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Diving North Dakota

BOB DARBY - Minot Daily News

Ever since the first human being held their breath and ducked below the surface to see what was going on, there has been an age-old infatuation with the underwater world. With proper training and the right equipment even the novice can experience the pleasure of exploration and discovery. But scuba diving in North Dakota?

You bet. Although the sport has taken Randy Kraft to some of the top scuba spots in the world, including Jamaica, Kraft prefers to practice his profession - teaching others how to dive - back home on the prairie. With Scuba One offices located in Bismarck, Kraft now does most of his diving at Lake Sakakawea or Spiritwood Lake near Jamestown. He regularly travels to Minot to teach scuba classes with assistance from fellow diver Gordon Campbell, a captain in the Air force.

On one recent weekend Kraft and Campbell worked closely with six local students preparing them for their first open water dives which are planned for later this summer. Sarah and Bill Benak, a couple from the Minot Air Force Base, listened intently as Kraft explained how to use dive tables to determine decompression time. Both Kraft and Campbell say a good diver is one who understands how to safely react to the risks of the sport. In fact, most of the pre-dive preparation focuses on safety with actual practice taking place in a pool before hitting the open water. Later, the Benaks, along with their fellow students, donned scuba gear as they prepared for more hands-on instruction in the confines of the Minot State University swimming pool.

Once in the 81 degree water, the group practiced flooding their facemasks and clearing them under water. More safety instruction followed with both instructors joining students at the deep end of the pool. Finally, it was time to play. Kraft let the students revel in their newfound weightlessness. Some did flips others hovered above the bottom and some swam completely around the pool several times.

"First we do the basic classroom instruction," Kraft explained from the edge of the pool while keeping a watchful eye on the class. "Then we hold practical sessions in the pool. Finally, we head to the lake for actual diving practice. You can do the course work and the dives in as little as two weekends."

The multi-session course Kraft and Campbell teach is offered under the auspices of PADI - the Professional Association of Diving Instructors - and culminates with Open Water Certification, meaning the student becomes an official PADI - trained diver. According to Kraft, PADI is the largest and most widely recognized dive training program in the world, and Scuba One - a five star PADI center - is the only facility of its kind in the state granted the highest PADI rating attainable.

Loving the sport

Kraft's own introduction to the underwater world came while he was a student at Moorhead State University, Minn. After successfully completing a diving class at MSU, he took off during spring break for the crystal-clear waters of the Bahamas where he says he really learned to love the sport. Later, after graduation, he landed a job in Minneapolis. The Twin Cities provided him with the opportunity to continue to pursue his interest in diving. In 1982, he enrolled in a 10-week instructor's course in California. Beginning in 1984, Kraft enjoyed a five year stint in Jamaica where he was eventually put in charge of all water-related sports for several nationally-known hotel chains. Despite the idyllic surroundings, the Bismarck native decided to return home in 1987 to teach scuba full-time.

Glad to be home

While the diving in North Dakota may be a far cry from the sandy beaches of Jamaica, Kraft says he's content to pass on his knowledge and experience to those eager to take up the sport.

"I'd come home during the summers," he reflects on his time spent in what some would consider paradise. "I guess I'm really a North Dakotan at hear, and I decided I just didn't want to spend my life down there. Besides, if I'd have given up my ties here, I wouldn't of had anything to come home to."

Persons interested in learning more about sport diving opportunities may contact Kraft at 1-800-454-3483, or 701-667-1312. Gordon Campbell can be reached at 839-0914.

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