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Kids explore another world

A Hudson scuba shop conducts a weeklong diving camp that is geared toward children.

By MICHELE MILLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000


When it comes to kids and summer camp there is little doubt that some of the best times are spent frolicking in the water.

For Jessica and Mick Karabeika, of New Port Richey, the highlight of their summer so far has been the week spent mostly underwater as they worked toward getting their Junior Open Water Scuba Certification at the Scuba West summer camp program in Hudson.

Five days were spent dividing time between the classroom and the water where the youngsters learned the fundamentals of scuba diving at a local pool, among bluegills (fish) and alligator turtles in the tannic water of a deep sinkhole called the Hudson Grotto, and finally their certification dive at Weeki Wachee Springs in Hernando County.

The book work was tough for 11-year-old Mick. "The (written) tests were hard and we had to read a long book," he said. "There were a lot of early mornings and late nights (studying)."

"It was fun and interesting," said Jessica, 12. "It was cool going under water for the first time -- it's like another world."

Scuba West, run by Paul and Jill Heinerth, who have gained national recognition as technical divers for the United States Deep Caving Team, is the only scuba shop to offer a weeklong camp program geared toward children.

Other local shops such as Divers World of Hudson, Sunset Dive Center and Sunny Seas Scuba Inc., both of New Port Richey, also offer instructional diving classes for children as well as adult, but their classes are held twice weekly over a two to three week period.

"There's a lot of extensive material to cover," said Allen Mercandin, owner of Sunset Dive Center, "Because of the retention level of these kids we think it's best to spread the classes out."

No doubt, it is a grueling week, said Scuba West dive instructor, Dave Haluka. "There's a lot of physical work to it -- the very first day they're in the classroom and then out to the water," he said. "By about Wednesday the kids are going to bed about 8 o'clock (p.m.) "These kids are basically living and breathing diving for one week straight and getting certified while they're at it. It gives them the opportunity to learn diving in an atmosphere with their peers."

As for the Karabeika youngsters, well, they're planning on turning their scuba diving hobby into a family affair.

"We've been snorkeling for years," said their mother, Gwyn Karabeika. But now that the kids are both certified she and her husband, Michael, plan to sign up for classes, too.

Especially if she has a chance to dive, like her children did, in Weeki Wachee Springs, where the mermaids usually perform.

"It was cold and clear and there were lots of fish," said Karabeika, who watched her children test for their last open water dive from the theater. "It was a wonderful place for moms and dads to watch their kids get their certificate. It was awesome," she said.

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