Wednesday, June 22

Scuba Diving

I always considered scuba diving to be a largely inaccessible pastime that required lots of time and money to become involved in. Of course the academic side of me was very interested in going on any course that resulted in a qualification, but aside from knowing people who went to Egypt to dive I was quite ignorant of the whole field.

It was at the airport on the way here that I realised it could actually be more accessible than I thought. A fellow traveller had already done the theory part of his qualification back in the UK and so was looking forward to completing his licence by partaking in some open water dives in Mauritius. This got both my heart racing and brain ticking as I tried to figure out if it was something I could do during my week on the island. The people I was with seemed to think it would be perfectly possible, and combined with how I didn't expect to partake in much tourism here, I made it the thing I just had to do.

We were staying in Flic en Flac, a beach area on the western part of the island. Since it was a little bit of a tourist attraction it wasn't too difficult to find a diving school; we decided to go with Ti Cabo, a smallish and independent place that offered the PADI Open Water Diver course. After explaining our schedule we were told that we would indeed be able to qualify in time. And so my holiday project had begun: I would be diving during the day and wedding partying during the night. Bliss.

The course had two main components: there was the theory, which involved boring things like "reading" and "taking exams" which I really didn't want to... oh, who am I kidding? I enjoyed learning the theory almost as much as the diving, although due to the hectic schedule there was a lot of late night studying. Still, I did get 94% in my exam (of 50 questions) which I managed to make a big deal. Well in my head anyway.

But of course the real fun was in the diving itself. This was again split into two parts - the confined dives (usually in a swimming pool, but in our case in a lagoon), and the open water dives proper. I don't think it's unfair to say that I took to it all quite quickly; for me it was a simple case of listening (or rather watching since you can't talk underwater) to my instructor carefully, and focussing on what he was telling me to do - which was quite simply to breath through your mouth and not panic.

That last bit seems to be the biggest obstacle in learning how to dive, that is overcoming your instinct telling you that you really shouldn't be in that much water at that much depth. Once you've beaten this, it becomes much easier to control your airway. And once you're able to do that, the rest of the learning part is child's play - even being able to take your mask off and on and clearing it, all underwater.

But that's not to say diving as a whole is easy; like everything else this is definitely a discipline that requires practise and experience - hence the recommendation to record all dives in a cute little log book. For my part, I still find tuning my buoyancy quite difficult, and I still have to tread a little to stay at a certain depth. On the other hand it was fun playing with my buoyancy purely with my breathing - in a zen kind of way.

According to PADI there are two reasons someone dives - firstly for the fish and other undersea wildlife and secondly for the feeling of freedom and control you get submerged in water. After gaining my qualification I've decided that I'm mainly in the latter category and it's the self-discipline, freedom and control aspects of diving that I'm really enjoying. That said some of the fish are pretty, I suppose.

Diving is definitely something I hope to enjoy more in the future - "can I dive there?" will now be a staple question I ask when considering a trip - and it's certainly something I recommend everyone giving a try should the chance arise.

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