Monday, August 10, 2009

Dive & Survive: Extreme Sports Call For Extreme Measures

Tyler Paper - Tyler Morning Telegraph
Dive & Survive: Extreme Sports Call For Extreme Measures
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Feature Writer

The familiar smell of chlorine hits you as you walk through the locker rooms to the indoor pool at Tyler Junior College.

Distorted figures of divers move slowly around the bottom of the pool, their yellow-and-black flippers creating ripples across the surface of the water.

An instructor with Scuba Steve’s Aquatic Adventures leads a first-time scuba diver on a dive at the Tyler Junior College Ornelas Health and Physical Education Center in Tyler.

Bubbles bounced up through the water as divers practiced their skills, and Steve Lockhart, owner of Scuba Steve's, explained how his love affair with diving began.Decked out in regulators, masks and air tanks, scuba students line the edges of the pool while Laura Lockhart, diving instructor for Scuba Steve's Aquatic Adventures, explains the importance of equalizing the pressure in your ears under water.

"I was Scuba Steve 20 years before Adam Sandler put him in the movies," he laughed. "Everybody laughs about the name, but we get noticed!"

Steve runs a full-service dive shop in Tyler offering classes including open water, advanced, rescue, dive master, specialty and technical classes, as well as the Try Scuba classes, offered free of charge and taught in conjunction with Tyler Junior College's continuing education program.

"I've got four instructors and myself here tonight," he said, pointing them out. "We keep a low student-to-instructor ratio. Tonight, we have everything from "Try Scuba" to the third week of a class to certify divers. We do upwards of 400 certifications per year."

Steve's own experience with diving began more than 30 years ago.

"The first time I was offshore, I had an uncle who was a diver and he said, 'Do what I do,' so I went, I survived, and I was hooked."

He never dreamed he would teach the extreme sport, but with a little encouragement from his wife, Laura, he found he had the patience for teaching after all.

"I found out how rewarding it was to see people deathly afraid of the water become confident," he said. "If we could do this for free, I would."

Teaching scuba requires a lot of patience, he said, but the end result is confident, safe divers.

"I've had people in this class, grown men, who cried because they didn't know how to swim," he said. "Now I'd dive with them anywhere. I've had abused women who took the class to get over their fear of water. I've met so many people from all walks of life."

At Scuba Steve's, students start with basic equipment, keeping everything simple.

"If you're confident in your student's ability, then they will have the confidence to tackle bigger and bigger feats," he said. "In the thousands of people we've trained, I can only think of two or three who didn't complete the course. Our success rate is very high."

The hardest lesson to teach, he said, is that no one can defeat the water.

"If they fight the water, it will win every time," he said. "They have to become the water, and once they do, everything comes together. A good diver is a person who accepts the fact that we are all equal in the water -- you're only as good as the next person who can help you out in a bad situation."

Steve's diving program is comparatively old fashioned, and everything is done by the book.

"It's four weeks long, and I won't cut corners," he said. "We furnish every piece of equipment. At the end of four weeks, if the student is ready, and if we feel they are ready, we do an open water evaluation, reviewing everything they've done in their class, and at that point. If they pass, they are certified."

There are two rules at Scuba Steve's -- to be safe and to have fun.

"If number one doesn't happen, then number two isn't going to happen," he said.

But if they do happen, in the right order, they can dive to places most people only dream about.

"If you don't believe in God, take up scuba," he said. "Then you'll believe. It's a whole world a very limited part of the population gets to see. It's creation like you've never seen."

Destiny Kafka and Danielle Taylor, both of Bullard, listen to instructor Mike Jeter, of Whitehouse, during a lesson.
(Staff Photos By Tom Turner)