There are many books and movies that highlight the risk of a zombie attack. Many of them give you insight on how to survive such an attack. Our dive training is designed to show us the risk of diving and teach us how to minimize them. However, in the Open Water Diver training and even in the Advanced Open Water Diver training, zombie attacks are not even mentioned once. How could we ever deal with a zombie attack while we are diving if we do not know the risk? Luckily for those concerned with this failure, PADI does have a distinctive specialty course called Zombie Apocalypse Diver certification course that should set your mind at ease.

The course is taught at over 40 different destinations worldwide and even has its own website.

Distinctive Specialties

The Zombie Apocalypse Diver certification course is just one example of a Distinctive Specialties course. We are all aware of the specialty courses offer by the different training and certification agencies. Courses such as Advanced Open Water Diver, Wreck Diver, and Deep Diver are just a few of the many specialties developed by the agencies. Instructors wanting to teach one of these courses, just need to meet the requirements set out for the instructors and apply to the agency.

A distinctive specialty is not developed by the accreditation agencies, but by individual instructors. While a few agencies do have these courses, it is mainly PADI and their instructors that are doing them. The instructor submits the proposed course to PADI who will review it. Once a course is accepted by PADI, PADI will issue C-cards to students who complete the courses. These courses are written based on the instructors’ interest and may focus on a very narrow topic or on a location. Also, while PADI will do the certifications, the original instructor has full control over his course, even to the point where they have to approve anyone else who wants to teach it. Unlike the agency specialty course, the owner of a distinctive specialty does not have to allow others to teach it.

Distinctive Specialties cover many topics, some whimsical such as the Zombie Apocalypse Diver, some just plain fun like underwater basket weaving while others like Self-Reliant Diver teach advanced skills or like the Project Aware programs have a strong conservation message.

What Courses Are Out there?

One of the problems with distinctive specialties is that there are so many of them and PADI does not provide a list of what they are and who teaches them. Some courses are limited to one location, as an example:

  • Distinctive Specialty – Mine Diver – This specialty is offered at the Bonne Terre Mine in Missouri,  what was once the worlds largest lead mine is now the worlds largest fresh water dive resort. 100 foot visibility. This location and specialty is on my bucket list.
  • Spiegel Grove Diver Specialty course – The Spiegel Grove is one of the most popular artificial reefs in the Florida Keys. This course “is to familiarize divers with the skills, knowledge, planning, organization, procedures, techniques, problems, hazards and excitement of diving the Spiegel Grove.” the class includes information about the ship’s history and the process of making it a reef. The dive site ranges from 60 feet (18 meters) to 140 feet (40 meters) but can be dangerous.
  • Aquarium Diver Distinctive Specialty – This course is offered at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The dive is conducted in the Aquarium’s Coral reef display.
  • Missile Silo specialty course – Dive into a flooded Titan I nuclear missile base. This course has you diving in an abandoned ICBM base near Royal City Washington. After the base was closed and the sensitive equipment was removed the pumps that kept it dry was turned off, like the Bonne Terre Mine ground water started to seep in and eventually flooded the silo and underground bunkers. However, unlike the mine, nothing was done to transform this diving destination. This is both a deep dive to 110 feet and a night dive as there is no natural light in the underground facility.
  • Pelagic Magic® Specialty – is something very special. It is an extension of what is also known as the “Black Water Night Dive”. The course is given by Jack’s diving locker in Kona Hawaii. The dive is off the coast in very deep water well away from shore. The divers are tethered together and descend to about 50 feet, and just float. This dive has been voted the best night dive in the world on a number of different “best-of” lists. The course includes classroom time and two dives.
  • Thresher Shark Diver – This certification is given in Malapascua  Philippines, the only place in the world with a daily sighting of these sharks. The classroom portion of this course concerns the conservation of these and other shark species as well as two academic presentations about behavior and biology. There are two open water dives on Monad Shoal to see these creatures of the deep.

    Spiegel Grove Photograph by Wilfred Hdez
    Spiegel Grove Photograph by Wilfred Hdez

Project AWARE

Project AWARE is closely aligned with PADI. The project was started by PADI in the 1980s and they have operated as partners in conservation efforts ever since. Project AWARE has two distinctive specialties: AWARE Shark Conservation Distinctive Specialty course and the Dive Against Debris Specialty.

The shark conservation program is designed to help people understand sharks better, take away peoples unjustified fear of these great creatures and to encourage efforts to protect the sharks as a species. The Dive Against Debris program is about combating the pollution we see in the ocean. It focuses on environmental protection and cleaning up the mess that has already been made.

The Project AWARE courses can almost be considered a cross over course, just like in music a song might be considered part of two genres. While they are distinctive specialty courses, they are so common they are considered specialty courses.

The Distinctive Specialties

The distinctive specialties are meant to be fun and educational. Being designed by instructors who are the experts on the topic, they have a narrow focus and a more select group of students. If you have a special interest that is not really mainstream, you might find one of the distinctive course might perk your interest.

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