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Go Diving with Elite Scuba Divers

Sonoma Coast

Earlier this year two highly-experienced scuba divers based in Sonoma County, Dawna Meeks and Dean Zerbe, opened a diving school, Elite, intended to go far beyond basic one- and two-day certification courses.

“I trained in a 16-week course,” Meeks told me. “Dean was my instructor. We both feel it takes a long time to learn what you need to know if you’re going to dive safely and well.”

Both Meeks and Zerbe can lay claim to plenty of diving experience. An underwater archeologist, Meeks is a dive master with three major certification agencies (NAUI, SSI and PADI); she’s been diving for 30 years.

Zerbe, a former paramedic, works with the Solano County Dive Team; he’s also a scuba instructor for Sonoma State University and DAN (Divers Alert Network). Now 43, he started diving at age 14.

At Elite Diving School, divers who are already certified can learn advanced skills that include the use of dive computers, light salvage, underwater mapping, and altitude diving. A separate EANx (Nitrox) course trains experienced divers to dive with higher-than-normal concentrations of oxygen, allowing for longer dive times and reducing decompression risk.

There are also separate courses for rescue/emergency diving and medical training for divers. “We’ve trained public safety divers such as the Southern Marin Fire Group,” said Meeks.

If you’re completely new to diving, you might like the “Try Scuba” course: it allows you to you learn a bit about what’s involved in scuba diving (it’s particularly important to experience what it’s like to breathe underwater). If you feel good about the experience and decide to continue on, $50 of the $75 fee is applied to full scuba certification.

You’ll receive your certificate by taking the Open Water Diver course, which offers training far beyond the typical one- or two-day certification course given by most dive schools.

“Our students get one-on-one instruction,” Meeks said. “They get six weeks of pool time before they go into the ocean, and then they get four dives at a minimum. They can go all the way to 10 dives — we want to make sure they’re comfortable. We don’t want our divers to join the ranks of the 70 percent attrition rate, the people who drop out because they’re just not comfortable diving.”

Meeks notes that the diving certification agencies “all have a different influence on how you teach. We tend to use NAUI’s flexible ‘Loved One’ policy. What that means is simple. We ask ourselves if we’d want the student to dive with our son, our daughter, or another loved one.”

Beyond classes, Elite Scuba Diver also provides travel dives to locations such as Southern California’s Channel Islands and the Caribbean island of Bonaire. In the works: diving in Kauai.

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