John's Journal...

"Dive, Dive, Dive!” with Mary Lynn Berzett

Who Scuba Dives, and What Do They Learn

Click to enlargeEDITOR'S NOTE: “I’ve been diving since Moby Dick was a guppy,” says Dennis “Skinny” Hallmark of Birmingham, Alabama. At the age of 15, Hallmark made his first scuba dive with a friend in the quarry near his home, and in his words, “I was hooked.” Over the past 35 years, Hallmark has taught thousands of first-time scuba divers and diving instructors and owned dive shops in three Alabama cities in the 1980s. Certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), Hallmark also teaches instructors how to teach firemen and police to perform rescue dives. The International Diving Educators’ Association (IDEA) of Jacksonville, Florida, honored Hallmark in 2002 as its Worldwide Instructor of the Year.

Night Hawk: Who scuba dives?

Hallmark: I’ve taught doctors, lawyers, engineers, military personnel, police, firemen, housewives, high school and college students and even preachers of all ages.

Night Hawk: What does learning how to scuba dive cost?

Hallmark: In Birmingham, it usually costs around $400. I furnish all the equipment so there’s really nothing to buy. If we go down to the fresh-water springs at Ponce de Leon near De Funiak Springs, Florida, the cost is about $475. Again I furnish all the equipment in addition to the motel room for two nights.

Click to enlargeNight Hawk: What do you learn?

Hallmark: In a diving class, you learn the safety part of scuba diving, including the do’s and don’ts. We go over the equipment, including the tank, the wet suit, the regulator, the buoyancy compensation device (BCD) and the weight belt. You’ll learn about how the tanks function and the air you’ll breathe. Most people think you breathe oxygen, when you scuba dive, but you’re really breathing the same air underwater as you breathe above water. It’s just filtered before it goes into the tank. This air is cleaner and is actually called clean air. You’ll also learn about putting air in the BCD to equalize yourself on the bottom. Your weight belt is actually an emergency piece of equipment, because when you remove it, you’ll automatically go up to the surface. For deeper dives, specialty or tech diving, you’ll learn about mixing gases. However, I don’t do deep, deep diving. The deepest a scuba diver wants to go is around 120 feet, an average depth of 80 feet, and for the beginner about 60 feet.

Night Hawk: How long does learning scuba diving take?

Hallmark: The course requires about two weekends. The first weekend involves reviewing the written material and doing the pool classes. The second weekend you’ll do five dives in open water in a lake, a quarry, springs or salt water. To be certified, you must pass a written test and two water tests. The water tests are a swim of 200 yards, nonstop, no time limit, and any stroke as long as you keep going. The second water test is a 10-minute float or treading water. The written test consists of 100 questions taken from the book you receive at your first class. Most people score 90 or above on the test simply by listening in class and reading over the book.

Click to enlargeNight Hawk: Can you try scuba diving out before you decide to take the course?

Hallmark: Yes, that is just what you want to do. For instance in the Birmingham area, we’ll take you out to Blue Water, sign releases and explain what’s going to happen. We’ll put you in about 4 to 5 feet of water and let you play around on one of the platforms there. We can’t let you go off and scuba dive by yourself, but we can give you a simulated scuba dive. I think many scuba places offer this type of trial run.

Night Hawk: What kind of person are you looking for to be a student?

Hallmark: A diver can’t be under the influence of drugs or alcohol because of the pressure changes you experience diving. There really is no average type of person. I’ve taught all types of groups, including Boy Scouts and single guys in their late teens or early 20’s. I’ve also taught divorced people who’ve married early and then divorced in their mid- to late 20’s or 30’s. Currently, the groups I’m teaching are in their 40’s, established in their careers and have disposable income. They’re seeking some fun in their lives, something other than work. Classes usually are made up of people within 10 years of age of one another, with an occasional father and son team. Rarely do I have several 12-or 60-year-old students.

Night Hawk: What kind of attitude should a person have to make learning to scuba dive a great experience?

Hallmark: You should want to learn to dive because you want to, not because someone else wants to make you learn. This sometimes happens when a husband wants his wife to learn. I’ve had boyfriends who want their girlfriends to learn, and if they don’t, then the guys quit dating them. The attitude I look for in a student is a desire to learn, a willingness to work hard and a thirst for adventure. You can’t dive alone, so it’s good to have a buddy when learning.

Click to enlargeNight Hawk: Do you or have you taught people who can’t swim to scuba dive?

Hallmark: In the past, I have taught people to dive even though they can’t swim. About 10-years ago, the insurance regulations changed, requiring a person to be able to float for 10 minutes and to swim 200 yards. The insurance companies now require a diver to be able to save himself or herself.

To contact Skinny Hallmark for further information, call him at home, (205) 980-0008, call his cell phone, (205) 907-0824 or contact him at His website is currently being redone and is unavailable. He also has a DVD that he’ll be glad to send out.


Check back each day this week for more about "Dive, Dive, Dive!” with Mary Lynn Berzett

Day 1: Memorable Dives
Day 2: Who Scuba Dives, and What Do They Learn
Day 3: Costs of Scuba-Diving Trips
Day 4: Hallmark’s Favorite Type of Diving
Day 5: Ages and Types of Folks Who Scuba Dive



Entry 314, Day 2