■ BY SUE ERWIN
Stephanie Taylor and her husband Rodney have spent countless hours exploring the waters around Boca Grande aboard a boat owned by her father, Capt. Dumplin’ Wheeler. The Taylors and their six children are all avid snorkelers who enjoy traveling to different locations and discovering new ways to enjoy the outdoors.
But recently, they decided to take their passion for the water one step further. Stephanie and Rodney, along with their 15-year-old daughter Shaelyn, took a course to become certified scuba divers through the assistance of David Bartels and his wife, Kinga Bekier, both of whom are certified instructors for the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). They operate out of Fantasea Scuba in Port Charlotte.
“I had known David for years since my mother worked at the community center,” Stephanie said. “A friend recommended Fantasea Scuba in Port Charlotte, so we signed up for the class in June. We showed up on the first day and there was David – it was quite a surprise.” Stephanie said she first became interested in scuba diving when she took a class in college to earn physical education credits. The family said they especially enjoyed the certification diving experience on June 11 and 12. “We did our coursework online, so we only had the pool training and the test dives to complete. Our first dive was in Lake Denton in Avon Park, and that was so much fun. They do a lot of scuba-diving classes there, so they had things in place at the bottom, like hoops to swim through and other obstacles,” she said.
They completed their certification checkout dive the next day in Pompano Beach. “We saw a big tarpon swim right by us. It was really amazing,” she said. Stephanie said Rodney enjoys lobster hunting in the Keys, and he began thinking how much easier it might be if he was able to dive for them instead of plunging with a snorkel to reach the bottom. “I saw how frustrated he was getting, so now we’re going to give it a try this summer and see how we do,” Stephanie said.
David said the Taylors scheduled their last pool session on the same day as the 2016 Kids Classic Tarpon Tournament on Saturday, June 4, in which Shaelyn participated. Many island residents are familiar with David, because he works full time at the Boca Grande Community Center for Lee County Parks and Recreation. He’s been working there since 2008. Kinga was a competitive swimmer in Poland before moving to the United States in 1996. She is also a licensed physical therapist. David was a master diver until December 31, 2015, when he earned his certification to become an instructor.
David and Kinga work together as team instructors. They enjoy sailing and traveling, and they also schedule travel excursions to various locations with groups of local divers. Kinga said she prefers to use the NAUI program, because you can get certified at your own pace and they will even customize classes for the students. “If you want to get certified using your own pool, we can do that, although it will affect the cost. We can also schedule group trips to complete the two required dives at various destinations,” Kinga said. Self-study work can be done on your own time, but Kinga highly recommends spending some time in the classroom. “That way students can ask questions and interact and get to know others in the class,” Kinga said. The certification package includes three academic classes and three pool training sessions. Each student must complete two open water dives within a two-day period. Students need to have their own snorkel, mask and fins and must be at least 15 years old.
NAUI Course Director Jim Joseph owns Fantasea Scuba. Jim began recreational diving in 1989 and quickly turned his passion into a career when he became an instructor. He opened the training center and store in 1993 with his wife, Julie. David and Kinga are part of a team of instructors who work for the training facility. For more information, go to fantaseascuba.com.