Article Ann E. Butenas | Photography Brian Turner and courtsey of Leslie O’Neill
If you are planning to pursue a brave new adventure in life, just dive right in! Well, before you do that, however, perhaps you should give Leslie O’Neill, owner and founder of Scuba Explorers (Scuba-Explorers.com) a call. If you don’t get enough excitement from your normal hobbies and have a strong desire to color outside of the lines and check off something from the proverbial bucket list, O’Neill can help you discover a whole new world.
Nearly three decades ago, O’Neill was on a vacation in the Cayman Islands and enthusiastically embraced the beauty and magnitude of the ocean. Instead of enjoying it from the surface, she decided to learn to scuba dive and spent the next two years learning, becoming certified and earning her certification to teach this sport to others. She developed such a passion and love for this endeavor, that it only seemed natural to share that joy with others, while at the same time properly educating them on all aspects of diving.
Five years after her visit to the Cayman Islands, O’Neill founded Scuba Explorers, and the number of students she has instructed since that time reaches great depths. When this writer suggested that snorkeling is enough for her, O’Neill countered that snorkeling is merely a teaser.
“If you see something really cool under water and want a closer view, you will need a tank to get to it,” she smiles.
What about that one little thing that just might keep a person from ever trying? It’s called fear and it usually brings its cousins anxiety and nervousness right along with it. Diving into a swimming pool is one thing. Submerging one’s self into a murky lake is yet another. But to explore the deep mysteries of the sea? Please just show me the boat.
“Most people think they will panic and become claustrophobic while under the water,” notes O’Neill. “However, once they see the abundance of marine life and the gorgeous colors, the fear goes away. It’s a new world down there.”Okay. Interest has been piqued, but what about that other little thing down there? You know about whom I speak. Most people refer to him as “Jaws.” O’Neill readily soothes any such fears.
“Believe it or not, sharks are not at all interested in you when you are diving,” she says “If you’re submerged, you are totally safe; those swimming or splashing on the surface are at a slight risk. In actuality, sharks stay far away from divers unless we are feeding them and even then they can be quite shy and skittish. We are truly not on their diet!”
While there is so much to see and explore in the ocean’s domain, the average amount of time most divers spend down there is about an hour in shallow waters and less than 20 minutes at deeper depths.
“The maximum depth for a recreational dive is 130 feet,” explains O’Neill. “The exception to that is the Blue Hole in Belize, where divers descend to 140 feet to the ceiling of the caves; then we have seven minutes from beginning of descent to beginning of ascent; this dive is more for the advanced divers.”
O’Neill trains drivers on location all over the metro, usually holding classes at country clubs, health clubs, backyard pools and YMCAs. She teaches group classes and individuals.
Students can expect to spend two full days in the educational aspect of diving and should then allow two full days for the certification process. In all, the entire training and certification costs about $500 and includes the instruction, the books, use of equipment, the cost of certification and the lifetime certification card.
While O’Neill spends an appreciable amount of time on such basics as pressure, volume, air density, buoyancy, and the conservation of air, she also focuses on the “what ifs.”
“Most of the time, nothing of consequence ever happens under the water,” she says. “But we are always prepared.”
Surprisingly, one doesn’t have to know how to swim in order to learn how to dive. Just having a bit of comfort in the water is all that is necessary. O’Neill teaches eager students all over the metro area, and then frequently travels with them to various places around the world to hone their skills in some of the most breath-taking venues.
“I’ve taken students to Belize, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, Hawaii and Cabo San Lucas and many other places,” she notes.
One experienced diver who has taken to the ocean’s calling since 1960 is William Townsend of Overland Park.
He began diving more than 50 years ago and has not stopped since. He started out on his own in Acapulco but then took lessons from a top diving instructor here in the metro area. When he was introduced to Leslie O’Neill, he was impressed by her commitment to teaching her students not only the mechanics of diving, but also her desire to instill in them self-confidence, awareness of their surroundings, of danger and recognizing their limits while under the water.“More than anything, she teaches students not to panic,” emphasizes Townsend. “Panic will kill you.”
What Townsend most enjoys about diving is the amazing world below the surface and the adventure of experiencing all of the sensitivities of his body, along with all of the surroundings of the underwater life. “Every dive is a new experience,” he smiles.
Maggie Lee of Stilwell decided on the spur of the moment to learn to dive just this year. She jokes that she is not getting any younger, so why not embrace the desire to do something new and different in her life?“As I get older, I am allowing myself to lighten up and do some fun things,” says Lee. “Leslie is so encouraging and supportive and in-tune with each student and everyone’s individual challenges; it’s impossible not to be confident and comfortable once you are certified.”
A die-hard nature lover and animal lover, Lee is excited about seeing what is underwater. Not having had a real vacation in nearly 18 years, she trusts her recent certification will give her license to go on a well-deserved vacation soon.
Michael DeLong of Lee’s Summit has encouraging words for anyone considering learning to scuba dive.
“Sometimes we put limitations on ourselves because of unjustified fears we may have, but if you train properly and follow instructions, you can have an unbelievable time, opening yourself up to things of which you never dreamed,” he notes.
DeLong also notes that Leslie is such an amazing instructor and one of the most valuable tools she gives her students is that of confidence.
Leawood resident Barbara Wiens has found scuba diving to be a rewarding experience and one that she can share with her husband and daughter, both of whom are also certified by O’Neill. Wiens loves the fact that scuba diving is a great way to separate one’s self from the distractions of the outside world.
“Down there, it’s just you, the members of your group, the water, and the sea life,” she notes and further elaborates that Leslie is a very patient, calming, and understanding instructor.
“You have to establish trust in yourself, in your equipment, and in the dive master,” says Wiens. “Leslie makes it very easy to do that.”
Robyn Bradshaw of Kansas City says her love of scuba diving has given her a newfound respect for life beneath the surface of the ocean.
“There is a serenity to moving through the water and having schools of fish swim around you as though you are one of them,” she smiles. “Nature is still the greatest artist of all.”
Author, Ann E. Butenas | Photography, Brian Turner and courtsey of Leslie O’Neill