In the 1970s, poor eyesight prevented Stephen Scigliano from becoming an astronaut. So he decided if he couldn't go up, then he would go down. Scigliano took up scuba diving.
"The world underwater is gorgeous," says Scigliano, who owns Swim and Scuba, a Rockville Centre dive shop and swim school. Scuba diving "is very relaxing. There are no phones, no beepers and nobody yelling at you."
Right now is the best time to take dive lessons, say scuba enthusiasts. People dive year-round, but many start around April 1; certification takes about five weeks.
Despite the recession, interest in the sport - particularly on Long Island - has grown, says Bill Pfeiffer, president of the Long Island Divers Association, lidaonline.com.
"Long Island is a world-class diving destination," he says. "The marine life is stunning and the wrecks are great to explore."
WHO CAN DIVE
Most people can dive, as long as they are in fairly good physical condition, do not have any water phobias or serious respiratory or cardiac illnesses. Dive shops have certified people from 10 to 82 years old and even paraplegics.
"Because of movies like 'Jaws,' people think scuba diving is difficult and dangerous," says Martha Katz, owner of Scuba Network dive shop in Carle Place. "But if you pay attention and use common sense, it is quite safe."
Certification is required for all divers. Classes that include other students can cost $150 to $500 (private lessons are more expensive). Students usually are required to read academic materials, watch DVDs - at home, then review in a classroom - and then practice diving in a pool for several hours, scuba experts say. Students must purchase their own masks, fins, snorkels and boots (an additional $150-$300 cost) to participate in the practice dive.
Afterward, students must do four open water dives with an instructor, which can take place in the ocean, a bay, a quarry or any nearby body of water. Scuba gear (a wetsuit, tank and accessories) can be rented for about $80 a day. People who plan to dive regularly should invest in their own gear, which can cost $800 to $5,000 or more and can last for many years, diving experts say.
WHERE TO GO
Once a person is certified, he or she can dive anywhere in the world. Favorite places to dive on Long Island include the USS San Diego, a World War I ship, which is 13 1/2 miles south of Fire Island Inlet and the Oregon, a luxury liner that sank in 1886 and is 21 miles offshore. For great marine life, scuba divers can go to Ponquogue Bridge at Shinnecock Bay in Hampton Bays, experts say.
"I still get butterflies whenever I dive," says Randy Randazzo, who has been diving for 30 years and owns Hampton Dive Center in Riverhead. "But it is an incredible feeling. It's like flying."
WHERE TO TAKE LESSONS