Jim and Alex Paczinski love adventure. As the oldest of Jim’s five children, Alex (age 14) is his dad’s hiking companion, copilot and, most recently, scuba-diving buddy. It was their quest for underwater exploration that brought this father-son team from Aiken to the Lowcountry for a four-day scuba course.
According to Tom Robinson, owner of Charleston Scuba, the Lowcountry is one of the best places to dive because the water offshore is warm and contains an amazing number of fish. “The Cooper River is also a world-class location for finding fossils and artifacts,” he adds. Along with his wife, Sally, Tom owns Charleston’s only five-star PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) dive center.
At Charleston Scuba, the Robinsons offer a variety of classes for all ages and skill levels (from basic open water certification to instructor development courses), and they emphasize the important life skills that diving can teach. “With scuba, once kids learn what they have to do, they really ‘man up.’ They realize they’re responsible for not only themselves but also their buddy and their equipment,” says Sally. “Diving also teaches time management, because you have to constantly be aware of the amount of air left in your tank.”
As a school guidance counselor and physical education teacher, Jim was attracted to Charleston Scuba’s teaching philosophy. And he was especially impressed with the level of commitment his son showed during training: “It really brought Alex outside of himself and taught him the value of teamwork.”
Even though the four-day course ($375) included six hours in a classroom working through a 200-page instruction manual (not the way most teens want to spend their free time), the reward was “totally worth it,” says Alex. The Thursday-through-Sunday program got the Paczinskis into the pool for several dive sessions with the scuba equipment. “Breathing underwater was a bit of a shock at first,” continues Alex, “but I love the thrill factor that comes from always having to stay on your toes.”
After finishing their initial training, the father and son had to complete a dive in order to receive open water certification, which they did on a trip that Charleston Scuba organized to Florida’s Rainbow River. They also took additional classes in order to receive their advanced open certification ($245), which enhances core skills like deep diving and navigation. While on a dive at Troy Spring, Florida, “we actually went to a depth of 73 feet and carved our names into a log at the bottom,” recalls Jim. But they didn’t stop there.
The pair also completed an Enriched Air Nitrox certification class ($195) in order to be able to extend their dive times, following up with dives on the Cooper River. They were amazed by the fossilized great white and mako sharks’ teeth they found. “The best thing about all the classes we’ve taken is that I know we’re gaining every skill we need to feel comfortable diving anywhere,” says Alex.
Scuba requires a lot of commitment and training, but there’s nothing like the bond among divers. “You get the chance to meet new people everywhere you go,” says Jim. “You feel an instant connection to anyone you dive with because you realize that you have to watch out for each other during such an extreme adventure.”
Jim and Alex are looking forward to introducing the rest of their family to the incredible world of diving. “Scuba is one of those rare skills that parents and kids can learn together,” says Sally. “Everyone starts at the same level and they get to help each other throughout the entire process.”
Starting around age eight, children can become involved in scuba-diving activities. For the smaller set, Charleston Scuba offers a “Snorkeler” pool program designed to introduce swimmers as young as three to snorkeling ($35-$25).
Here are other PADI courses to get the kids underwater:
SEAL Team Camp ($180):
SEAL Team Kid’s Club ($45/meeting):
Junior Open Water Diver ($375-$525):
For more details, log on to www.charlestonscuba.com or call (843) 763-3483.