Local divers have a new training facility in North Bethesda, thanks to a public-private partnership between the Montgomery Dive Club and the Montgomery County Parks Department.
The club has converted underused handball courts in the county’s Wall Local Park to a dryland facility, which allows divers to practice flips and twists outside the water.
“A diving focused gym is a very rare bird in the U.S.,” said Doug Beavers, program director for Montgomery Dive Club, a nonprofit that trains divers.
The facility was converted from a building that housed two handball courts, after the Montgomery County Planning board approved the partnership in June, said parks spokeswoman Kate Stookey.
The department seeks such partnerships to expand recreational opportunities in the county.
Other programs in the facility, which does not yet have a name, will include classes such as toddler tumbling and yoga, Beavers said.
Only a few dozen indoor dryland diving facilities exist in the U.S., the closest of which is in North Carolina, Beavers said.
Stookey said the dive club paid for all improvements to the space, which they rent for $1,200 per month. It is adjacent to the Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center on Executive Boulevard, one of four pools the club uses to train beginners through elite athletes.
“I know we’re going to get so much use out of it,” said competitive diver Kali Becker, 15. “When we can’t use the water, we still have a place to go train.”
Becker, who has been with the Montgomery Dive Club for seven years, is a 2012 Maryland high school diving champion.
“From a local diving point of view, this is the next level of training,” Beavers said. “It is the way that the world trains and it brings a whole other dimension of training to our program. And our program has been nationally recognized.”
The U.S. dominated competitive diving through the 1980s, but fell behind China and Eastern Europe after they made dryland facilities a standard training technique, he said. Divers can learn a new skill with the aid of a spotting belt, try it out on a dry board, and move to the water when ready.
The club hopes to raise $30,000-$40,000 to remove a wall that separated the old handball courts, install a heating and cooling system, trampoline, spotting harness, and a small section of spring floor.
The Dive Club applied for a public-private partnership to convert the facility in February, Stookey said.
Requests for comment from the racquetball community garnered nine comments. To accommodate the community elsewhere, existing county courts at Olney Manor Recreational Park were slated for improvements.
“There was not a significant racquetball paying population at Wall Park, but there was a very large aquatic community,” Stookey said.
Beavers said the diving community in the Washington, D.C. metro area is unusually large, adding that people from all over Montgomery County are excited about the facility.
It can accommodate 12-16 athletes; the club has 350 people in its program.
“I'm happy to say they are emailing me and calling me as we speak,” he said. “We expect that we are going to have the biggest fall session in our history this fall, and that's 20 years with Montgomery Dive Club.”