DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
BURNET — Ben Joosten wants to open a new world to you. One that could take you from watching the sea lions of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez to experiencing the vibrant life around oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas.
And it all starts in the pool at the YMCA of the Highland Lakes at Galloway-Hammond.
“That’s right,” Joosten said, “we get everybody going in this pool.”
Joosten teaches the YMCA’s SCUBA-diving and SCUBA-related classes. He’s certified with the Professional Associaton of Diving Instructors and teaches divers as young as 8 up through the entire family. In fact, he loves getting families involved in SCUBA diving.
“I get a lot of families (for lessons),” he said. “Often, the dad is certified, so the rest of the family wants to get certified, too. So they all come in and take the classes. Dad gets a refresher. It’s a great thing for families to do together.”
He isn’t just referring to the SCUBA classes but also travel adventures that await the family.
Joosten teaches a host of SCUBA classes at the YMCA of the Highland Lakes including Bubblemakers (an introduction for ages 8-10) all the way through master diver or event dive instructor certification. He offers most of the kids classes and open water certifications on a monthly basis.
Joosten, who grew up in Colorado, started SCUBA diving in the Rocky Mountain State along with a friend. The two eventually parlayed their SCUBA diving into an adventure travel company, leading people on dives around the world. When Joosten settled in Texas, he kept on diving — and teaching. Along with the Burnet site, Joosten teaches SCUBA at two other Austin-area YMCAs.
He tries to offer lessons each month and can adjust his schedule to meet the needs of his students when necessary.
One of his favorite things is introducing kids to SCUBA diving. His Bubblemakers class is a one-hour introduction to SCUBA diving. The kids get to wear the gear and try some of the basics of diving, all under his supervision.
If it’s something the child enjoys, the next step is the Seal Team program.
“We do aquatic missions,” Joosten explained. The lessons are taught in an activity-based scenario so kids learn a skill, master it and put it to use through the five different missions.
“And each mission builds on all the previous skills,” Joosten said. “I teach them a skill. We go use the skill. They master the skill, and they have to go apply it through the missions.”
After graduating from Seal Team, youth advance to Master Seal Team, which includes 10 missions with more advanced skills. One of the skills includes creature identification. Joosten puts depictions of various sea creatures in the pool, the students (after studying sea life) dive down with a slate board in hand to identify the creatures.
“We also have a night dive mission where we turn out all the lights in the pool area, and they find their way using (underwater) flashlights,” Joosten said.
Then there’s underwater navigation during which the students learn to use a compass to find their way.
“And after 10 missions, if they still want to do more, we can add more,” he said.
Those three youth programs don’t earn certifications, but the kids get to use SCUBA gear (provided) and learn about the activity.
The next step is the Open Water SCUBA class for ages 10 and older. Like the youth classes, open water starts in the YMCA pool before heading to Reveille Peak Ranch’s lake. Joosten said the open water class includes classroom instruction, four pool dives and then four open water dives.
“In the open water dives, we just basically take what they do in the pool dives and do them again in the lake,” he said. “And I’m right there the whole time in case they have a problem or question.”
For people interested SCUBA diving but are still not sure it’s for them, Joosten teaches a Discover SCUBA class, which is just an introduction (in the pool) to the sport.
With completion of the open water certification, the new SCUBA diver will soon discover a new world awaits them.
“I’ve traveled all over the world because of SCUBA diving,” he said. “Now I want to share this with other people.”
Along with teaching at the YMCA, Joosten still leads diving and adventure travel excursions. He recently returned from Cozumel with one group. He’s eyeing some bigger trips in the future including La Paz and the Sea of Cortez, where participants will find a significant sea lion population to dive among.
“There are certain times when fish are moving, and I like try and time some trips when the fish are moving,” he said. “When the hammerheads are moving, that’s just amazing.”
One trip he hasn’t taken but would like to is to South Africa during the sardine run.
“When the sardines are running, you’ll have thousands of dolphins out there,” Joosten said.
But great dive trips don’t have to include long plane rides and passports. One of the best places to dive is right off the Texas coast in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly around oil rigs.
“They are awesome,” he said. “They are so full of sea life, as soon as you get in, you’re going to see some.”
Whether you dream of diving with throngs of hammerhead sharks passing over you or simply making a getaway to the Texas coast, it all can start in the pool at the YMCA of the Highland Lakes at Galloway-Hammond, 1601 S. Water St. (U.S. 281).
“Right in this pool,” Joosten affirmed. “Everything can get started right here.”
Contact Joosten at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 944-2350 for upcoming classes, schedules and costs. Go to www.ymcagwc.org/burnet for more information.