Though most of us living around Puget Sound are landlubbers, the underwater kingdom is closer than it seems, waiting to be discovered.
There is a vibrant scuba diving community in Seattle, and while it might seem like an intimidating hobby — it goes without saying that diving is not an activity to be taken lightly — you can learn how to dive in the Seattle area without jumping in head first.
There are many places around Greater Seattle to get certified and to hone your scuba skills beyond the basics, from training pools to underwater playgrounds where divers explore Puget Sound below the surface.
Here’s what you need to know about taking that first dive.
Getting in the water for the first time
Kalen Hill is the owner of Tacoma Scuba, a dive shop located at 1602 Center St. in Tacoma. “The first step in scuba training is taking a certification course,” Hill said. “A full certification will give you a license to dive anywhere in the world.”
The PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Open Water Diver course, the most common scuba certification training, begins with online learning that familiarizes first-time divers with scuba equipment, terminology and vital safety procedures. That online training costs $202.
Training then shifts to the pool to learn dive skills: hand signals, breathing, descents and ascents, equalizing pressure in your ears and more. From Tacoma to Everett, there are PADI-certified dive shops all around Greater Seattle that offer instruction.
Training finishes with open-water diving. You can take a class over a series of days or months — per PADI, classes are “organized according to how fast you progress.” Once training is complete, you’ll be certified to dive worldwide.
If you’re unsure whether you want to commit to the full experience, you can start with a PADI Discover Scuba Diving class, which most dive shops offer. Here, you can learn about scuba equipment in a controlled pool environment, get a taste for what it’s like to breath underwater and find out what it takes to get full dive certification.
There are plenty of dive shops around Greater Seattle, from Underwater Sports, which has five locations around the Sound, to Seattle Dive Tours in West Seattle and plenty more. Underwater Sports focuses on group classes, the most popular and cost-effective way to get into the sport. Courses cost approximately $500; renting equipment will run an additional $200.
Annie Crawley, decorated diver, instructor and owner of Annie Crawley’s Dive Team, specializes in private lessons, which are more expensive but more intimate, she says.
“Private instruction allows people to have more one-on-one interaction, you get more personalized training,” Crawley said. “A lot of people don’t realize this is an option.”
Where to get gear
A perk of learning to scuba dive in the Puget Sound area is the abundance of dive shops here. Beyond the aforementioned Seattle schools, there is Argonaut Diving in Edmonds, Exotic Aquatics on Bainbridge Island and more than a dozen other scuba diving shops in the Greater Seattle area.
Most dive shops offer rentals in addition to selling scuba equipment. If you are set on learning to dive and know that you will get a lot of use out of your kit, your money is best spent buying the gear, though it will cost upward of $1,000.
Whether renting or buying, dive shops can outfit you with all the equipment you will need: fins, mask, snorkel, tanks, regulator, dry suit, etc. Dive shops will be able to tell you exactly what gear you need to get started, so don’t stress about getting each specific piece of equipment on your own.
Get out and dive
So you’re all suited up, certified and ready to dive. Exploring Puget Sound below the surface is an extraordinary experience, one that divers promise is worth the investment.
“There is something about the magic of breathing underwater,” Crawley said. “There is a learning curve. You have to embrace that you don’t know what you don’t know. Once you learn how to dive, you have a superpower that you can take with you all over the world.”
Tacoma Scuba’s Hill echoed that we live in a special corner of the diving world.
“We are in a lucky area for diving here. It is rare to have so many accessible sites from shore,” she said.
From the underwater trails of Edmonds Underwater Park — a marine conservation area protected by the city of Edmonds since 1970 — to the Alki Coves at Seacrest Park in West Seattle, the Mukilteo T-Dock and all the way south to Fox Island southwest of Tacoma (for more experienced divers), there are numerous places to explore for any level of scuba diver.
Of course, safety is paramount, and every dive has inherent risks. A 33-year-old woman died at Seacrest Park’s Cove 2 last summer after failing to resurface during a dive class.
But given the number of quality places to dive at your pace in Puget Sound, there are many reasons to pick up scuba diving in the area: a chance to swim with giant octopuses, view shipwrecks and float among sea lions.
“Every single breath we take is connected to the ocean. The food we eat, the water we drink is all tied to the ocean,” Crawley said. “The ocean has gotten a bad rap, but it’s not a scary place.”
If you learn to treat the ocean with respect, trust your equipment and rely on your training, becoming scuba certified is within reach — allowing you to join an intimate community of divers and explore the Puget Sound’s magical underwater world.