October 23, 2021

Students dive into SUNY Cortland scuba course

Nick Graziano/contributing photographer

Scuba Diving Instructor Dave Trance, right, teaches his class about letting air out of their dry diving suits during a scuba diving class Thursday night at SUNY Cortland.

College students tend to dread late classes, especially ones close to the weekend, but a class Thursday night had students wishing it went all night: scuba diving.

Lined at the edge of the Park Center pool on the SUNY Cortland campus, 14 students eagerly waited to descend into the water to test for the first time a dry dive suit — meant to keep the diver’s body dry while underwater.

Once in, there was not a face without a smile as they each enjoyed the awkwardness of being in the water in the baggy suits. Then once they put their air tanks on, the real fun began.

Like fish in a bowl, they navigated through the shallow end of the pool, with the guidance of their instructors.

“I love it,” Kaila Babcock, a senior biology major at the college, said before the class began. “It is a lot of fun.”

Thursday was their sixth week of the seven-week course, which ends with the opportunity for the students to dive in Skaneateles Lake. By the end of the course, the students should be able to take everything they learned and put it to use in the lake, said Dave Trance, instructor for the class.

“It is not a test, but a continuation of their training,” Trance said.

He has been diving himself for about 25 years, and teaching scuba for 20 years. While he is considered an adjunct faculty member with SUNY Cortland, he, like the assistant instructors, is a teacher for National Aquatic Service Inc. of Syracuse, which puts on the class.

National Aquatic Service provides all the equipment for the students to use, too. The rent for the equipment is added in their tuition fee.

Each class begins with a classroom lecture, before the students get an opportunity to get in the pool. It is a course students can take for credit, but if they want, by the end of the class they can become a certified diver, Trance said, which about 95 percent of the students do.

Babcock said she is studying to be a marine biologist, so the class gives her the opportunity to learn a lot about diving and to become certified.

Liam Fogarty, a senior new communication media major at SUNY Cortland just needed a class to fill his credit requirements, and now he is on his way to becoming a certified diver, as well.

“I had done snorkeling before and thought scuba would be different.” Fogarty said. “It is a lot of fun.”

One of the biggest surprises about the class to him was all the little details that go into scuba diving.

From how to speak with each other under water through hand signals and using the equipment properly, there are a lot of important details the students learn before they even get into the water. The most important lessons the instructors teach is safety, Trance said.

Students learn emergency skills, what-if situations and how to deal with them.

Before the students went into the pool Thursday night Trance went over the importance of having a dive plan with the students. The plan, which each diver should make before diving, includes simple tasks such as checking the weather and more in-depth research such as studying what wildlife — above and underwater — will be around where you go diving.

Each class is a building block of skills for the students. Trance said he wants students to be as comfortable as possible, particularly when they begin to dive deeper.

Thursday night, the students stayed in the shallow end, about 5 feet deep. Next class they will be moved to the deep end of the pool, which is about 15 feet deep. And when they get to the lake they could go from 20 to 30 feet deep.

Trance said he is not concerned with seeing how deep he can go. To him, it is more gratifying to enjoy the weightlessness of being underwater and watching the fish.

The thrill of navigating through the water like a sea creature can accelerate time, as some students were in disbelief when Trance gave a 5 minute last call for swim time.

“It is the only three-hour class that feels like it is 30 minutes,” Fogarty said.