Want to learn to scuba dive, but don’t want to drive to the coast? Drive just 45 minutes north of the city and you’ll find plenty of underwater adventure at Kraken Springs Scuba and Watersports Park.

Kraken Springs is just off I-75 in White, Ga., actually the same exit as two other popular attractions, Tellus Science Museum and Old Car City.

The dive shop at Kraken Springs Scuba. (Special)

The former quarry is constantly replenished by underground water, while limestone acts as a natural filter and fosters an abundance of freshwater fish.

Back in the 1950’s, the quarry excavated stone that built the Allatoona Dam, but when workers hit an aquafer, bubbling fresh spring water turned the pit into a reservoir. Dive Georgia saw potential in the ever-refreshing spring and started operating dives there in 2016.

Pat Smith, facility manager for Kraken Springs, said scuba diving takes confidence and concentration, but it’s also a form of centering. “It’s like meditating — you focus on your breathing, you focus on relaxing, being one with the water and floating,” Smith said. “Imagine you are a hot air balloon floating through the sky — that’s what you are doing underwater.”

Many think being a strong swimmer is a prerequisite for scuba, but the sport is more of a mental than physical challenge. The gear for scuba diving can be heavy: one tank of compressed air is 35 pounds, the buoyancy vest adds another 10, and the tight wetsuit usually requires a two person job to tug on and leaves divers staggering to the water. Much thought and planning goes into each dive to prevent nitrogen build up in the body and decompression sickness. However, the end result is feeling weightless underwater.

Teaching at Kraken Springs

Kraken Springs is the only recreational open water diving resort in the state and is used for training and check-off dives on the path to becoming scuba certified. My scuba instructor for the day, Asher Garrett, got his certification at Kraken Springs and now teaches new divers how to explore the springs. The Kennesaw State University biology major got his open water certification in 2015 and has now logged over 300 dives at Kraken Springs.

He’s young for a dive instructor, but his experience and confidence in the water builds the trust of his students. In the future, Garrett aspires to get certified to teach with Diveheart, an organization that brings adaptive scuba to those with disabilities.

“Once you have all the background knowledge and know what you are doing, scuba diving is not a hard sport,” Garrett said. “Scuba is one of those things where it doesn’t matter who you are or what your limits are, you can jump in and [the water] equalizes everyone.”

With much patience, Garrett adapted his dive plans to meet my rusty scuba skills and took me for a full tour of the wonderfully whimsical things underwater at Kraken Springs. Since the spring doesn’t boast the same sea life as ocean dives, Kraken Springs has sunk a variety of jet skis, sculptures and boats to lure divers deeper. At just 15 feet under the surface we saw a sunken jet ski, driven by a skeleton of a pirate who did not get away with his booty. It was eerie to come across a dark blob, only to discover an abandoned sailboat. Kraken Springs was clear with quite high visibility despite a mild algae bloom every summer.

The practice pond

The first dock at Kraken Springs drops down to 130 feet. With varying stages of diving depths, the springs are used for working up to deeper dives. At 35 feet, divers can explore a bay liner and further down at 45 feet is the excavator that was used during the mining of the rock. At 60 feet rests the Sea Breeze — a cabin cruiser — and a big yellow school bus stripped of seats and windows to be used for wreck diving training. Even deeper are sunken cars and training platforms at technical-diving depths. The only thing limiting divers from experiencing these sunken treasures is certification levels (basic open water divers cannot exceed 60 feet) and the ability to not only keep your cool, but be fine with cooler water.

The training dock at Kraken Springs Scuba. (Special)

The most challenging part of my dive was mentally preparing for the chilly temperature that awaited me at the bottom. As much as I wanted to explore the Sea Breeze, my frozen fingers would not let me continue.

Seasoned diver Jonathan Arnett is not fazed by the temperatures in deep water. Since 1996, Arnett has logged 264 dives, meticulously recorded in his logbook. Since he only lives 20 minutes away, the Technical Communication professor at Kennesaw State University dives at Kraken Springs nearly every weekend to train for the PADI Tec40 technical diving certification. He has a variety of wetsuits and drysuits, including a 400 gm jumpsuit, that allows him to experience water in the mid-40s and seek out sunken cars at depths of 130 feet.

“This is my practice pond,” Arnett said. “The Tec40 will prepare me to go to more interesting places in the Caribbean. There are some really deep spots that are supposed to be beautiful and I can’t get to them — yet.”

Thoughtful therapy

While the mission of Kraken Springs is to offer a unique opportunity to escape to the underwater world, Pat Smith’s personal mission is to use scuba as meditation for fellow veterans.

Smith spent 25 years in the Army, but is now an Underwater Criminal Investigator in Columbus, Ga. He also teaches public safety and underwater investigation and stresses the seriousness of diving to dig through the muck and mud to recover crucial evidece. When he’s not on the job he’s still in the water, camping out at Kraken Springs during the weekend to teach scuba courses.

Smith encourages those also suffering from PTSD and depression to see scuba as a form of active relaxation that helps the mind refresh and refocus.

“It’s a release from the world’s problems. All that stuff goes away. You are relaxing, but relaxing isn’t always lying on your back, taking a nap or turning to a bottle,” he said.

Dip a toe

The first step to the healing waters is to get certified as an open water diver. Kraken Springs’ partnership with Dive Georgia in Woodstock uses pool facilities and Kraken Springs to get divers certified in as quickly as two weekends. In addition to scuba, Kraken Springs welcomes snorkeling, and non-motorized small watercraft on the springs such as kayaks, canoes and stand up paddleboards for a watersports entry fee of $35.

After a morning of panting as I pulled on my wet suit, breathing easy underwater, shivering as I descended into colder water and sailed in smooth, warm water, I sunned like a turtle on a stand up paddleboard and felt accomplished.

Learn more about hours and pricing at krakensprings.com. Those interested in scuba diving training can call Dive Georgia in Woodstock at 404-285-8600.

–Grace Huseth