by Richard Haddad

roundup publisher

The dream of exploring the undersea world is becoming a reality for more Rim country residents, thanks to a man sometimes called "Scuba Tom."

Tom Sadler is the owner of Aqua Illusions, the only Phoenix-based dive shop currently offering scuba classes in Payson.

"We found out that there were people in Payson who wanted to learn to dive," Sadler said. "We came up (to Payson) for the first time in May and taught 18 students. It was great."

After the May classes, word-of-mouth started spreading and another class was formed for August.

"That's how the local classes got started," Sadler said. "I met a couple from Payson on a dive trip and they convinced me to try offering certification courses here."

The thrill of diving is contagious said local divers Tom and Nicole McCorgary, the couple who invited Sadler to the Rim country.

"My wife and I love to dive. When we tell our friends about the fun we've had, they often ask how they can learn," McCorgary said.

"You're never too old to learn," Sadler said. "I recently taught a 91-year-old man to dive so he could take his two adult daughters on a diving vacation."

Sadler cautions that you must be in reasonably good health and active, but that age itself is not a barrier.

The latest class Sadler taught included senior citizens, housewives, businessmen and Boy Scouts.

A family affair

"For me, the biggest challenge was facing the anxiety of not knowing whether I could really do it," Sheila Antenen, a 40-year-old housewife and mother, said.

"My husband and son were taking the class and I didn't want to be left out," she said.

The Antenen's 13-year-old son Brandon has been in swimming lessons since he was 2 years old and loves the water.

He was one of three local Boy Scouts from troop 354 who signed up to take the plunge at the local pool last weekend.

When Brandon broke the surface at Taylor pool after his first experience breathing underwater he exclaimed, "That was awesome."

"Children as young as 10 years old can be certified with some restrictions," Sadler said, "but I prefer a child be at least 12 before learning scuba."

Brandon's mom believes it really depends on the child.

"They must have the intelligence to think and not just react in case something goes wrong," she said.

"I felt comfortable with Brandon because my husband has been a certified diver before and he was right there in the water watching over him."

A benefit to town services

Two members of the Payson Fire Department also are taking advantage of the local scuba classes.

Firefighters Rick Winton and Dan Bramble both want to be rescue divers.

"They'll continue their training beyond the normal open-water certification to become skilled at river, lake and other swift-water rescue techniques," Payson Fire Chief John Ross said. Ross also is taking the class with his wife Kim for recreational diving.

Learning scuba is more affordable than you might think. An open water scuba class from Aqua Illusions costs $159 with some minimal personal gear required. The certification course involves 10 hours of classroom time, 10 to 12 hours of pool dives, and four required dives in an open body of water. Travel to open water areas is separate from class fees. Many of the Payson students will be completing their certification in October off the coast of San Carlos.

The next Payson open-water certification class is scheduled for May 2002. If you'd like to get started earlier, classes are also available throughout the winter at the Aqua Illusions Dive Center in Phoenix. Call (602) 788-DIVE (3483).

If you've always dreamed of experiencing real underwater fun and adventure, let "Scuba Tom" Sadler show you how to dive in fins first.

"This is the best part of my job," Sadler said, "giving people a whole new world to discover."

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