Diving Right In

Scuba programs for all ages can add depth to family vacations

By: By Marty Wentzel

POIPU, Kauai If your clients want to add some depth to their family vacation this summer, Seasport Divers may be just what they’re looking for. The South Kauai company is helping clients plunge headfirst into scuba programs, with enticements for all generations.

While the minimum age for open-water diving certification is 10 years old, Seasport is promoting splashy programs catering to children as young as five.

“We have families that we have grown up with,” said Marvin Otsuji, owner of Seasport Divers, who launched the company in 1985. “Over the years the parents, then the kids, have enrolled in classes ranging from Discover Scuba to Diver Master.

“We recently had a family choose our operation over any other due to the diversity of our diving program,” Otsuji continued. “They had three kids taking our introductory programs, one who was finishing up the open-water certification and one signed up for a video specialty class. The rest of the group, who were certified divers, booked 12 days of diving. The entire family has already booked advanced courses for 2005.”

For nearly nine years, the Poipu-based company has been offering programs allowing young visitors to test the waters of scuba diving. Its SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) pool program outfits children 5 and older with a buoyant scuba-like tank. Participants swim on the surface of the water and breathe through a regulator, so they can’t inhale water. Wearing fins, masks and wet suits, the wee ones play with water toys while getting into the swim of diving. The one-hour pool programs take place at the Embassy Suites Kauai and cost $30 per child.

The next step is Seasport’s SASY Sea Dives, allowing children ages 5 and up to take what they’ve learned in the pool and apply it to the ocean at safe snorkel sites along the South Shore. The one-hour sessions cost $85 per child.

For eight- and nine-year-olds, the firm features the one-hour Bubblemakers program. Kids learn scuba diving in a shallow pool under the watchful eyes of qualified dive staff ($30). After the pool session, kids can try Ocean Bubblemakers, with one-hour dives in seawater up to six feet deep ($85).

Once they’re 10 years old or more, non-certified divers can try the Discover Scuba program, starting with a free introductory pool class followed by an ocean dive at Whaler’s Cove (from $100). Or, they can join the rest of the clan on afternoon boat charters ($135). The destination is Sheraton Caverns, where ancient lava tubes create fascinating underwater shapes and Hawaiian sea turtles, moray eels, frog fish, lion fish and even the occasional white tip reef shark roam.

When the whole family has become certified, they can experience an intergenerational immersion at Koloa Landing. One of Kauai’s best-loved shore-dive sites, its waters are populated by turtles, eels and giant schools of fish ($75 one-tank, $90 for two tank). For $105 per person, certified divers can go out on two-tank morning or afternoon charters on board the Anela Kai (Sea Angel), Otsuji’s 48-foot vessel. While the boat is certified for 42 passengers and 30 divers, Seasport limits diver capacity to 18 so clients are comfortable, not crowded.

“I think the Anela Kai is the best-equipped vessel in the state,” said Otsuji, noting that it has two boarding ladders, a large swim step, two hot-water showers, a camera table, television, stereo, washer/dryer, air compressor, bathroom, carpeted deck and 10-person observation deck.

Seasport also has a 30-foot catamaran with bathroom, freshwater shower, swim step and boarding ladders.

“I am working on acquiring another outstanding diving vessel that will go into operation next year,” Otsuji said.

For the ultimate family outing, Seasport Divers runs charters to the waters off the neighboring island of Niihau, during the normally calm summer months. The dive sites, 20 miles and 2½ hours away, are considered some of the best in Hawaii, teeming with such marine life as dolphins, butterfly fish, angel fish, spotted eagle rays, monk seals, octopus, lobster, tiger cowries and turtles.

The Niihau adventure runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and includes three dives, breakfast, lunch and snacks ($275 per diver).