Everyone has things they’ve always wanted to try. In many cases it boils down to the age-old ‘I’ve just not got round to it yet’ scenario. In my case there are many of these life goals still on the list. Aside from the novel, a skydive is right up there (pun intended) along with playing a round of golf without losing even a single ball. Until recently, scuba diving was on that list too but fortunately I’ve now quite literally taken the plunge.
Having done so I am frankly annoyed with myself that I have left it until now to immerse myself in this world (again I’m sorry for the punnage, I’m in one of those moods). This self-directed annoyance is reminiscent of the time I had a Boost bar for the first time, a magnificent occasion that happened not that long ago – so many wasted years eating Whispas.
I have always loved the water and I spent several years in my youth as a lifeguard (pool, not one of the cool beach ones). Diving had always been in the back of my mind as something I would definitely do someday but, as always, work and other things get in the way. Part of the appeal in diving is of course gaining access to a completely new version of the natural world to which we are used to. A childhood watching shark documentaries sparked the interest I suspect. There was always something fascinating in watching hippy scientists falling backwards into pristine Caribbean waters. Sean Connery’s Bond searching for downed nuclear war-heads in bright red scuba gear brought that element of swagger to the discipline and of course the cinematic genius of programmes like Blue Planet are simply awe-inspiring.
So it was that I finally decided enough was enough and I arranged to go on the initial PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) open water dive course. The idea of heading into the murky waters of a reservoir just outside Slough for my first real experience was not one I particularly savoured and so I decided that somewhere abroad would be preferable. So it was that, having convinced my brother to join me (he’s even older than me so must be even more annoyed that it’s taken this long to try it), we jetted off to the Spanish island of Menorca to sample the waters of the Mediterranean.
Aside from the fact that it ended up being warmer back home than in Menorca for that week, we had an awesome time. It was quite early in the season and as such we were the only two taking the course, adding a welcome element of focus from our instructors. We had swatted up on the reasonably extensive theory beforehand but were still put through our paces with a test before we got to grips with all the equipment. Our first dive was in a swimming pool but the following day we got to try out all our newfound skills in a shallow bay. Only a few weeks later, there was a shark spotted more or less exactly where we had been diving. Close call.
Once we were confident enough, the following few dives were more routine and our instructors really pushed us. One in particular was pretty exciting because of the entrance and exit, essentially a steep rock face with crags sharp as a knife down which we had to lug our equipment. At the bottom, we had to launch ourselves into the surf and swim out quickly into calmer waters before being dashed on the rocks. It got a little sketchy when we first tried this, to the extent that we had to abort it on the first day and try again the next. I’m glad we did because the resulting dive was spectacular. Jellyfish in high definition inches from our faces, starfish of varying colours (partly due to the change in the colour spectrum at different depths) and a little underwater cave that we hovered in for a little while.
The feeling of diving is like nothing I’ve experienced before. It is such a new and unique feeling that is refreshing to experience at my age. I’m not saying I’m really old or anything but in youth, our lives are filled with new experiences and discoveries which tend to thin out as time goes by. Scuba diving smashes through this plateau of excitement and carries the line up several notches. The element of danger gets the adrenaline going (a bit like how camping in the Canadian wilderness is a bit more exciting than popping down to the New Forest for a couple of nights) but more than that, the wonder of being in this completely fantastical environment is quite something. It’s something you know has always been there and you have gazed across it, even skimmed quite literally across the surface of it countless times, and yet when you enter it, it’s like a different realm altogether. That feeling of weightlessness is pretty liberating and, though I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, it’s the closest thing I think I’ll ever get to flying (Superman-like flying, not flapping-your-arms-flying).
If you’ve not guessed by now, I am now hooked and to that end we’ve already booked our advanced course which is happening next week. There are now a plethora of different diving interests that one can branch into including wreck diving, dive photography and night dives and, once a few of these elements are tackled, the possibility to head out further afield to make the most of these qualifications really opens up. I suspect in another life I would have enjoyed being some sort of underwater cameraman! I’ve always been drawn to stories of the first explorers who all lived in a world uncertain of its own boundaries and whose walls were adorned with unfinished maps. Now the only maps that are left unfinished are the ones that relate to our oceans and I suppose some of that mystery draws me towards life beneath the seas now. Bottom line, if you get the chance to try it, do it!