The “Self Contained Underwater Breathing Device”, like many great inventions, is a combination of different strokes of genius. From the early diving bells of ancient greece to the brass diving suits of the 19th and 20th century, all sorts of breakthroughs in pressurizing air and filtering out carbon dioxide have gone into modern Scuba gear, making it the go-to device for people who wish to explore the underwater frontier free of tether or hull.
Still it takes some training to use scuba gear properly and safely during underwater expeditions and tours. Thus, for interested Chicagoans, the Underwater Safaris school and shop, located on 2950 Lincoln Avenue, is a good place and safe environment to learn about the art and technique of scuba diving
The front space of this location is filled with the accessories people use when diving, swimming, or surfing: looking through these products, they seem strangely out of place in Chicago, particularly during this bitter winter.
One wall is lined with flippers, most of them black and lined with pink and yellow. Another corner is filled with diving suits for all sizes and frames, hanging on the metal clothes stands you see in department stores. The glass countertops are stocked with scuba mouthpieces, underwater cameras, and other odds and ends, while the tanks and buoyancy regulators are hung up on the wall behind.
The other part of Underwater Safaris, the school part, is right in the back, comprised of a changing room to the right, with a door salvaged from a shipwreck in Lake Michigan, and a small swimming pool to the left, where students can train with scuba gear and become certified divers under the PADI certification process.
The year-round scuba diving classes vary in both expense and focus, and the scuba classes in particular require that you purchase a tank, dry suits, regulator, and other tools as part of your overall fee.
The cheapest courses are the private snorkeling classes, which are arranged by appointment, cost $75 per individual session, and teach people to swim, dive, and surface with snorkels, goggles and flippers. The scuba gear and advanced diving courses tend to run along the $250 range, and teach skills ranging from emergency first aid, rescue diving, wearing dry suits, navigating underwater, exploring wrecks, to managing buoyancy.
Lastly, Underwater Safari hosts a set of underwater diving expeditions during the summer that explore the large amount of shipwrecks that lie at the bottom of Lake Michigan. Supervised by professional divers, those who sign up explore wrecks ranging from the Wells Burt, a “three-masted” schooner that sunk back in 1873, to the Straight of Mackinac, a ferry that was deliberately sunk in 2003 to serve as an artificial habitat for the lake's native wildlife.
For Chicagoans planning to go on a oceanside vacation that involves diving, or who want to explore the giant lake right next door once summer rolls around, Underwater Safaris is a great place to learn and to get the necessary supplies.