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Local Life

Going to great depths for a good time

Diving a popular pastime for residents of landlocked Colorado


Space, the final frontier.

While that’s a frontier most of us won’t have the chance to explore, two-thirds of Earth has the next best thing — open water for scuba diving.

“Just like in space travel, you get that same weightlessness and sense of exploration when you dive into the ocean,” said Derek Prosser, owner of Underwater Phantaseas, which is celebrating 35 years in Lakewood. “There’s something new to see every time I dive.”

Despite being a landlocked state, Colorado is home to a large number of avid divers. According to the Colorado Ocean Coalition, a nonprofit with the goal of inspiring residents to promote healthy oceans through education and community involvement, Colorado has more certified scuba divers than any other state.

And owners of the many scuba shops in the metro area know why.

“We have the long cold winters that people want to escape in someplace warm,” said Fred Halcomb, owner of Arvada’s Coral Key Scuba and Travel shop. “We have a major hub airport, and are just a five-hour flight from some of the best diving. We have a lot of transplants from warm places. And Colorado is a very fit place, so people who live here are looking for active things to do.”

While there are some places to dive in Colorado during the summer months — like Chatfield Reservoir, Jefferson Lake, and even the Downtown Aquarium — most people who come into area scuba shops are preparing for a trip somewhere warm — think Fiji, Mexico and the Caribbean. Because of this fact, most scuba shops have a travel agent component, and many organize group guided trips with customers and staff.

“The most popular place we see is Cozumel in Mexico,” said Brian Miller, owner of One World Dive and Travel in Greenwood Village. “One of the best things about diving is it’s a great reason to travel to some beautiful places in the world.”

Training and education are key parts of any safe and successful dive trip, and to that end, most dive shops offer classes, pools for practice, and guided dives to get scuba certified. Many facilities have their own pools for training, and work with people who are reluctant to take to the water. Many first-time divers also have fears about pressure on their ears, claustrophobia and panicking once they get underwater.

“Taking people who are afraid is my absolute favorite thing to do,” Halcomb said. “It takes a little bit of time to get past those fight-or-flight responses, especially since you’re not used to being in water in breathing, but we take it as slow as is necessary to get our students comfortable.”

The youngest a person can be certified is 10 years old, and divers can be active well into their 80s.

“The water is the great equalizer, and we do a lot of work with patients at Craig Hospital,” said Scott Taylor with A-1 Scuba & Travel Aquatics Center in Littleton. “There’s a misconception that to dive, you have to be super fit, but that’s just not the case.”

Everyone has a different story behind their love of diving — Prosser first got into it because he saw a poster while he was bored in algebra and Halcomb was in the Navy — but once they found their sea legs, there was no going back.

‘No matter where you go, it’s just awesome,” Taylor said. “When you’re diving, you become an ambassador to the underwater world, and when you dive with other people, all your differences disappear.”


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