learn about the underwater world.” Zaccaro’s experience in the class has helped him gain an interest in scuba diving, as well as a greater feeling of security around water. “I am more comfortable with water now, for one thing. I also feel like I have gained a hobby. If I end up saving enough money to vacation in the [Caribbean], Australia, or a similar place, scuba diving will be a priority,” said Zaccaro.

“Though I cannot simply go diving anytime I wish because the equipment is expensive, I know a lot more about how this great sport activity works,” said Zaccaro. Paulsen has been equally satisfied with his experience, and recommends the class to fellow students, both because of the certification and the opportunity to dive. “Do it, you won't regret it. You're certified for life. It is amazing, suspended in water and entering a totally different world is an unbelievable experience,”said Paulson. “It is quite the ‘high’. It would be difficult to replicate the sensations that run through your body while underwater.”

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