Diver’s Destination: Paradise Found

Diver’s Destination: Paradise Found

If you enjoy floating in deep blue water, watching stingrays, sharks and colorful fish gracefully swim by, find your way to paradise at Diver’s Destination, Lafayette’s go-to dive shop since 1986. Owner Greg Hidalgo started scuba diving in 1975 and taught diving lessons at Ski & Scuba before venturing out on his own. He describes lessons today as much less intimidating than in the past, due to more classes being held online.

“It’s really easy,” Hidalgo says. “The way it used to be, someone would come in and have to wait for the next class to start about two or three weeks later, and the classes lasted four weeks. Now, we use the internet and e-learning. So when somebody calls about scuba classes today, they can actually start today, because all of the lectures are done at home.”

After completing classes, students spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Diver’s Destinations’ onsite pool, kept at 87 degrees year-round. Once they finish, they are ready for an open water dive.

Not sure about your swimming skills? You can also take swimming lessons at Diver’s Destination, which has one of the oldest swim schools in Acadiana. But you don’t have to be Michael Phelps to be a good diver.

“The equipment does a lot of the work,” Hidalgo explains. “You still need to know how to swim, because you never know when you’re going to fall off of a boat or a dock. You need to be able to swim to take care of yourself until somebody gets you a floating device.”

The goal is to make you feel comfortable in the water. “Basically all you have to do is know how to breathe, and you’re fine.”

Once your training is complete, you can choose from several destinations for your open water dive. Diver’s Destination’s most popular trip is to Panama City, Fla.

“People don’t realize it just because we’re so close, but they really see a lot of things that they don’t get to see other places,” Hidalgo says. “Last month we saw a giant manta ray swimming around and a big sleeping sea turtle. You also see bat fish a lot.”

On the first day, the students go to Vortex Springs, a natural spring in Ponce de Leon, Fla. “It’s very clear,” Hidalgo says. “It’s always 68 degrees and chilly, so we have a wet suit for that.”

The next day, students dive off of a boat in the Gulf of Mexico. “We go to open water where you experience current and wave action with an instructor.”

Near Louisiana, divers can explore the Flower Gardens, located 100 nautical miles offshore of Galveston, Tex. “It’s a salt dome that has pushed up, and it’s the most northern coral reef in the western hemisphere,” Hidalgo explains.

But you can also do your test dive almost any place in the world, including Cozumel, Mexico and Honduras, where Hidalgo directs the Marine Biology Research Camp for 12 to 17-year olds
in Roaton.

“I’ve been going to Honduras since 1978, and my boys have been going there since they were six months old,” Hidalgo says. “We teach high school students about marine biology. They learn how to identify fish, do fish counts on the reef, identify coral and do coral counts. It’s all about conservation.”

The research camp’s focus is on dolphins. Every day, students swim, dive and train with the magnificent mammals. “They actually train the animals to perform different behaviors,” Hidalgo says. “Parents are welcome to come along as well, which is really kind of nice.”

Each year, Diver’s Destination chooses a new location for open water dives. This spring, it’s St. Lucia. In August, it will be Cayman Brac. Once you make four dives, you are certified to dive anywhere in the world. “That is a lifetime card,” Hidalgo explains, “but if you haven’t been diving in a year or two, we always suggest doing a refresher class.”

To scuba dive, you just need a mask and snorkel. Everything else — including a wetsuit — is provided by Diver’s Destination. “You can rent everything you need,” Hidalgo says. “We help you with that, and make sure that you get something that’s comfortable and fits you well. It’s very simple.”