DiVentures brings it all to scuba enthusiasts
NORTH LIBERTY– Admittedly, residents of North Johnson County are rather spoiled when it comes to enjoying the area’s lakes and open waterways. Coralville Lake, the Iowa River and Lake Macbride provide easy access to freshwater fishing, boating and swimming.
But scuba diving? Here in Iowa?
Yes, it’s a thing. And, a new business in North Liberty offers all of the gear, training and travel options you need to channel your inner Jacques Cousteau.
“A lot of people don’t know that you can dive in the Midwest,” said JoAnn Haack, store manager and diving instructor at DiVentures. “There’s actually a lot more divers in the area than you would realize. There are quarries and lakes that are set up for divers, and if you’re not a diver, you would never know it.”
Haack estimates that while 75-80 percent of her Iowa students learn to dive to go on a trip somewhere warm and tropical, 25-30 percent want to do local dives. “Local” is a relative term in this context; for East Central Iowa’s diving community it encompasses quarries in Illinois as well as lakes in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“They have stuff sunk under water to specifically go and see. There are planes and boats and trucks and equipment and all kinds of things that you can swim around and check out,” noted Haack, whose enthusiasm and passion for diving began in childhood.
“I always wanted to learn to scuba dive. I remember watching Jacques Cousteau when I was a kid,” she said. “Nowadays people don’t even know who Jacques Cousteau is.”
A Nebraska native and engineer by trade, Haack left a corporate job of 10 years at Proctor & Gamble to open and manage DiVentures in January. But she is no stranger to the scuba industry and community, having trained about 700 student divers in Iowa since she became an instructor in 2008.
She recalled moving to Iowa and meeting her scuba-instructor husband.
“And I said, ‘You mean I can learn to scuba dive in Iowa?’ I was shocked! So that’s how I got into diving.”
Setting the hook
DiVentures also has Midwestern roots. North Liberty is the company’s third and newest retail location. Founded in 2009, the firm has two other full-service scuba and aquatic centers in Omaha, Neb., and Springfield, Mo. Those locations are 12,000 square-foot facilities that house indoor pools 50-75 feet in length and 3-14 feet deep. Haack will use her engineering background to manage the company’s two-year plan to find land and construct a similar facility in or near North Liberty. In addition to scuba training, DiVentures will eventually offer on-site swimming lessons and classes for fun and fitness such as aquacize and water zumba.
In the meantime, the North Liberty store is ready to serve any needs local divers might have, from gear to training to travel.
For those who are not sure they want to plunge right into the sport, Haack recommends the two-hour “try scuba” course. For $75, an instructor will fit you in gear, take you to a pool to learn the basics and then spend 45 minutes playing under water.
“This gives you a chance to see if diving is something you want to do before committing to a full class,” she said.
DiVentures will credit $50 from the “try scuba” course toward the cost of the open water diver course to anyone who decides to earn lifetime certification to dive almost anywhere in the world. In colder months, students can complete open water certification in two weekends. Book study and digital training are done prior to 16-18 hours in the classroom and swimming pool spread over two days. In the summer, students do the diving component at the old Yokum Quarry (also known as Turkey Ridge) near Cedar Falls, a dive site some locals claim to be one of the best in Iowa.
All about the gear
Divers-in-training may rent or purchase all of the gear they need for the open water class and any of the many more advanced specialty courses offered by DiVentures. A mask, snorkel, and fins are required to do open water training. Haack said that people who decide to pursue certification typically buy those three pieces of equipment up front.
“What’s great about owning your own is that if you go to the islands, and you’re diving in the morning with a boat, then in the afternoon you can grab your mask and snorkel and just check out the beach and snorkel around where you’re at,” she said.
Haack stressed that fit is very important. “The mask very specifically fits a person’s face. Anybody who’s gone anywhere in the water with a mask that doesn’t fit them well knows that if it leaks constantly, it’s really frustrating and not fun at all,” she noted.
Well-fitting fins, mask and snorkel will ensure comfort while gazing at the depths below from the surface. But higher tech equipment is required to dive recreationally to depths of up to 130 feet. Such gear has come a long way since Cousteau pioneered and named the world’s first Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus back in 1943.
Today’s diver must be outfitted with gear such as a buoyancy-compensating device, or BCD, which acts like a life jacket at the surface, Haack explained. It has a bladder on the back filled with air that holds you up. A common misconception about diving is that you have to be a really good swimmer and able to tread water hard.
“You really don’t. The equipment makes sure you’re comfortable at the surface,” she said.
Under water the BCD also holds the air tank on your back. “This helps you maintain your buoyancy all throughout the dive, so that you’re not coming up to the surface, you’re not dropping to the bottom,” explained Haack. “We don’t walk across the bottom anymore like in 20,000 leagues under the sea. We swim in the middle, and this is what helps you do that.”
Other gear essentials include the regulator and submersible pressure gauge (SPG), which allow one to control and monitor air supply. Rather than constantly checking each individual piece of breathing equipment, many divers invest in a dive computer that displays vital information in one single, easy-to-read instrument.
Dressed to impress
Wetsuits, dry suits and hoods give vital protection from exposure to cold temperatures as well as underwater encounters with things that can scrape, cut or sting. All of that centers on function, but the fashion component of diving is also obvious as one browses the store’s racks of vibrantly colored and chicly patterned wetsuits, fins and other accessories.
“She’s wearing a full suit,” Haack said as she pointed to a fully outfitted manikin in the store. The many color options allow divers to express their individuality, she added.
Apart from selling, DiVentures also services all types and brands of gear.
“If people already own something they can bring it in to us and we’ll take care of it,” said Haack. This offers divers insurance and peace of mind before embarking on a big trip. “What you don’t want is to get down to the island and find out something’s not working properly. And then you’re trying to find somebody on the island who can help you, or even end up having to rent gear from them.” she added.
Speaking of islands, DiVentures organizes group and private travel to a plethora of destinations.
“Because we have three stores, we run about 25 to 30 group trips per year,” said Haack. “I had a group that just came back from Belize last week, and I have a group that’s going to the Philippines in about a week.” In May, Haack will take a group to Cozumel. In addition to their standard itineraries, DiVentures will plan and arrange all details of chartered trips for groups of any size to anywhere they want to go.
“Scuba diving is just a whole ‘nother world that you see on TV. But in person, it’s way more serene and calm and beautiful. It’s quiet and you feel like you’re part of nature,” she said. “Teaching others is a huge joy. To be able to teach others to see what I get to see … this whole world that’s out there.”
DiVentures is located in the strip mall, south of Fareway, at 555 Hwy. 965, Suite C in North Liberty. Stop in or check out the website: www.diventures.com.