SwimKids and Dive Utah offer swim lessons, scuba adventures and mermaid momentsMar 30, 2023 02:42PM ● By Collette Hayes
Keep Them Safe private lessons at SwimKids begin at 2 years of age or older. The lessons include training on how to swim, turn, float, breathe and turn again. (Photo credit Megan Catmull)
With warmer weather just around the corner, kids water safety classes, scuba diving trips and underwater mermaid moments are a few ways to keep the entire family safe, cool, active and entertained.
Nestled in the heart of Holladay are two businesses offering all this. Formerly the Matterhorn swim and ski school in the 1960s, Dive Utah has been offering scuba diving lessons since they purchased the building at 4679 S. 2225 East in the mid 1980s. SwimKids bought the building in the 1990s. Currently, Dive Utah leases a portion of the building and the indoor swimming pool from SwimKids.
SwimKids provides swim safe lessons to approximately 800 students six days a week at their Holladay location. During the summer swim season, SwimKids will be at the peak of swim lesson capacity with an enrollment of 1,500 kids assigned to 40 swim instructors.
At SwimKids, babies and toddlers quickly learn water survival skills. Parent-tot private lessons begin as early as 3 months of age. The primary focus of the lessons is for kids to become comfortable in the water and to begin muscle memory development so if a child ever experienced a water emergency situation muscle memory would kick in and the child would be able to use breath control and float on their back until they were safe. Keep Them Safe private lessons begin at 2 years of age or older. The lessons provide training on how to scoop and kick to find the swimming pool wall. Another foundational skill taught in this class is to swim, turn, float, breathe and turn again. Group lessons for kids that are already considered swim safe learn to navigate the pool, to engage with friends in the water and learn foundational swimming strokes.
Megan Catmull, the SwimKids general manager at the Holladay location, said a lot of drownings occur within a couple of feet of a swimming pool wall.
“Most drownings happen before the age of 5 or 6 years old. We focus on our Keep Them Safe lessons as early as 2 years old and work to build safe swimming skills,” Catmull said. “We have 2 year olds that can swim, float to breathe, turn, and swim again across the entire pool completely on their own and be safe. No one is ever drown proof, but learning swim safe skills, kids know what to do if they ever fall into the water mostly due to the muscle memory they have developed with the Swim and Float method. If necessary, kids could safely float on their back for at least 60 minutes.”
Many school-age children don’t know how to swim due to the fact lessons are out of their family’s price range. SwimKids offers specialty discount and scholarship swimming programs for those in need.
“SwimKids doesn’t view saving lives as a luxury,” Catmull said. “All kids should be able to be swim safe and participate in private or group lessons. We have developed several options for parents to help with the financial aspect of the lessons. For example, Fast Tract training and Turtle Club lessons provide discounted options. Also, we offer swim lesson scholarships. We look at every case where parents are in financial need and see what we can do to make sure if parents want these lessons their kids have access to them.”
As soon as water safety skills are firmly in place, then it’s time to have fun in the water. Dive Utah, a full-service dive shop, offers scuba diving classes and equipment rentals and sales. Dave Mohowski, Dive Utah owner and Master Dive Instructor, has been offering scuba certification classes for over a decade.
“Dive Utah currently has 15 dive instructors and offers evening and weekend diving classes,” Mohowski said. “We complete over 1,000 scuba diving certifications a year including onsite and at Brigham Young University where we have been an off-campus scuba certification provider for the last 10 years. Entry level classes are available up to instructor level.”
Scuba diving classes begin with two to four sessions at the onsite swimming pool. For most people that is enough to feel comfortable breathing with scuba gear under water and to learn foundational scuba skills. Once comfortable with basic skills the lessons continue at the Homestead crater in Midway. The crater is a geothermal hot spring in a 55-foot limestone dome. Only 45 minutes away, the crater offers 94-degree water temperature for enjoyable swimming and diving. At the crater, additional scuba diving skills are taught to complete the international, lifetime certification.
Dive Utah also offers fun dives, some local weekend excursions and four big warm water trips a year.
“Most clients that come through our door are learning to dive because they are going on a trip or cruise,” Mohowski said. “Eight and 9 year olds can participate in scuba skills and are welcome to try snorkeling in our pool. Kids who are 10 through 14 can certify but have a few limitations as far as depth and diving supervision. Kids can receive a regular open water diving certification at age 15 with a diving maximum depth of 60 feet and the presence of a buddy diver.”
Scuba diving has something for everyone.
“It’s really something the whole family can do,” Mohowski said. “Snorkeling is the gateway drug that leads to scuba. Once kids are comfortable in the water around ages 3 to 5, they can start snorkeling and that’s something the whole family can do together while at a warm water vacation destination. When the kids turn 10, the whole family can scuba certify.”
Dive Master, certified PADI Mermaid Instructor and underwater performer Ani Ferguson offers beginning to advanced mermaid classes as well as mermaid instructor certification at Dive Utah. Beginning at age 6 anyone who can pass the medical questions can begin Discover Mermaid classes and at age 8 kids can receive Basic Mermaid certification. In the full mermaid program, mermaids are trained in free diver techniques. The certification requires a mermaid to rescue a person from a 15-foot depth and tow them to a float or to the side of a pool. Advanced certified mermaids do advance rescue in open water up to a depth of 15 feet.
“Mermaid certification requires endurance, strength and a lot of practice,” Ferguson said. “A mermaid needs to be fast and efficient to get to a person in need of help. I trained 51 mermaids at all levels of certification last year which included kids and adults. There is a baseline swim skills test that you have to be able to complete to mermaid certify which includes being able to swim the length of the pool down and back and float for two minutes on your back.”
Basic mermaid classes provide instruction on breathing technique management, how to put on and float in mermaid gear, getting in and out of a mermaid tail quickly and safely, and learning to undulate the body in a smooth, streamline dolphin kick.
“Mermaid certification is inclusive. Every body type, every ability level and every gender is welcome,” Ferguson said. “If you have any interest in power, freedom and exploring the underwater world in a quiet, beautiful way, this is a must try activity. I’ve trained mermaids from age 6 to age 80. We offer specialty celebrations where we provide a basic mermaid class that can be completed in one night. One classroom session and two hours of foundational mermaid training in the pool is all that is required to complete Basic Mermaid certification. ”
For those who would like to learn more about SwimKids, Utah Dive or PADI Mermaids, located at 4679 S. 2225 East in Holladay, contact: SwimKids, 801-691-7946, swimkidsutah.com/locations/holladay/; Dive Utah Holladay, 801-277-3483, www.diveutah.com/; and Ani Ferguson, 385-429-2782, www.aqua-native.com