Florida is no stranger to great diving, but many travelers don’t know that The Palm Beaches is home to hundreds of spectacular dives for every skill level. In fact, people from all over the world come to dive at Blue Heron Bridge in Phil Foster Park on Singer Island. It is known as one of the best shore diving spots in the world. The water here is full of amazing and colorful marine life.
I’ve been thinking about getting my scuba certification for years. I have traveled all over the world, to many amazing dive sites – Maldives, Fiji, Seychelles, Hawaii, Caribbean, Tahiti, Palau – and have always stayed on the water as a snorkeler. While I loved seeing all the colorful fish and coral from the surface, I really wanted to get down there and get a better understanding of what that world looked like under the sea.
If covid has taught me one thing, it’s that I shouldn’t delay anything. I was determined to get certified. And as international travel rules kept changing, I decided to make it easy on myself by choosing Enter Pura Vida Divers in the Palm Beach area of Florida somewhere in the US.
Finding a Reputable Dive Company
Owners Dean Shuler and Shana Phelan have extensive experience in the diving industry. Shuler started Pura Vida Adventures in 2002 to offer the Palm Beaches a unique dive operation focused on customer service, safety, community and conservation. Shana came on board in 2005, after pursuing her passion for conservation and earning a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke University. Together, the couple have worked hard for the past 20 years to build lasting relationships throughout the community, growing from a small retail space with a small passenger boat to a leader in the Palm Beaches diving community.
Pura Vida Divers is located on Singer Island, right between the world famous Blue Heron Bridge and the beautiful reef off the coast of Florida. This means that several types of world-class diving can be found in the United States.
The Blue Heron Bridge (BHB) is an international destination for experienced divers. Photographers in particular love to explore BHB, where macro wildlife from nudibranchs to seahorses and octopuses abound. The sandy bottom muck-diving site is also home to a large number of larger creatures. Divers and snorkelers will see spotted eagle rays dancing through the water, colorful angelfish fluttering over corals and schools of silvery baitfish flashing by. Curious divers can spot batfish and elusive frogfish camouflaged in seagrass. You may even see a manatee’s whisker snout glide past you in the shallows.
The BHB is also uniquely positioned to provide a fantastic introduction to SCUBA diving. New divers can move at their own pace in this coastal town, literally walking from the beach into the water on their first open water dives. The site’s snorkeling trail acts as an artificial reef, entertaining snorkelers on the surface while divers swim below.
Getting the Right Instructor
I was a little nervous about getting certified, but instructor David Wilemon at Pura Vida Divers put me at ease right away. His focus on safety was clear from the start and clearly kicked off his distinguished career with the US Marine Corps. As a diver, he’d seen it all—from the seascapes of Okinawa, Japan, to the kelp forests of California, from diving with manta rays in Hawaii to hunting fossilized Megalodon teeth off the rugged coast of North Carolina—David knew his trade.
What was great about graduating from Pura Vida Divers is that I was able to take all the courses and tests online from my home in New York. Then I took a quick flight to West Palm Beach, where I was certified for open water diving in just a few days. What’s nice is that travelers can combine a certification course with their vacation, so they can do a variety of activities and interests in a short amount of time.
David is a thorough instructor and throughout our courses both in the pool and open water he always made sure I understood what we were going to do and made sure I understood each new skill before moving on. I never felt rushed and I always felt completely safe.
The first day I met David at Pura Vida’s office where we did the equipment and paperwork before heading to a nearby pool for a full day to learn skills and become familiar with the various equipment. After a full day of instruction David gave me confidence in my skills and I was excited to experience the open water.
The next two days were open water dives (four in total). David was with me the entire time and we went through the skills and training required for certification. David was patient when I didn’t understand something and we discussed a few things that weren’t so easy for me until I got it right. At the end of the second full day of open water diving, I was excited to finally get my certification.
As someone who took up scuba diving later in life, as well as someone who was on the cusp of certification, I highly recommend making sure you have an instructor who is not only highly qualified, but who takes safety seriously and patient and knowledgeable in their training. David really made sure I had a thorough understanding of what diving is all about and how to make the most of it.
Now that I am certified in open water diving, I look forward to returning to the Palm Beaches for more dives.
One of Pura Vida’s favorite spots is Flower Garden, where thousands of fish can be seen in the aptly-named “Fish Bowl”, while divers watch over the sand. Sea turtles flock to the Palm Beaches every summer as divers fill their logbooks with sightings of these endangered species. Goliath Grouper gathers off the coast every fall and circles the wrecks with their gigantic, colossal bodies. Each winter, schools of sharks migrate south to give birth to their young in the warm waters of Florida.
The proximity to the Gulf Stream creates a natural current in the reef here, making this the perfect location for “lazy diving”. Divers go with the flow as they float along the reef. Without the need to navigate back to a starting point, time underwater is maximized. When divers surface, the boat simply stops to pick them up.
Now that I am a certified open water diver, I am excited to revisit the Palm Beaches each season and fill my logbook with all my observations.