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Wisconsin is starting to sound more and more like an ocean state. Last week, OnMilwaukee reported on a surf shop opening in Shorewood and, earlier this year, Joe Frank opened Port Deco Divers, a full-service scuba equipment and charter store in Port Washington.
"I always thought it was something this area was missing," says Frank.
Frank has been a certified diving instructor since 2007. He moved to Mexico for three years where his beach friends there nicknamed him "TJ," which is short for "Tortuga Joe."
"I’m slow on land, fast in water," says Frank, who also has a tattoo of a turtle on his arm. "They had called me a plethora of other things, so I was happy when they settled on ‘TJ.’"
Frank returned to Wisconsin when a parent started to suffer health issues and after a few years of saving money from construction work, he opened Port Deco Divers in early 2016. The shop – which is made primarily from the reclaimed wood of two Germantown barns – offers scuba gear, charters and events. It is the only dive shop in Wisconsin that’s on Lake Michigan.
Port Deco also features a lounge area, a retail store that sells everything from flippers to dry suits and a classroom adorned with a massive, hand-painted map on the wall which shows 15 ship and plane wrecks still intact at the bottom of the lake from Port Washington to Sheboygan that are accessible to certified divers.
"There are some really cool things at the bottom of the lake," says Frank. "Including boulders, one of which is 20-foot tall, that were dropped by glaciers in a crescent moon pattern and The Northerner, a boat that looks like a pirate ship. I have the music from ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ going through my head every time I dive it."
Port Deco Divers offers a variety of Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI)-certified dive certifications – some of which can be completed in a weekend and others that require two weekends of classroom and water time. Once a person, who must be at least 10 years old, becomes certified in scuba, they are certified for life.
The Holiday Inn next door to the shop offers $50 off per night for anyone staying to complete a diving certification.
For certified divers, the Little Alexandria dive boat leaves from the shop two to three times a day on Saturday and Sunday for a four-hour dive experience, plus Wednesday and Friday evenings for two hours starting at 6 p.m.
The shop also offers free scuba demonstrations every Saturday through Aug. 20 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the outdoor Port Washington Harbor Park Recreation pool. Registration is required.
A couple of weeks ago, my sons and I decided to give scuba a whirl and attended one of the demos. Our instructor, David Ziegman, worked for a dive shop in Menomonee Falls for three years before joining the staff at Port Deco Divers when it opened.
Ziegman caught the scuba bug while on his honeymoon in Hawaii six years ago. He has since dived in Honduras, San Diego and locally.
We lucked out on the weather, which was almost 80 degrees and sunny, the day of our lesson. We called ahead and registered so Ziegman had all of the right-sized gear for us when we arrived. He started out by explaining how it all worked and the three basic hand signs of diving: the "OK" sign, the thumbs up sign – which can get confused for the "OK" sign but actually means time to head to the surface – and the "something’s wrong" sign.
It took us about 15 minutes to suit up and I was surprised by a few things immediately. The tank was heavy, I felt incredibly awkward in flippers and I completely trusted the equipment, especially after Ziegman explained so thoroughly how everything worked and why it was foolproof.
We practiced "diving" in the shallow end of the pool and when we felt confident, moved on to the the deep end. One of my sons did not feel comfortable in the deep water, so I spent just a few minutes exploring and then went back to the shallow area with him. My other son, however, once again made me think he is quite possibly part fish and was diving at the bottom of the deep end without a ripple of fear.
"There’s no commitment for this first dive, but a lot of people realize how much fun it is and come back for more," says Ziegman. "It can be addictive."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.