Some of the world's best diving can be found right here in the U.S., in our nation's 50th state. Off Kona and Maui, divers lose themselves in quiet interludes with manta rays, dolphins and dragon moray eels. With so much beauty underwater, it's important to choose a quality dive center. Here are some of the best in the business:
Big Island Divers
Forget lugging your gear across the Pacific; this PADI 5-star Instructor Development Center has all the latest Aqua Lung equipment available for rent. And with a 5,000-square-foot store loaded with the latest dive goodies, you're bound to use the extra luggage space for a few souvenirs. If you need a spare part, you're likely to find it here, or owner Norm Cinch will hunt it down for you. Big Island offers nitrox, too. Repeat clientele rave about Big Island's over-the-top personal service, small dive groups and comfortable boats. Thoughtful touches like just-brewed Kona coffee in the morning, freshly laundered towels awaiting you after your dive and a fridge full of Aloha juice keep divers sated -- and delighted. Board their boats at Honokohau Harbor. Visit bigislanddivers.com or call 800-488-6068.
Jack's Diving Locker
As a PADI Gold Palm instructor development center and National Geographic dive center, Jack's Diving Locker turns gangly legs into mermaid-like diving machines on a daily basis. Whether you're 7 or 70, Jack's offers a course that ups the ante on your skills. Then depart on a boat trip from the Honokohau Harbor to practice what you've learned at any of the 80 dive sites along Kona's coast, or just head off the shore on a two-tank guided tour with Jack's friendly and knowledgeable staff. Jack's diving locker also runs a repair center and a fully stocked dive shop, complete with nitrox. You can even shop online before you go at jacksdivinglocker.com, or call 800-345-4807.
Kona Honu Divers
This PADI dive center is determined to bring you into their ohana, or family. And with their spankin'-new 46-foot custom-built dive boat, the Honu One, you'll never see family reunions the same way again. Sprawl out with all your gear -- they typically ride with less than half of maximum capacity -- as you smoothly cruise through Hawaii's balmy night toward Kona Honu's signature dive, the manta ray night dive. Are whale sharks more your fare? Kona Honu also specializes in cozying up to the world's largest fish. If you need rental gear, they've got you covered there, too, in new and state-of-the-art style, and they also have nitrox. Trips depart from Honokohau Harbor. Visit konahonudivers.com or call 808-324-4668.
Konaquatica Dive Center
If you're a rebreather or technical diver -- or are looking for room to grow -- PADI Resort Association member Konaquatica will be your new best friend on Kona. This PADI center offers instruction and support for closed-circuit rebreathers, plus an enviable selection of rebreather cylinders, consumables and stage bottles. Got O2? They do. Fill up with high-pressure oxygen from Konaquatica's own fill and mixing station. At the center, you'll also find nitrox, trimix and full rental gear. Once you're geared up and ready to dive, head with five fellow dive fiends in Konaquatica's new 30-foot boat (six passengers max). Special outings include a manta ray night dive and a dolphin experience, plus long-range trips. Boats depart from Honokohau Harbor. Visit konaquatica.com or call 888-331-4386.
Dive Maui is all about speed. This PADI dive center zips you over to the calm and uncrowded backside of Lanai to see Lanai's Cathedrals and Shark Fin Rock on one of two high-speed rigid inflatable boats. If you'd like to spend some quality time with a manta ray, they have a trip for that, too. They offer a three-day PADI certification course, so you can go from beach bum to dive maniac before your weeklong vacation hits its halfway point. If you've already sprouted your diving gills, Dive Maui can provide you with nitrox or lead you on a night dive. They have gear for rent and for sale, and they also offer kayaking and snorkeling tours. Dive boats depart from Mala Wharf in Lahaina. Visit actionadventuretours.com/divemaui.html or call 866-529-2544.
Ed Robinson's Diving Adventures
If you're already a PADI-certified diver and you're cruisin' for a dive center that caters to non-newbies like you, make a diving date with this PADI Resort Association member. Ed Robinson and his crew insist on small dive teams of no more than six divers per divemaster, so you can count on fine-tuned service and attention to safety. Every dive begins with a Biology 101 talk that enhances your understanding and recognition of the wildlife you came so far to see, such as moray eels, manta rays, eagle rays and the occasional whale shark. Two boats depart daily from the Kihei boat launch for two- and three-tank trips to explore the area's hard coral-rich dive sites, including Molokini Crater, Lanai Cathedrals, Makena/La Perouse and a weekly sunset and night dive. Find more information online at mauiscuba.com/erd1.htm, or call 800-635-1273.
With over 25 years of experience, this PADI Gold Palm instructor development center offers carefully planned trips and extensive training for divers of all levels. New divers will get hooked for life at the Discover Turtle Reef trip, where Hawaii's endangered green sea turtles thrive among coral gardens that stretch the length of the island. Advanced divers shouldn't miss the Molokini Wall trip, where they might see whitetip, blacktip and gray reef sharks, and maybe dolphins and manta rays, too. All charters operate out of Lahaina Harbor; also available are twilight dives and trips to Lanai and the Carthaginian artificial reef. Get your rental gear and nitrox here, too. Visit lahainadivers.com or call 800-998-3483.
Maui Dive Shop
When Bob Chambers opened the first Maui Dive Shop in 1978, he probably never imagined that someday he'd own eight stores and a fleet of two dive boats, a snorkel boat and a swish catamaran. No matter were you are on Maui, you're not far from Chambers' latest success. Maui Dive Shop, a PADI Resort Association member, offers trips departing from the Maalaea Harbor and the Kihei boat ramp to Molokini, Lanai and the St. Anthony and Carthaginian wrecks. Night and beach dives further reveal Maui's coastal critter collection, including lobsters and night octopus. The friendly crew can set you up with rental gear and diving instruction for every level of diver. Maui's Dive Shop is also your one-stop adventure shop if you want rent a jeep, go on a dinner cruise, tour the island on a bike or in a helicopter, or even or loosen your hula hips at a luau. Go to mauidiveshop.com or call 800-542-3483.