I’ve been fortunate enough to visit many amazing dive and snorkel destinations. From the Indian Ocean, to the South Pacific to the turquoise Caribbean, each tropical island has its own unique vibes, sights, scents and sounds. But there’s one place that lures me back time and again. Once I exit the plane and descend the staircase into the shining sun, I know I am “home”. I’m referring to the US Virgin Islands of St. Thomas and St. John – home of powdery white beaches, sparkling turquoise waters, lush green mountains and perfect painkillers.
We often stay at Secret Harbour Beach Resort on St. Thomas. Secret Harbour appeals to us for many reasons, but first among them is the welcoming on-site dive shop, Aqua Action, expertly run by owners Sam and Diane. From a diver and snorkeler’s point of view, both Sam and Diane possess the qualities that make a dive shop owner / divemaster truly excellent – patience, friendliness, safety consciousness, concern for the environment and a desire to make every customer happy.
I recently had the chance to interview Sam and Diane about their work with disabled divers and snorkelers.
Reeftraveler (RT): Tell me how you became involved in helping divers with physical disabilities?
Aqua Action (AA): The previous owner of our shop, Carl Moore, was an HSA (Handicapped SCUBA Association) Dive Instructor, and was very active with taking people with physical disabilities diving and snorkeling. That sounded to us like a wonderful thing to do, and once we took over ownership, I too became an HSA instructor.
RT: What sorts of unique challenges do divers with disabilities face, and how can you help them overcome them?
AA: The most obvious is the physical immobility. We take both paraplegics and quadriplegics out, but we also take people with vision and hearing impairments, so the challenges each diver or snorkeler faces are unique. For those with physical limitations, we have a beach wheelchair that we use to get them in and out of the water, and we have a great staff that love helping out!
Many people with disabilities are used to depending on equipment and other people for their mobility, and so are very comfortable with the changes and challenges that diving presents. They are used to facing challenges everyday, and diving is just one more hurdle to overcome. And in many people, no matter what their abilities, it’s about facing the same challenge – entering the unknown!
We also have a boat that is very open and accessible, and our dive shop is recognized as an accessible facility by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors). The resort itself (Secret Harbour Beach Resort) is also very accessible – right above our shop are several handicapped-accessible rooms, so our entire operation is geared to helping the physically challenged get on and into the water!
RT: Can you teach physically challenged individuals to snorkel as well as dive?
AA: Yes, we take many physically challenged folk out snorkeling – more often than we do diving, in fact.
RT: What has been the most rewarding aspect of working with disabled divers?
AA: The pure joy we see once people enter the water. In many cases it’s something they thought they might never do, and it’s amazing to see their faces light up once they realize that they are doing it! For me, it’s the feeling of trust I see develop between my diver/snorkeler and me – it’s a very personal thing, and very rewarding.
RT: How can those with physical disabilities get more information about learning to dive?
AA: All of the major dive training agencies (e.g., PADI, NAUI, SDI, SSI) make considerations and have alternative methods for those with challenges to meet training standards and get certified. Plus, there are several dive training agencies that specialize in certifying divers that can’t meet those standards to still be able to dive with specially trained dive “buddies”:
More About Aqua Action
Aqua Action is a PADI 5-Star Snorkel and Dive Center located on beautiful St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands! Our focus is on custom-tailored SCUBA and snorkeling trips, individual training, and small, fun groups of people! We are located at Secret Harbour Beach Resort, near Red Hook, on the southeast end of St. Thomas. We offer beach chairs, kayaks, paddle boats, stand-up paddleboards, snorkeling (the best on St. Thomas!), a beautiful white sand beach and a beach side bar and bistro. We also have a fully stocked store and gift shop, with a wide assortment of souvenirs, snacks and refreshments. Plus, we are the only HSA (Handicap SCUBA Association) Certified Dive Center on St. Thomas, with specialized programs for divers and snorkelers with physical challenges! Come visit us and experience the vacation of a lifetime!
More about the owners, Sam and Diane
Diane is an SDI/TDI Divemaster and PADI Assistant Instructor. She is also an attorney and owned her own law firm in Cleveland, Ohio before moving to St. Thomas. She specialized in Domestic Relations and Constitutional Law, so when diving with Diane, you’ll ALWAYS have a shark in the water!!!
She finally got tired of the stress of the courtroom and pressed the “escape” button on her computer and ended up in St. Thomas with her husband Sam. She and Sam have never regretted the move for a moment.
Sam is a PADI Master Instructor, an SDI/TDI Dive Instructor and an HSA (Handicapped SCUBA Association) Instructor. He is also certified as a Primary and Secondary Care Instructor/Trainer by the Emergency First Response Corporation. He has been an avid SCUBA diver for 15 years, diving in such diverse locations as the Red Sea, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, and the Great Lakes (Lake Erie). He holds a USCG (United States Coast Guard) 50-ton Master’s License, with both Inland and Near Coastal routes. During the summer months in Cleveland, Ohio (where he is from) he captained the Express and the Linda Mae, 36′ and 40′ Lake Erie charter dive and fishing boats owned and operated by Discovery Dive Charters, located in Wildwood Marina in the Cleveland Lakefront State Park.
When not in the water, Sam served as Director of Engineering for the VAC Division of Multi-Dimensional Imaging, the Medical Device division of the Healthview Center for Preventive Medicine. Prior to that, he spent 20 years working on and leading teams designing CT (Computed Tomography) systems for Philips Medical Systems.
He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Cleveland State University and a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Case Western Reserve University with an emphasis in Networking. He is also an IT (Information Technology) Specialist, with several certifications from Microsoft and CompTIA.
Contact Aqua Action
6501 Red Hook Plaza, #80
St. Thomas, USVI 00802
Phone & FAX: (888) 775-6285 or (340) 775-6285
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