History of HSA


HSA Founder and team in 1981The Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA) had its genesis in 1975 at University of California-Irvine (UCI) as a research program looking at self-image changes for scuba diving students 'with disabilities' learning together with students 'without disabilities'. Participants were required to perform all physical performance standards for Scuba certification, even if they had to do them differently. The results were amazing! Everyone, with and without disabilities, grew in ways we could not measure and went on to more full and exciting lives.

  • Participant Larry Thompson, paraplegic, became an avid and skilled Scuba Diver earning his certification as a NAUI Assistant Scuba Diving Instructor.
  • Participant Adolf Flores, paraplegic, said "when I did what my Doctors said I couldn't do (Scuba Dive) I knew I could go to College", something he thought he couldn't do. He earned his BA Degree in Counselling.
  • Participant Jim Gatacre, paralyzed right arm, founded the Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA) 5 years after graduating from UCI. The HSA is now the world's leading authority on recreational diving for people with disabilities.

The Handicapped Scuba Association, HSA (USA with an H), was named in the parking lot of US Divers Corporation on June 22nd 1981 when Gatacre received the first equipment donation for the new organization. The donation was authorized by John Cronin, President and co-founder of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), and marks the founding date of HSA.

In 1986 the Handicapped Scuba Association became an independent diver training and certifying agency. Our prestigious diver education programs for people with disabilities, Dive Buddy Course (DBC) and Instructor Training Course (ITC) are internationally recognized and unequalled by any other programs in the industry. These programs were developed in conjunction with two major certifying agencies, Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). Our specially trained members form a worldwide network of over 5000 HSA Instructors and Dive Buddies located in 45 countries.

In 1984 the Handicapped Scuba Association conducted their first accessible international dive trip to the island of Bonaire off the coast of Venezuela. A group of intrepid divers with disabilities, and support divers, headed into the unknown not certain if the resort, dive boat or island facilities were accessible. The resort was very receptive to our needs and made adjustments to help increase accessibility. The dive boat was, by chance, accessible and the island businesses did whatever it took to get us into their establishments. It was a total adventure! And it set the theme for HSA Travel, which continued to far flung places such as Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Everywhere we went the people reached out to us, helping to make our trips not only exciting but also warm and friendly. Today divers with disabilities travel to these places, and many more, thanks to the HSA pioneers who dared to face the unknown!