“Freedom Scuba USA is the best-kept diving secret in New York,” says owner and founder Carl Sanfilippo. That might seem like a bold statement, but Carl has a lot to back it up.
Freedom Scuba USA is a PADI dive center located in the Syracuse, NY suburb of Baldwinsville. They don’t rely on advertising, instead using a network of return customers and referrals from others within the central and upstate New York diving community.
Carl has been certified for 22 years. He began after a friend suggested he tried scuba diving. “I fell in love with it and have been doing it ever since,” Carl says. He is a PADI certified IDC Staff Instructor, with 22 Specialty Instructor ratings.
Carl’s love of diving led to venture into the dive center business seven years ago. He has a modern, up-to-date shop, and his own in-ground outdoor pool for dive orientations and training. Freedom Scuba USA is divided into sales, service, and training. They have on staff one instructor and three dive masters.
“We do everything on-site,” Carl says. “We do police and fire training, along with “rec” (recreational) diving. We also do a local program for children with disabilities,” he added. That program, called “Sea the World,” is run in cooperation with the Baldwinsville School District and is mainly intended for children from 13 through 19 years of age.
Freedom Scuba USA averages 50 to 100 students each year. They don’t concentrate on volume, instead choosing to focus on an individual approach with every student. “We’re very diver friendly,” Carl says.
Carl Says that Freedom Scuba USA takes a different approach with its sales and service, as well. “We don’t just rent equipment. Our BCs (buoyancy compensators) are never more than two years old,” Carl says. “We also don’t use the same BCs that we use in the pool as we do for open water. We separate them, other shops don’t separate them.”
Carl adds, “We want it to be as safe as possible. That’s why we won’t use the same BCs that have been used in chlorine. Then, after two years we get rid of them.”
Carl’s approach to classes is the same as it is to equipment. “Other shops just sell you the course,” Carl says. “We include the books, the dive card, and a whole package of equipment. “The class fee is a ‘package’ that includes boots, gloves, crew pack, a dive bag, fins, mask, and a snorkel,” Carl added. The students get to keep that gear and their course fee includes the other equipment rentals and boat fees.
If you add in the boat fees and tanks for two days of diving, the class almost pays for itself! “Our gold package is just $650,” Carl says, “and includes everything. If they (students) wish they can upgrade to the platinum package for $800.” The platinum package includes everything that the gold package does, except the equipment is all “high end.”
As with all the classes at Freedom Scuba USA, the price listed is all the students pay. “There are no hidden costs,” Carl says.
Freedom Scuba USA offers all levels of training, from beginner to expert. “The only course we don’t offer is cave diving, and that’s because there are no caves around here to dive in,” Carl says. They also participate in PADI e-learning, and give referrals to other PADI certified dive centers. “That’s perfect for families who want to study scuba diving together as a family activity, and then they can receive their open water certifications at their vacation destination,” he added.
All of Freedom Scuba USA’s open water certification are done aboard their own dive boat, the “Lady Freedom.” “We don’t do any shores dives,” Carl says. “They’re all boat dives in the Thousand Islands”
Lady Freedom is also available for dive charters! It’s moored at Schermerhorn Harbor in New York’s Thousand Islands, close to the wreck of the Keystorm. Lady Freedom is a 27-foot Penn Yann that has been completely outfitted for diving. “It’s got a deep-vee hull,” Carl says, “and weighs 10,000 pounds. It will ride out any waves,” making for a smooth ride. The transom has been cut out for a dive platform, and a tree ladder has been added.
Cost for dive trips on the Lady Freedom are just $80.00 for a two-tank dive, plus tanks. “It’s perfect for people who are getting their open water certifications,” Carl says, “because we can control the environment. There are about 150 wrecks in the area, including the Keystorm and the America.
Carl adds, ”The wrecks are at different depths, so we can focus on the individual diver’s skill level, or what certifications they are qualifying for.” Instead of doing their certifications in a local muddy lake bottom, customers are able to do their “open water” in a vacation-quality location on the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Like most dive centers, Freedom Scuba USA offers sales, service, and travel, in addition to training. “We offer Tusa, Ikelite, Sea Life, XS-Scuba, and Sea Pearls products,” Carl says. They are the exclusive dealer for Waterproof wet suits and dry suit in the area.
“The Water Proof line is made in Sweden,” Carl says, “and they’re superior to anything else on the market. Their 5 mil. wet suits are equivalent to a 7 mil in other brands, and they have reinforcements at all the bending and stretching points.”
Another benefit of the Water Proof dry suits is their seals. “Water Proof dry suit seals can be changed ‘in the field’ in five minutes,” Carl added. “They’re the only ones like that in the industry.”
Freedom Scuba USA offers a full-line of service to everything they sell, and will also service gears from other shops. “We service what we sell,” Carl says. “Anything we can’t service in-house, we can send out for our customers.”
Freedom Scuba USA air fills, using their own compressor cascade system. They’re also adding Nitrox for their customers. “We service BCs and inspect tanks in-house,” Carl says. “We send out regulators and wet suit seals for our customers. We use Air Tech in Raleigh, N.C., and average 60 to 100 units per year.”
Sending out wet suit seals are only for those customers who don’t have Water Proof dry suits. Those services can be done by the customer, or in the shop, because of their exclusive design.
The fun doesn’t stop there! Freedom Scuba USA is expanding their travel program this year. “We don’t need local travel,” Carl explained, “because we already do all of our open-water at the Thousand Islands.” This fall they’re going to begin featuring trips to the Bahamas and other brief trips for the growing members of their dive family.
For more information about Freedom Scuba USA, look them up on their web site at www.freedomscubausa.com, or call (315) 882-3678.
Story by John Keytack