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Certifiable Kicks

by Carolyn Underwood

Designed specifically for people who have neither the time nor the inclination to earn their certified diving status, Costa Rica's resort course is a delightful alternative.

I'm a fish. I love the water, and if God had chosen to make me a porpoise instead of a human being, I wouldn't have minded at all. The only drawback as a human to joining these wondrous creatures of the deep is the manner in which I was going to do so: heels over head and backward off the stern of a boat. At age 20, that would have been "cool." Doing so for the first time at age 50 rated somewhere between adventure and lunacy.

"You can do it. Just lift your legs up and over you'll go. You'll be back on the surface in nothing flat," cheerfully exclaimed my instructor.

I gave myself up to the ocean below and left fear behind. Somersaulting under water and bobbing quickly to the surface, I came up yelling, "Yes!" respirator flying from my mouth.

That, in all truth, was the hardest part of learning to scuba dive in what is currently recognized as "A Resort Course In Scuba Diving."

Designed specifically for people who have neither the time nor inclination to earn their certified diving status, the resort course is a delightful alternative. Instead of five-to-seven days of lessons and experience both onshore and off, and at about half the cost of full open-water certification, resort course diving safely provides you with a condensed version valid for a two-week certification period.

"Great!" you say. "That's just what I want. How do I get there from here?"

You don't simply sign up, get your gear, board the boat and jump in. It isn't that simple, thank goodness. It's important for you, as a wise consumer, to talk with the people who will be instructing you, both on land and eventually under water, to get a sense that these folks know what they are about. Ask to see their credentials to document their years of experience. Are they indeed certified instructors? By whom are they certified? There are several internationally recognized diving groups which certify schools and individuals for instruction. You will want to look for: P.A.D.I.; P.D.I.C.; and/or N.A.U.I.

A resort course begins with some "classroom" training on the fundamentals of water pressure on our bodies, including the physiological effects of diving (possible hazards and how to avoid them). Charts and verbal directions create an easy learning situation. In addition to the physics of diving, you also learn some hand signals for underwater use. They are part of the fun as well as the safety of diving.

From the "classroom" which very well may be poolside, you move into water--the pool first, then the ocean. Greet your underwater gear; learn what's what and how it works; practice underwater exercises with gear on, becoming familiar with and accustomed to it; and then, take a swim around the pool, practicing the morning/afternoon's lesson.

From the pool to the deep blue sea . . .

To observe live star fish, sea urchins (don't touch!), incredibly designed and variously colored marine life, to swim with sharks (try to choose small, friendly and already-full sharks your first time out), manta rays and porpoises, is to enter an awesome realm of life, inspiring and humbling even for two-legged fish like me. It made all the preliminary steps worth the effort. And it validated releasing the fear which kept me too long from this sport.

I learned something about fear. I learned to express it, to give voice to it and to listen to others' responses to my questions and hesitancy. By doing so, I conquered that fear and experienced something entirely new.

By the time we made our second open-water dive of the morning, no one had to encourage me to exit the boat. I just flipped like a fish.

Several groups along Costa Rica's Pacific coast offer scuba diving courses popularly known as Resort Diving. Here are just a few of them. All are P.A.D.I. certified and have strong reputations for safety and quality diving.

Bill Beard's Diving Safaris in Condovac/La Costa Hotel and Sol Playa Hermosa Hotel; US toll-free (877) 853-0538; US fax (954) 351-9740; Costa Rica (506) 672-0012; email ; Web site
With over 24 years leading divers to the good spots in Guanacaste, the Beards have NAUI, PADI, IANTD and NASE instructors on staff. As well as getting experienced divers to the best spots, they offer a one-day Resort Course for $110. It includes pool instruction and a two-tank boat dive with instructor.

The Flamingo Dive Shop in Hotel Aurola Flamingo, Flamingo Beach; phone (506) 654-4010, ext. 258; fax (506) 654-4060, 654-4165; managed by Victor Vallejos.
The Resort Course for non-certified divers is a one-day course which includes pool lesson (approximately one hour) and two boat dives in different locations. No certification is granted. Limited dive depths are 30-40 feet. Minimum age is 16. Cost for course and first two dives is US$100 per person. Subsequent days' diving do not require further pool work and cost $75 for each two-tank dive.
Other Dive Courses such as Open Water Diver, Advanced Open Water Diver, Rescue-Diver, Medic-First Aid and Dive Master certifications are available.

Rich Coast Diving, on Playas del Coco, is a full service PADI dive center owned and operated by Jessica Bradford; phone (506) 670-0176; fax (506) 670-0620; Toll Free 1-800-4-DIVING; email:; Website:
They offer the "Resort Course" among many others and even give timid souls a free introductory course in the pool so you can get to know the equipment and techniques of diving. In other words, they "wet" your appetite. One- or two-tank dives are available in their Resort Course and are all inclusive: instruction, pool time, equipment rental and dives. Minimum age is 10. All people taking their course, all ages, must fill out medical record forms. This is for your safety as well as the protection of the dive company. Should you be so taken with the Resort Course that you want to earn your Dive Certification, Rich Coast Diving offers you 1/2 price of the Resort Course ($49.50) off the cost of the Certification course (regularly $325). Full Certification will take 3 days of your vacation time, and the certification is good world wide, for the rest of your life! Advanced, Rescue, Nitrox, Divemaster and a variety of specialty courses are also available, as well as an assortment of day trips for the certified divers. Don't forget to ask about their hotel/dive packages!

On the Caribbean coast you can contact Aquamor in Manzanillo. They can be reached by email at or through Atlantico Tours in Puerto Viejo, phone (506) 750-0004, fax: (506) 750-0188.
Owner/operator Shawn Larkin is a PADI Dive Instructor. He'll get you resort certified in half a day for $45. You can be fully certified in 40 hours (4 to 5 days). All water instruction takes place among the coral of his natural swimming pool along Manzanillo Beach.
The area around Manzanillo and Gandoca is some of the best diving anywhere in Costa Rica. Shawn has over one hundred sites located, from shallow "pools" to one hundred-foot wall dives. The night diving is also spectacular.

Suggestion: If you have any serious/significant medical problems, bringing with you a signed release form from your own medical doctor will expedite the pre-check process. Although you'll still need to fill out the dive company's questionnaire, having the medical release form in-hand will eliminate having to secure one here.

Copyright (c) 1995 by Carolyn Underwood. All rights reserved.

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Updated on November 26, 2001