Seven tenths of the world is covered in water and as satirist Dave Barry once quipped: ‘Staying on top of the water is like standing outside the circus tent’. As enjoyable as activities above the water are, it’s what lies beneath that is of real interest.
Under the waves of the water there’s a world so sublime that words can’t do it justice. So if you’re jetting off to sunnier climes, why not take the opportunity to dive right in, get your PADI qualification and experience the glory of the underwater kingdom for yourself? It’s a decision that makes sense. After all where would you rather learn; in wonderfully warm, tropical waters or in a far harsher environment like the English Channel… it’s a no brainer.
Of course diving isn’t for everyone; like marmite you’ll either love it or hate it – there’s really no in between. If you have never dived before and would prefer to test the water before committing yourself (and your wallet) to a full diving course, a short course such as Discover Scuba is probably your best option and will give you a taste of the underwater world. All equipment is provided and a dive guide is on hand to ensure your safety and gently introduce you to a new world. Should the experience appeal, you can then proceed to the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) course. Courses range from Entry Level Open Water through to Dive Master and Instructor courses.
If children are in tow, there are two courses designed for budding water babies. First up is the PADI Bubblemaker, a basic Discover Scuba session for those aged eight and over that takes place in the pool. It is a simple, and perhaps most importantly, fun dive that doesn’t involve skill development. Meanwhile the PADI Seal Team is a pool based certification course that focuses on skill development to prepare the youngster for the next step of Open Water training. The course is usually conducted over five visits and involves scuba diving in the sea. Children aged 10 and up can work towards a PADI Junior Open Water certification. The course content is the same as the adult course but is presented in more user friendly way.
The question on our mind – and we suspect on yours – is whether diving can be considered a safe pastime? We’re not going to lie to you; like anything worth doing, there are definite risks involved. Ask any scuba diver what is the one thing they fear most and no doubt they’ll reply that it is decompression sickness – more commonly referred to as ‘the bends’. Divers breathe pressurised air underwater which is mostly nitrogen. If released too quickly, a gas bubble can form causing coughing spasms, blotchy rashes, dizziness, unconsciousness, and a bizarre inability to bend joints (hence the phrase ‘the bends’) – all problems which can only be treated in a hyperbaric chamber.
Fortunately cases of ‘the bends’ are rare and can be avoided so long as you give the mojitos a miss the night before, drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated and dive within the recommended depth and time limits. Alex Brylske’s book Beating the Bends which outlines the basic avoidance procedures is a worthy investment when it comes to laying rest to lingering anxieties.
For the most part, the question of ‘how safe is diving’? can be answered with another question: ‘how responsible is the diver’? Provided you apply the mantra ‘look but don’t touch’ to everything from creatures to coral, you’ll find that most marine accidents and incidents can be avoided.
Despite the potential dangers, don’t be deterred from diving. While it can be daunting – make no mistake there are definitely less complicated sports to engage in – any negatives are easily outweighed by the sheer, unsurpassed rewards on offer. A scuba diving excursion makes for sensory overload; the sights you’ll see will be forever etched in your memory. But more than this, scuba diving allows you to tap into a brand new social scene. Unlike some other sports, scuba diving isn’t competitive and transcends barriers allowing you to spend time with like minded individuals irrespective of age, race, religion or sex.
Time, perhaps, to take the plunge?
Learn the lingo
Divers don’t wear goggles, they wear masks.
Similarly, it’s fins, not flippers. Don’t try walking in fins on land – it’s a tricky and patience testing process. Save them for their intended habitat: the water.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do leave 24 hours after diving before flying.
Don’t dive if you have asthma, diabetes, epilepsy or are taking certain prescriptive drugs. Your dive centre can advise you on other medical restrictions.
Don’t interfere. The fragile eco system can be destroyed by even the gentlest contact so never stand on coral even if it looks solid. Be an observer and leave only your bubbles.
Collect and dispose of any rubbish you find while diving.
Take only what you need. Don’t be tempted to collect shells, corals or other mementos of your dive. If you want a souvenir, take a photograph (most dive centres sell disposable underwater cameras).
Report any physical damage, pollution and other environmental disturbances to the local marine and environmental authorities, or get your dive centre to do it for you. They have a vested interest in a healthy marine environment, and will usually be more than willing to help. If the dive operation itself is causing damage –i.e. by anchoring to the reef – then let them know how you feel.