I’ve worked in the scuba diving industry since 1991. In that time, I’ve gotten to know Margo Peyton, the founder of Kids Sea Camp, well. Kid’s Sea Camp is an international, multi-generational phenomenon that has introduced nearly 8,000 youngsters to scuba diving over the past 23 years.
Over the years, Margo has often asked me to come and participate in one of her week-long events. While sincerely interested in joining her and her team in interesting places like Bonaire, Grand Cayman, the Philippines, and Roatan, one key issue remained – I DIDN’T HAVE A KID.
That all changed in 2014. My son, Stephen is a “late in life blessing” who is the best thing to ever happen to me. Stephen is eight years old now and eager for new experiences. I’m thankful that Margo and her husband, Tom, invited us to Bonaire this summer in the Kids Sea Camp event at Buddy Dive Resort.
Having been part of enough group dive trips and resort experiences that could fill more than a few logbooks, I consider myself “A Believer” for Kids Sea Camp. Staffed by highly qualified and motivated professionals, Kids Sea Camp took care of everything – something that as a parent, I can now appreciate in a much better way. I didn’t have to worry about meals or activities in the water. Would he have fun? You bet! In short, I dropped him off at 8:30 and picked him up at 3:30 each day. I could enjoy the island, some diving, good food, and then spend the evenings with my son.
While it was tempting to “disappear” for a few hours, Tom Peyton warned me to “stay involved so you don’t miss anything.” He wasn’t kidding. Stephen was with a group of six youngsters doing the PADI Seal Team and SASY programs. Every day, he would share something different that happened that day, and not everything involved the water! One of his favorite activities was “hunting” lizards and iguanas with his camera and his new best friends Caleb and Logan, who had traveled from Wisconsin. Strong bonds were formed – Stephen and his friends were already discussing NEXT YEAR’s Kids Sea Camp.
His diverse schedule of activities during the week included a visit to a Donkey Sanctuary, “BloKart racing” (kite surfing) on the other side of the island, swinging off the deck (literally) of the Samir Sunset Cruise vessel, and enjoying custom-made omelets each morning for breakfast.
It’s easy to see why so many families participate in Kids Sea Camp year after year.
Give The Gift of An Experience
Having Stephen join my family later in life meant I had more resources and time to spend with him. There is a natural inclination to buy him “STUFF.” But I’ve learned the important things I can share with my son aren’t physical items. Actual experiences are what’s important. The more memorable experiences, the better. In this case, experiences that will last a lifetime – for both of us!
This proud father selected one of his favorite islands, Bonaire, to introduce his son to the underwater world. My associates throughout the dive industry were thrilled and encouraged following Stephen’s giant strides into scuba via social media.
During the week at Kids Sea Camp, I watched my son learn how to assemble and organize his personal (snorkel) gear provided by Seac USA. I smiled when he learned how to dive down and pick up various items. Now, if I can teach him not to misplace his mask and fins…..
Soon, Stephen graduated to a kid’s size BCD and regulator setup. His instructors provided individualized instruction that, as a dive professional myself, I truly appreciated. It was memorable when Stephen came running up to me and said, “Daddy, I saw an octopus,” following his first official dive near the Buddy Dive docks. It’s an experience you can NEVER put a price tag on!
I was told to prepare for an early afternoon surprise the next day. After gearing up on the dock, I saw Stephen and his instructor swim near the ladder. I was invited to join them. I was not sure how big my smile was, but they didn’t have to ask twice. In just eight feet of water, Stephen and I shared a special time – and a Kids Sea Camp photographer even captured the moment. I guess the “gift of experience” is something Dads can enjoy also!
The last day on the island, while snorkeling on Klein Bonaire, Stephen excitedly pointed towards a sea turtle swimming nearby. It was near the surface and was easy for him to spot. Not the type of creature he’s used to seeing at home in Arizona. I’m sure he can’t wait to share his Kids Sea Camp experience with his new schoolmates when he starts third grade this fall.
Handling the “Spirited Child”
I won’t say that Stephen was the ideal SEAL Team member, but what eight-year-old is? Stephen’s dedicated Buddy Dive instructor team (Tina, Lola and Madi), went out of their way to make sure the entire group of six youngsters (3 SEAL team and 3 SASY) was comfortable, trained and secure. Tina is the senior Kids Sea Camp veteran in Bonaire, having been involved for more than 10 years. As a mother of young boys herself, she was very well equipped to put Stephen at ease in the water (along with his father).
Stephen sometimes struggles with paying attention and following directions. Realizing this early in the week, I was impressed with how this trio of PADI instructors adapted their training with the youngsters to a more individualized approach. Tina explained to me the key to a successful week is being flexible to each kid’s individual style and needs.
What’s important to me is that Stephen was able to experience the thrill of breathing underwater (he did), encountering undersea creatures (an octopus and sea turtle for starters), and key to everything is that he had fun (no question). Whether Stephen continues his scuba training in the future is unclear. But I’m confident he’s been introduced to the correct tools, skills and professionals that give him a solid foundation if that’s what he chooses.
Capture the Moment
As a photographer, I know that once you “miss a moment”, it’s difficult if not impossible to recreate it. During our week on Bonaire, I was thankful that Kids Sea Camp official photographer Jesse Alpert was ALWAYS there to capture the moment both digitally and via video. Throughout that first KSC week on Bonaire in June, Jesse says he took more than 2,000 images, and I believe him.
Stephen and I share a love of photography. We both brought our cameras to Bonaire and shot away. Stephen was indeed able to capture some lizard shots, along with shots of his friends and some island sights (Tina made him the “official photographer” of the group’s island tour).
I’ve mentioned the importance of experiences. The Kids Sea Camp team went out of their way to create memorable moments that will most certainly last a lifetime. I wouldn’t have expected my son to participate in “Karaoke Night”, but he did. (Something even his father has not done before.)
I was proud to see Stephen recognized at the end of the week along with the rest of his “aquatic class”. He’s not yet old enough to receive PADI Open Water Certification, but he did log his first couple of SCUBA dives in Bonaire, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.
Preparing the Next Generation
Margo Peyton created Kids Sea Camp 21 years ago for one simple reason: she wanted a safe, fun, and life-changing experience for her two young children. Since then, thousands of youngsters have learned how to SCUBA dive through Kids Sea Camp. Many have even advanced to professional levels like Divemaster, Rescue Diver, and Instructor. Margo’s vision has had a profound effect on the future of the international diving industry.
Recognizing this, PADI recognized Margo with the PADI Lifetime Achievement Award and made her a PADI Ambassadiver. The future of the recreational scuba industry is in motivating and developing the next generation of scuba divers and industry professionals. Kids Sea Camp is the acknowledged leader in this important role. I’m pleased to have been able to see this first-hand and look forward to hearing more inspiring stories.
Perhaps even my son will choose to be part of this next generation of SCUBA divers. Thank you, Margo!