Friday, October 28, 2005


Diving into the ocean's past


The Miami Herald
By Marcia Freidenreich
October 23, 2005

At Aquatic Ventures, Gary Beitner offers classes in scuba certification and leads dive trips to explore underwater archaeological finds.

Gary Beitner has combined his passions -- archaeology and scuba diving -- into a unique business.

The Hollywood resident, who has a master's degree in archaeology from Florida Atlantic University, worked his way through school by teaching others how to dive.

Beitner has been teaching diving and going on archaeological digs for more than 25 years.

At his new store, Aquatic Ventures, Beitner offers courses in skin diver/snorkeling certification, open to people age 12 and older; junior scuba diver, structured for young people ages 12 to 15; open water diver; and advanced diver.

Specialty courses include dive rescue, wreck diver, deep diver, night diver, search and recovery, and underwater archaeology technician.

Beitner said he was drawn to diving as a youth after he saw a John Wayne movie (Wake of the Red Witch, made in 1948) in which the actor played a diver who tangled with a giant octopus.
Fortunately, Beitner hasn't seen such a creature in his travels, but he did see an eight-foot sturgeon while diving in a lake in Canada.

''It scared me when I first saw it moving slowly towards me. Underwater, everything is magnified and looks 30 percent larger,'' Beitner said. ``Finally I realized it was just a big fish, not some monster.''

People who book underwater adventures with the shop can check out Spanish galleons sunk hundreds of years ago off the cost of Florida.

On some underwater archaeological expeditions, people can see archaic Indian villages 6,000 to 8,000 years old, Beitner said.

''Thousands of years ago, the sea level was 30 feet lower,'' he said.

In some areas in the Gulf of Mexico, divers have seen the fossils of horses that once populated Florida, along with prehistoric objects such as teeth from the giant white shark, he said.

Though Beitner conducts many archaeological expeditions on land, he admits he feels more comfortable in the water because he feels like a ''klutz'' on terra firma.

''Underwater I'm much more graceful,'' he said. ``I also like the feeling of zero gravity. When you come back up on the beach after diving you feel very weighted down.''

Beitner has even taught people to dive who suffer from claustrophobia.

''At the end of the course, if they still feel uncomfortable, we continue to work with them until they feel good,'' he said.

Aquatic Ventures charges $250 for its scuba certification course, which combines lectures, pool work and ocean drills. If the weather is favorable, students can receive certification in two weeks, Beitner said.

His philosophy can be summed up by a hand-typed sheet of paper on the window of his business, on which he posts the store hours: ``All other hours we are at our other office, the ocean.''


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