Dive in! Get started scuba diving, snorkeling in Pensacola – Pensacola News Journal

May 14, 2019 - Comment

Eric J. Wallace Pensacola News Journal Published 7:00 AM EDT May 14, 2019 Taking a dive into Pensacola’s deep blue water doesn’t have to come with a fear of the abyss for local water lovers. Snorkeling and scuba diving in around the Gulf of Mexico remains a popular pastime in Pensacola, combining the exercise of


Taking a dive into Pensacola’s deep blue water doesn’t have to come with a fear of the abyss for local water lovers.

Snorkeling and scuba diving in around the Gulf of Mexico remains a popular pastime in Pensacola, combining the exercise of swimming with the passion for adventure that comes with exploring beneath the ocean’s water.  

That exploration can bring divers up close and personal with the gulf’s fauna in a way few other activities can match.

“From the first time, I was just hooked,” said Jeff Stacy, 34, a local diver who earned his junior diving certificate when he was 14. “When you’re under the water, the fish don’t even care that you’re there. They just swim right up to you. You can see them right there and you’re like one of them down there.”

Snorkeling: The Gateway Sport

Bulky scuba diving equipment isn’t how most divers typically take their first dive into the sport.

Instead, the individual freedom of snorkeling, which requires just a mask, snorkel and fins for efficiency, is often the early activity that draws in diving fans for good.

More: What to know about Pensacola’s underwater world of artificial reefs

“Snorkeling is sort of the gateway sport for most of us into scuba diving,” said Robert Turpin, Escambia County marine resources manager. “Most of us snorkel or skin dive before we actually scuba dive. We have that in Escambia County with three snorkeling reefs.”

A network of artificial reefs – many of which were designed by Turpin – provide Pensacola residents many options for snorkeling, including an artificial reef off Sandy Key Drive on Perdido Key and the Park East and Park West artificial reefs on Pensacola Beach.

Building a community

Pensacola is home to several dive shops with deep roots in the local community.

Shops like Scuba Shack, Dive Pros and MBT Divers each offer their own style of classes and training programs for divers of all skill levels, whether on your first dive or looking for more technical training like night, structure or cave diving.

First-dive courses cost as little as $49 in a program with Dive Pros while both the Scuba Shack and MBT Divers offer online learning and training opportunities to help complete certification on one’s own schedule.

More: Signs up & Kids swim in at new Quietwater Kids Snorkeling Habitat

It’s difficult to overstate the role dive shops play in the foundation and growth of divers, according to Turpin, as divers’ individual training and equipment needs can be handled on a case-by-case basis.

“The secret (to diving) is to go to the dive shops and talk to the instructors,” Turpin said. “You’ll know right away if it’s the right instructors for you… After talking to a handful of dive instructors, you’ll find at least one or two that you feel a connection with.

“These people don’t do it because they’re making a ton of money. They do it because they love introducing people to the sport.”

Online communities – such as Reddit’s newly-founded /r/PensacolaDivers subreddit – also exist to connect locals in the diving community.

Diving straight in

Even with the rigorous safety techniques behind scuba, diving remains an accessible sport even for those with physical limitations.

Divers can range in age from under 10-years-old to those over 70, as Turpin recalled teaching his daughters to dive at age 10 and taking out divers over 70 not too long after.

The sport also features organizations dedicated to supporting those with special needs such as Handicapped Scuba Association and the International Association for Handicapped Divers.

More: Winter months offer unique scuba diving experience in Gulf of Mexico

And while it may be more obvious with a sport like snorkeling, the finances of buying equipment for scuba diving aren’t as burdensome as some might expect, according to Stacy.  

“To get a certification is fairly inexpensive. The gear, if you’re getting your own, there’s quite a bit of up-front cost… but after the up-front cost, it’s relatively inexpensive unless you’re trying to fly around the country to exotic locations.

“But for folks here in Pensacola, we have access to great diving.”

Eric J. Wallace can be reached at ejwallace@pnj.com or 850-525-5087.

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