Every student I’ve taught scuba has heard the same spiel.
One of the most important things a new scuba diver can do is find a local dive center they trust.— Cal “Uncle Cal” Evans
Before you buy gear, book travel, or continue your education beyond your basic open water certification. Find a local dive center. It’s equivalent to finding a good mechanic you trust or a barber/stylist that you trust.
There are several large scuba diving chains out there and on the surface, these might seem to be your best bet. Here are some of the key benefits you can expect from a local dive center.
I’ve gotten to know the people who have run it at every local dive center I’ve ever worked with for more than a single purchase. I made it a point to meet the team that maintains and repairs the gear. I want to know the people who work on the gear I’m trusting my life to. If I find the workshop messy or their lackadaisical attitude, I take it as a sign that I may need to look at other dive centers. The people are what will make or break any experience at a local dive center. Make sure you pick a local dive center that has good people.
Diving is a social activity, and a local dive center can be a great place to meet other divers and make new friends. You’ll find a welcoming community of people who share your passion for exploring the underwater world. Many dive centers also organize group trips and events, which can be a fun way to dive with others and build your skills.
While big box scuba diving retailers may offer a wider range of equipment options, a local dive center is more likely to have high-quality, well-maintained gear that is suited to the local diving conditions. Since they don’t carry everything, they only carry the things that they really believe are the best of breed.
Usually, you’ll also have the benefit of being able to try out equipment before you buy it, which can be helpful when you’re just starting out. The very first local dive center I ever worked with had a pool. Any piece of gear you wanted to try before you bought, you could strap to a tank and dive in. They even provided you with the gas for free. It was great to be able to try out 2-3 different regulators and BCDs before making a decision.
In my scuba diving adventures, I’ve dealt with dozens of local dive centers as well as many of the large chains and online stores. In almost every case I make all my major gear purchases at a local dive center I frequent and consider “my local dive center”. I may buy my noise maker from Amazon, but never my regulator.
All of my certifications, from my Open Water to my Blue Heron Bridge Diver specialty have come from local dive centers.
I am not saying the large box dive centers are bad. However, I prefer – and always recommend to my students – that they find “their local dive center”. A local dive center that they like, and that works well with them. Then I tell them to support them every way they can. A local dive center will help every new scuba diver dive confidently.
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