Illustration by Delicatessen
As otherworldly experiences go, scuba diving is right up there with flying: the feeling of weightlessness, the surreal quiet. The visuals are just as powerful: sunlight filtering through kelp, schools of neon-infused fish, translucent jelly creatures that look as if they floated off the set of Avatar. With the first dive (a mere 20 feet, half the depth you’ll reach in later stages of training), you’ll instantly understand the near-rabid enthusiasm of scuba fanatics. Reaching their level requires hours of practice to master the moves that will keep you calm even when you want to panic. Expect to spend at least a couple of weekends in the classroom, the swimming pool, and finally, the open water. Your first foray into the kelp forest at Catalina’s heralded Casino Point Marine Park will introduce you to sea urchins, lobsters, morays, and bat rays–as well as a huge sheepshead bass named Oscar, who’s been greeting divers for more than 20 years. Other spots of interest: Anacapa and Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands. Look for a dive center that’s certified by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors). Here are two standouts:
» Aqua Adventures Unlimited: Greg Tash, the owner, is also an underwater cinematographer. The beginner certification package covers books, primary rental gear, pool training, and open water dives off Catalina, including two nights in a hotel. $599; 2120 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, 818-848-2163.
» Los Angeles Scuba Diving School: This operation is affiliated with the Eco Dive Center. Ronnie Beltramo and his staff pride themselves on their environmental sensitivity. Certification is in two stages: online training and two weekend dives. $555; 4027 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, 310-398-5759.