In "The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie," the villain is an evil scuba diver named "The Cyclops," who collects sea creatures and turns them into novelty items with googly eyes.
Scuba divers might take exception to that depiction, especially those who enjoy underwater exploring with their children. Families who are interested in taking up scuba as a hobby are finding that it's easier than ever to jump into the sport with both feet.
Wending your way through the acronyms of the scuba world begins with knowing that the word comes from Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Scuba divers carry their own breathing equipment, which enables them to remain submerged under water for longer periods of time than skin divers, who use snorkeling equipment and return to the surface to breathe. PADI is the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, which is the most widely recognized diving-certification program in the world.
>Children as young as five can begin instruction in proper diving techniques through programs offered by certified instructors at PADI dive centers and resorts. PADI's children's programs include SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth), which is open to kids ages 5 and up; and the Bubblemaker and Seal Team programs, which are open to ages 8 and older. The Junior Scuba Diver and Junior Open Water certifications are open to ages 10 and up.
>PADI's Discover Scuba program introduces persons age 10 and older to diving in a pool or in pool-like conditions, and earns participants credits toward its Scuba Diver and Open Water Diver certifications.
>Once your training is completed, it's time to seek out new places to dive.
>At Balmorhea State Park in West Texas, visitors can skin and scuba dive in a large artesian spring pool. The 1.75-acre pool, fed by San Solomon Springs, is 25 feet deep and a constant 72 to 76 degrees in temperature. A variety of aquatic life can be observed in its clear waters.
>Lake Amistad in Del Rio straddles the U.S.-Mexico border and offers clear waters dipping to 150 feet. The 64,900-acre lake features rock formations, caves and a variety of fish and vegetation.
Possum Kingdom Lake, located 30 miles west of Mineral Wells, is another popular spot for divers in Texas, as are Lake Travis in Austin and the nearby Comal River in New Braunfels.
Among the sites in the Gulf of Mexico is the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, 100 miles off the Freeport coast, with a depth of 60 to 100 feet and more than 400 acres of coral reefs accessible to advanced divers.
Whether you are planning a day trip nearby or a spring break vacation in a far-away destination such as Belize or the Cayman Islands, there are plenty of resources available to help. Charter trips are offered by area dive shops; check with local retailers.
Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) -- www.padi.com -- Describes certification programs for children and adults; lists local dive centers and resorts.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department -- www.tpwd.state.tx.us -- Information on state parks, camping, outdoor activities, fishing licenses and more.