Becoming a certified open water diver

Rawlings, VA - It was a scorching weekend with temperatures nearing 100 degrees and the heat index easily exceeding triple digits. When I wandered into Lake Phoenix on Saturday, July 22, I hoped for a little relief from the heat—but even the quarry felt like bath water—at least at the surface it did.

I spent the weekend at Lake Phoenix in Rawlings, VA to complete my four open water dives and finish my Scuba diver training with Scuba Center and Outdoor Rec on Solomons. The past two weeks I learned about all of the skills and emergency procedures needed to become a certified diver. The shop owner and my instructor, Fred Lyles, took my class of four through the certification class both in the classroom and in the Great Mills swimming pool.

When it was time to complete the open water dives, I was the only student ready for the task. So off I went to Lake Phoenix, joined by Lyles and Dive Master Tom Vandenberg. The quarry is one of the cleanest and clearest you’ll find in the mid-Atlantic region. It’s the perfect setting for those looking to dive, snorkel, kayak or swim. The water in the lake is supplied by an active aquifer which provides an amazing underwater world with good visibility. Deep below the surface, divers can explore several large objects, including a plane, helicopter, vans, boats and even a school bus. There are distinct thermoclines that stay around 44 degrees—and it’s a bit of a shock to your system when you take a deep dive.

During the open water dives, I had to demonstrate several diving skills while at a depth of between 15 and 25 feet, including regulator recovery, mask clearing, underwater navigation and a controlled emergency safety ascent (CESA). I had to complete two or three skills during each dive and then the three of us enjoyed an underwater tour of the quarry.

Dozens of fish were there to welcome us to the water. We visited many of the underwater displays, including the boat that was used in the movie “The Replacements,” starring Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman.

A Blackhawk helicopter sits on the eastern side of the quarry. Farther to the south, an airplane sits about 55 feet below the surface. I convinced both Lyles and Vandenberg to take me there, despite their warnings about how cold it would be. And they weren’t kidding! The temperature quickly dropped as we descended down to the aircraft. After a short five minute visit to get pictures and video, my body was ready to head back into warmer waters.

Over the course of the two days, we were able to visit many of the underwater sites after I finished my skills demonstrations. By the end of dive number three, I had completed my skills so we were able to enjoy a nice, leisurely recreational dive during open water dive number four.

While nearing the end of dive number four, Lyles shook my hand underwater, signifying that I had completed my course and I was now a certified diver. When I emerged from the water and climbed out of the quarry, I also rang the certified diver bell for everyone to hear.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about diving and to become a certified open water diver. Lyles opened a whole new world to me and I’m looking forward to exploring the depths during future dives.

If you’d like to learn more about the classes offered at Scuba Center and Outdoor Rec, click here.

Happy diving!

Contact Joy Shrum at

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