American Steven Schwankert has come a long way from his home state of New Jersey. Diving since he was 10 years old, Schwankert began teaching after he gained his Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) qualification in Hong Kong. PADI is the world’s largest organization for teaching scuba diving. Schwankert started Beijing’s first professional dive operation, SinoScuba, in early 2003 upon moving back to China.All levels, from beginners to advanced are welcome, and instruction is offered in either English or Mandarin. Having guided nearly 800 divers, SinoScuba invites water enthusiasts (ages eight and up) to explore the vibrant marine life that resides in the waters of China and beyond.
Many first-timers sign up for a lesson to overcome their fear of the water or sharks. Schwankert finds that once they conquer their fears these former landlubbers are in fact great divers.
Beijing expats have access to beautiful, exotic countries. Instead of spending an entire holiday getting certified, divers can opt to start right in Beijing. One of SinoScuba’s more popular options is a referral course, where a diver receives worldwide-recognized referral documents after completing their theory and pool training in Beijing. Next, divers can do their four open-water dives at any PADI facility, after which a diver qualifies for certification. "Asia really is the best place in the world to dive. It’ll never be better [or more]cost effective than it is here," says Schwankert.
Safety is just as important to SinoScuba as it is to nervous parents. While scuba diving sounds like a dangerous sport to newcomers, a responsible, well-trained diver has little to worry about. Schwankert claims, "The safety record for diving is superb. You’re so much more at risk driving on a Beijing street than you are scuba diving." In fact, the annual death rate for diving is one in every 200,000 dives while road accidents are much higher: one out of 16,800.
SinoScuba divers receive ample knowledge and instruction before their first dive. In addition, good quality equipment is provided and checked by each diver before a dive. SinoScuba holds a 100 percent safety record, which means that no water-dwelling animal has ever harmed a guest. For safety, he does not take divers in during feeding times. "I am not a risk taker," Schwankert declares.
Skeptics can be assured by the parents of Thomas Ryde (13). Ryde completed his referral course at Blue Zoo Beijing aquarium. His father Michael, who has been diving since 2008, advises, "There is no risk if you’re careful." Michael’s wife Nishioka Naoko, who also dives, adds, "You have to learn with the right person and you have to learn properly; then you’ll be equipped with all the knowledge." When asked about the sharks, young Ryde admits, "I was a little afraid in the beginning, but after I swam by the sharks multiple times, I wasn’t scared at all and actually touched them many times." The family is now planning diving trips around Thailand and the Philippines.
Classes for Young Divers
Since diving is not competitive, it can help boost the esteem of any child, regardless of athletic ability. As a diver who started young, Schwankert understands the benefit and significance of learning early. It builds confidence and helps develop good diving habits. He also believes that young divers make better divers.
Physics, chemistry and biology are applied in diving, but that shouldn’t scare students away. "It’ll make sense and it’ll be fun," Schwankert assures. Students as young as 8 can receive diving instruction but they are limited to the swimming pool, as per the PADI standard. However, they learn the same skills required in an open water course. These young divers are expected to pass to the same standards set for adults.
Ten-year-olds with excellent math and science skills qualify for the full certification course, which lasts a lifetime. To maintain a certification’s credibility, divers are recommended to dive at least once a year.
Kids ages 10 and up are ripe for learning how to scuba dive. They are well-equipped to handle the task loading and more capable of equalizing their ears underwater. SinoScuba runs three courses suitablefor children: Open Water Diver, Scuba Diver and Fun Dive. Open Water Diver is a three-week basic course that involves pool sessions, theory sessions and a final exam. Learning supplements include a book and a video. Students who don’t have amazing math and science skills can try Scuba Diver, a shorter version of Open Water Diver. Divers are limited to 12 meters of water, while learning a portion of the same theory and pool training.
There are two types of trips: a Fun Dive and exploration diving. Open to all levels of divers, a Fun Dive is a one-day experience and a great way to introduce diving to first-timers. These dives are typically done at Blue Zoo Beijing at a depth of three meters of salt water, filled with plenty of aquatic life. Certified divers interested in petting water-dwelling mammals can partake in the Dolphin Dive at the Beijing Aquarium.
Exploration diving is an exciting trip for any diver. SinoScuba is one of the few dive operators that offer this one-of-a-kind experience. "There are a ton of places [in China]that have never been dived before, [where]no one has ever been underwater, or taken pictures in those environments before. In the US, those opportunities are long gone," says Schwankert.
Fifteen-year-old divers and older can take the Advanced Open Water course, a course that teaches additional skills, such as underwater navigation and deep diving. Adventure Diver, a lighter version, includes a dive at the Blue Zoo. Higher level courses, such as Rescue Diver, are reserved for adults.
Whether they dive once or develop a passion for the water sport, scuba diving is an experience your child will not soon forget. "When you show them how to breathe underwater and put their hand on a shark, [it]is a transcendental experience. Their life is different after that," says Schwankert. "Even if they don’t dive again, they’ve done something that they never expected they would [or could]do."
For more information, contact Steven Schwankert at 135 0116 3629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For details, visit www.sinoscuba.com.
A Fun Dive at Blue Zoo Beijing is a good introduction for first-timers (ages 10 and up). Adults RMB 650, children (ages 17 and under) RMB 550, non-diving accompanying adults and children each at RMB 90. Prices include equipment hire, entry and dive supervision.