SNUBA-Taking the Dive

Savannah Chastain
Challis Weerts helps customers prepare for their SNUBA dive as SNUBA instructor, Nick Williams readies the floating airtank.

Editor’s Note: As part of the “100 days of Summer,” The Log will be exploring Destin and the activities it has to offer during the summer season. This week the featured pastime is SNUBA.

It was bright and early on a recent Wednesday afternoon and the water was particularly calm in the Gulf of Mexico. Val Costley, co-owner of Destin Snorkel had already greeted and handed out equipment to 16 customers who were gearing up for the 8 o’clock SNUBA trip.

“Usually in the mornings, if it’s calm like this we take trips out to the intake, a big box that used to flush the harbor out,” said Costley.

The intake, an abandoned metal-grated box has now formed a lively artificial reef that is teeming with small marine life.

“We limit the number of people to 16 so that we can dive it because it’s really our favorite location in the Gulf,” Costley said.

Upon boarding the Snuba Runner, Captain Challis Weerts gave customers a brief safety introduction and made sure to ask each person if they had any previous snorkel or SNUBA experience.

“We always ask to get a feel of where you are as far as comfort level in the water,” said Weerts. “People who have never snorkeled are really hesitant and really apprehensive when they first get out there. At the intake we are anchoring up in deep water so it’s a bit more intimidating when we take them out in the Gulf.”

Weerts told The Log that once at the dive site, there are two certified SNUBA instructors in the water at all times; one to lead the dive below and one at the surface to assist customers with any problems.

“I hang out on the surface cheering them on and working through their problems,” said Weerts. “We’d rather take out smaller numbers and make sure everybody has a good time, than having people walk away intimidated and not sure if they want to do it again.”  

Deede and Carter Stillwell of Houston, Texas, were heading out for their first SNUBA experience. When asked if they felt nervous or excited Deede replied, “A little bit of both.”

Carter agreed saying, “I guess I’ll just wait and see how it is, and see how cold the water is.”

At the dive site, Weerts shared detailed information about the diving equipment and important procedures.

“Welcome to the intake!” she said. “This is absolutely perfect, and we will help you each and work at your own personal pace.”

Weerts went on to explain the three most important rules to diving: “Just breathe! Never hold your breath, and continually equalize your ears anytime you are heading down.” 

After the tour had been split into two smaller groups and equipped with a breathing hose, weights, fins and mask, it was finally time to take the plunge. As the divers slowly made their way to the ocean floor, 26 feet below the water’s surface, thousands of Shad fish circled the intake forming a tunnel-like experience

“The nice thing about SNUBA is that you have fish to distract you so you’re not thinking about how weird it is to be breathing underwater,” Weerts said when listing the benefits of SNUBA as an introduction to diving.

“With dive certification you are just sitting in the bottom of a pool and it feels really weird.”

Once every diver had made it to the intake box, SNUBA instructor, Nick Williams pointed out crabs, sea urchins, starfish and other interesting marine life, for observation.

 “My favorite part was getting to have the spider crab crawl on my hand,” said 14-year-old Jordan Epple after his SNUBA dive. “And just being right there and looking up.”

The Epple family of Frisco, Texas was diving together for the first time, as parents, Kevin and Brooke are avid divers, but their children Jordan and Lexi were first-timers to the diving scene.

“It’s a great intro for people, especially for the kids it’s a great idea,” said Brooke. “It would stink getting certified, getting down there and then saying, ‘Yeah, that isn’t for me.’”

After trying SNUBA, twelve-year-old Lexi is now hooked as she said of her parents, “I’ve heard them talk about scuba diving and they say they love it, and with SNUBA I feel like this is the beginning for me.”

And as for the Stillwells who were a bit apprehensive heading out, all their fears seemed to have vanished when they returned from their SNUBA outing.

“I liked it,” said Deede. “I had to learn to pop my ears, but it was nice.”

TO SEE MORE PHOTOS OF SNUBA CLICK HERE

WANNA GO?

Destin Snorkel offers daily SNUBA trips at 8 a.m. and 12 p.m., for anyone 8-years-old and up. The three-hour tour allows for approximately 20 minutes of SNUBA time and ample snorkeling time. Visit www.destinsnorkel.com or call 269-2329 for more information.