There are a fair share of water-related activities that one can participate in at Kansas lakes — water skiing, fishing, swimming, boating — but scuba diving is definitely not among them.
That hasn’t stopped Flatland Dive Academy from introducing and certifying Kansans in the sport of scuba diving. But when the only waves in the area amber waves of grain, a little creativity is required to ensure students receive full and proper training.
“No one in Kansas makes a living teaching scuba,: said Tray Green who, along with Jeff Freeborn owns the Abilene-based business. Dive instruction takes place at a swimming pool at K-State, and the Junction City and Salina YMCAs. For the open-water portion of the course, students meet at Beaver Lake in Arkansas.
“At Milford Lake you would be lucky to see your hand in front of your face. One of the difficulties about getting involved in diving in Kansas (is) traveling in such a way that the diver actually has fun,” he said. “If I take a new diver down to Milford they are going to be cold, they are not going to see anything, they are going to wonder ‘what the heck am I doing under water?’”
At Beaver Lake divers have visibility and can easily see a range of underwater life. Once they have that dive under their belts, it’s time to move on to a place like the Caribbean where they get hooked, he said.
Green became hooked when two of his children took a dive class at K-State. He gave it a try and quickly became captivated by the beauty of a world so different than what we see on land.
“The first time I dove was down off of Belize, I dropped in 65 feet of water on an eight-foot nurse shark,” he said. “My first 30 minutes underwater I saw three green turtles, that nurse shark two eels, countless other (fish).”
He compared the experience to how a motor head might feel as he walked into a tremendous car show. Part of the excitement for him now is taking new divers out and experiencing their excitement when they come back to the boat after their first real dive.
Some new divers, or people who may be thinking about learning to dive, have been snorkeling and gotten a little taste of the wondrous underwater world through a mask. But Green says the experiences can hardly be compared.
When snorkeling, a person might be able to free dive 30 to 40 feet, but most people wouldn’t be able to go that far and the length of time underwater is tremendously shorter.
“I love to snorkel,” he said. “I drive a minivan, and about a year ago out at Heartland Park I drove their Formula One car. Driving that minivan is snorkeling — driving that Formula One car is how I view scuba diving.”
Learn to scuba
Flatland Divers certifies students through National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). Knowing how to swim is a prerequisite, but students do not have to be expert swimmers.
“I swim like a brick,” Green said.
The first day of class there is a swimming evaluation, which consists of swimming 200 meters using any stroke except doggy paddle, treading water for 10 minutes and a 50-meter underwater swim.
“What we are looking for there is comfort in the water. We want to know that you are going to be safe in the water and not a threat to yourself or somebody else,” he said.
Prior to signing up for the certification course, people who think they might be interested are invited to an introduction to scuba class that gives them a feel for what the course is like. All equipment and materials are provided for this class. The $25 fee can be applied to the scuba instruction course if the student chooses to attend. The class can also be used for a college credit. For students who choose to continue past the introduction class, certification is generally a six-week course, meeting once a week for about four to four-and-a-half hours. There is also a weekend class that is about eight hours a day on Saturday and Sunday, with previous online instruction.
“That is the way we get them through the open water certification,” he said. “At that point there is still one more step, which is your open water certification dive.”
Students go through five dives during which they are tested on their core competencies and a little extended training such as compass training. The certification is scheduled over a summer weekend at Beaver Lake.