My Ultimate Dive Buddy

A father’s ultimate dream comes true at Kids Sea Camp!

By Eric Michael

“My kid’s a diver!”  Shouting these words from a mountaintop has been a dream for 11 long years. The day my daughter, Hailey, was born, I began fantasizing about sharing with her my deep passion for the ocean. I couldn’t imagine a better dive buddy — swimming along, hand in hand, discovering the secrets of the sea.

Through her toddler years, some dads in my circle of friends lamented that their adventurous pastimes would have to take a backseat to parenting. “What a cop out,” I thought.

The plan was simple: Make travel and diving irresistible to her. I started early, with each bedtime story focused on fantastical sea creatures, miraculous mermaids, and amazing underwater adventures.

As she grew, we watched every kid-friendly dive-related movie  I could find. Soon she was naming marine life and swimming in the ocean became second nature. When I spoke to her third-grade class on career day about being editor of Sport Diver magazine, I watched her beam with pride. The plan was working, albeit far too slow for my impatient heart. Then Kids Sea Camp (KSC) changed everything.

Our introduction to Kids Sea Camp a unique family dive vacation that combined everything an ocean-loving family could ask for was at Cobalt Coast Resort in the Cayman Islands. Hailey was then 4 years-old. KSC offered world-class diving for adults, kids-tailored activities for kids age 4-17,  PADI certifications, and specialty courses. They also provide daily educational, cultural and social events for all. KSC’s SASY program was the perfect indoctrination into the dive life for Hailey.

Being around diving kids, hearing their stories and making new friends from around the world fanned her spark of interest into a flame. It didn’t hurt that KSC founder and patron saint of family diving, Margo Peyton, made it a point to spend personal time in the ocean with Hailey. 

Thanks to Margo’s irresistible enthusiasm for training the next generation of divers, once timid Hailey gained enough confidence with Kids Sea Camp to give it a try.

A few years later, we returned to Kids Sea Camp at Buddy Dive Resort on Bonaire, where 8-year-old Hailey joined the PADI Seal Team program. The mini scuba rig gave her the experience of a diver, by breathing through a regulator. She completed all 5 aqua missions, and I enjoyed my first dive with her under the dock. What a breakthrough!

When she was 10, ready to become a Junior Open Water Diver, we booked KSC’s Thanksgiving week at Anse Chastanet St. Lucia.

This exquisite and secluded luxury resort has an on-site PADI 5 star dive operation, Scuba St. Lucia was perfect for the entire family. The time was right for Hailey to join the dive tribe.

I’ve always believed that anticipation is one of the best things about travel. Adding a life-changing event like Hailey’s certification only intensified that joy.

Months before our trip we began putting together her first scuba kit, trying on wetsuits, fit testing the Scubapro masks and fins all provided by KSC. 

A few weeks before takeoff, we dove into the PADI E-Learning materials and watching her absorb the physics of diving and safety protocols was as much a learning experience for me as it was for her.

When the venerable dive table came into play, I broke out in a cold sweat. Thankfully, Hailey helped me remember my fundamentals and she passed with ease.

Arriving at Anse Chastanet is a rejuvenation. Surrounded by 600 acres of thriving rainforest, the intimate 49-room resort spills down a lush mountainside to a pristine volcanic beach embracing a crystalline bay that shelters a rich marine reserve.

Fragrant tropical flowers adorn trees, tables, and the staff. The view across the bay from our room, framing the island’s famed twin peaks, Gros and Petit Piton, against the Caribbean sunset defies description.

This experience would surely set Hailey’s dive trip expectations to impossibly high levels. Then again, that’s what Kids Sea Camp is all about.

One of my favorite things about Kids Sea Camp is the relaxed, family vibe. Strangers don’t stay that way for long, especially the children. Friendships form instantly when you’re diving headfirst into new adventures together.

Plus, there are lizards to chase, beaches to comb, stars to count and cannonballs to launch off the top deck of the dive boat.

When training begins, the kids slip into a blissful routine of discovery, both underwater and inside themselves.

Through 30 years of organizing group travel events across the globe, Margo has created a very rare and valuable culture in the world of diving. She is building a tribe of like-minded families from different walks of life who share a common love for the ocean — and kinship.

Traveling to exotic locales with children and grandparents in tow can pose many challenges. Kids Sea Camp makes it simple, safe and sanguine. There’s a reason why we consistently meet families on their third, sixth and even eighth KSC adventure. Bonding is an understatement.

Relationships born here endure for years. The experience is just that powerful. 

On this trip, we invited my mother-in-law, Marsha, a newly certified diver herself, to join us. The possibility of a three-generation dive could not be missed.

So, as Hailey was completing her final confined water dive under the careful guidance of Scuba St. Lucia’s instructors, we achieved the trifecta. Set loose on the house reef after her required skills were performed, parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters joined for their first dive together.

Holding Hailey’s tiny hand as we toured the reef was euphoric. She led the way, pointing out colorful reef fish and hidden critters while Marsha and I followed, enraptured by the experience.

Near the end of the dive, Hailey and I shared a moment alone kneeling in the sand, practicing signals. I am not ashamed to admit that I shed a few manly tears of joy looking into my daughter’s wide, excited eyes. I finally had my ultimate dive buddy.

My long-awaited fantasy had become a reality. But there was one unexpected and equally wonderful side effect. Heather, my wife of more than 26 years, has long suffered an unrealistic fear of marine life. Despite being a competitive swimmer and water polo player in her youth. Nothing proved more powerful than watching her own daughter become a diver.

During Hailey’s final open water check out dive, on which parents join, Heather followed the group on snorkel. When we surfaced, the most surprising words came out of her mouth, “I’m ready to try scuba diving.” To my good fortune, Margo was within earshot. Hugs ensued. (And a few more manly tears.)

Guess who’s getting certified at Kids Sea Camp next year?