The smell of chlorine and humid warmth hit as soon as the doors to the Bronx YMCA opened. There were other classes and lap swimmers inside the pool but one lane had a group struggling to get into neoprene wet suits, hoods, and gloves. A cheerful man, who everyone addresses as Captain Mike, walks in with tanks and masks. Every Thursday evening, Michael E. Mashack teaches scuba lessons at the Castle Hill YMCA in order for divers to get their PADI certification.
Growing up in the Bronx, I never had the privilege of swimming lessons. Swimming was self-taught at the age of 23 in the beautiful, clear waters of Florida. The thought of staying under water is nerve racking even with an oxygen tank, so there were no original plans to join in. But watching the students put on their wet suits and sling on buoyancy control devices, curiosity took over. “Captain, think I can get a wet suit?” I asked, not expecting my sudden request to be possible. “Of course! Let me see if I have another suit in the truck.” he responded.
Michael E. Mashack, or Captain Mike, is a Maritime Captain and founder of Bronx Scuba. Every Thursday a group of adults or children are taught the basics of scuba diving. Founded over 12 years ago, Captain Mike has been teaching and scuba diving for more than that. “The only difference between then and now is that it was just a transition between doing a hobby I love and being official.” The idea of Bronx Scuba began as a Boy Scouts Adventure Based Learning Program that came into fruition at Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club. Princeton Mashack, Willie Sifonte, Jr. and Fausto Baez later joined to form Bronx Scuba. The lessons that he provides are for the beginning of PADI diving certifications in open water, advanced open water, and specialty. So far, Bronx Scuba has helped hundreds of individuals obtain their certification and introduced them to the world of scuba.
Admittedly, putting on the wet suit was difficult and felt similar to stretching a rubber band around a wet pony tail. Once in the water, Captain Mike went over the mechanics of the oxygen tank, regulator, submersible pressure gauge, and inflators on the buoyancy control devices. It’s clear that this equipment is expensive making scuba diving a costly hobby. “When starting Bronx Scuba, I wanted to provide access to those who normally would not be able to afford it on their own.” explained Captain Mike. In 2009, Captain Mike took a crew of youth on a diving tour of the California coast. They got to live on a boat for three days, dive with sea lions and learn how to use underwater digital cameras and dry suits. But Bronx Scuba is not about sales, it’s about expanding worlds which is accomplished in yearly adventures ranging from the Philippines, Puerto Rico, North Carolina, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, and Florida.
Back in 2014, Gonzalo Duran, USMC Veteran and CEO of Devil Dog USA, Inc. was researching ways to workout without putting a heavy strain on his already compromised lungs. Scuba diving piqued his interest and he booked his first lesson with Captain Mike. During the lesson, Mr. Duran felt relaxed and amazed while getting a good workout under the water. He pitched the idea of having an introduction scuba course for Veterans and Captain Mike immediately jumped on board. Together they have introduced Veterans to a hobby that many would not have access too.
Under the water Captain Mike demonstrated how to clean the mask lens from fog, the ways to clear water from the mouth piece that supplies oxygen, and methods to communicate while diving. By the end of the lesson I was comfortable having my head submerged and was fascinated watching any simple movement that was happening under water as if it was my first time seeing. I wanted more and Captain Mike knew it, “The enthusiasm of a new diver when they see how another world looks is the best feeling in the world.”
For more information please visit Bronx Scuba Facebook Page here or email Michael E. Mashack at firstname.lastname@example.org. Prices vary depending on skill levels.
If you are a Veteran please contact Sgt. Gonzalo Duran at email@example.com.