The program, dreamed up by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, has more than a dozen dive operators all the big boys, says Dave Carmichael, owner/president of Brownies YachtDiver stores, one of the participants signed on and eager to teach new enthusiasts of the sport.
Carmichael said the program aims to put a focus on the Fort Lauderdale-area thriving dive scene, which sometimes takes a backseat to that of Key West. Weve got easy-in, easy-out inlets, weve got deep water, weve got probably 30 artificial wrecks from about a 30-minute boat ride, he said. Weve got reefs at 15, 30, 60 feet. So if youre a brand-new diver, 15 feet is a great place to start, and you have a lot of stuff to see, a full reef line: parrot fish, snapper, groupers, moray eels, nurse sharks.
Heres how the program works. First, you sign up for an online course through PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors, the most recognized certification) before your trip (the course costs $120). Youll complete the rest your certification process hands-on with a dive operator in Fort Lauderdale, which has 23 miles of coral reef and is known as the Wreck Capital of Florida.
Most operators have knocked off $100 from the normal price of the course (Participants who fly in, take note: Youll need to plan for four days, in order to have the excess nitrogen that accumulates in your blood from diving out of your system, which youll learn all about). With your dive operator, youll do pool dives and four open-water dives, moving up in depth. Youll also get a free graduation dive.
Among local favorite spots to explore: Rodeo 25, a wreck spot with huge masts reaching high off the ships deck; Anglin Pier Reef, chock full of colorful coral and tropical fish; Hog Heaven, a 180-foot barge that lies upside down in 64 feet of water, with another barge, the Wayne, nearby; and the Copenhagen, a 325-foot steel cargo ship that ran aground in 1900 on its way to Cuba. An idea dive site for beginners because of its relatively shallow depth (15-30 feet), the wreck is now part of the Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve.
And where to grab a beer and a bite to eat with your fellow divers after a long day in the sun and sea? The Southport Raw Bar draws a great mix of local enthusiasts and tourists, and the Whales Rib, in Deerfield Beach, is an off-the-beaten path spot with great seafood dont miss the legendary lobster bisque.
For more trip-planning information, see our Fort Lauderdale Travel Guide.