Scuba diving is an activity like no other, taking you into an alien environment – underwater – where you can effortlessly move around in three dimensions. It is the nearest you will get to being in space without hopping on a rocketship!
Scuba actually stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus – a bit of a mouthful, and the reason it is known as Scuba! It was back in 1942 that a certain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, along with Emile Gagnon, designed the first safe and successful open-circuit scuba set, known as the Aqua-Lung, which they went on to patent in 1945, and although today’s equipment looks very different, it can trace its origins back to this innovation.
Basically, for scuba diving, you have a tank on your back containing compressed air or a specific gas mix, with a valve on the top. Attached to this valve is the first stage of the regulator, which is then connected by a low-pressure hose to the second stage, which is the bit that goes into your mouth. The first stage reduces the cylinder pressure down, and the second stage then delivers the air/gas to you at a manageable level when you inhale. When you exhale, exhausts on the second stage vent the air/gas out into the water.
How long you can stay submerged all depends on how long the air/gas in the cylinder lasts, which is all down to how relaxed the diver is, how deep they are going, how hard they are having to work (swimming against a current, for instance) and so on. Expect to get at least 45-60 minutes on a recreational dive (which is typically 30m or shallower).
Scuba diving is an activity for all ages, and something the entire family can enjoy together. You can do pool trydives from the age of eight, and get certified from ten, but there is no upper age limit. We know of 80-plus-year-olds taking their first foray into diving – and wishing they had started decades earlier! You need a basic level of fitness, but otherwise, pretty much anyone can dive! In fact, those with physical disabilities often state that underwater is one place where they feel on a level playing field with the able-bodied.
Scuba divers are passionate about their hobby, and it is the thing which bonds them all together, regardless of where they live, what they do for a job, how much money they make, and so on. There is an almost tribal feel to the diving fraternity, a real sense of belonging, which helps to explain the slavish devotion of many to exploring the underwater realm.
There has never been a better time to learn to dive. There are a plethora of training agencies offering everything from entry-level courses to more-advanced teaching, including PADI, SSI, RAID, TDI/SDI, NAUI, and BSAC. You can get your basic open water course, or equivalent, in as little as four days! This will teach you all of the basics – setting up your equipment, clearing your mask, retrieving your regulator, achieving neutral buoyancy, and other essential skills, as well as some of the science and theory behind venturing beneath the surface. This will then give you a certification card that opens our water planet for your exploration, and as you progress, you can add more courses and specialties enabling you to go deeper, stay down longer, and so on.
The cost of an entry-level open water course does very much depend on whereabouts you are in the world, but you can budget on roughly between £250-£500 (or the equivalent in local currency). Choose a centre that is accredited with one of the training agencies mentioned above and you shouldn’t go far wrong in taking your first fin-steps into scuba diving.
The GO Diving Show, which is taking place on 4-5 March 2023 at the NAEC Stoneleigh Park, near Coventry, in the UK, is the perfect event to find out more about scuba diving, speak to training agencies and dive centres, check out the latest kit and hottest diving destinations, as well as listen to inspiring talks by the likes of TV celebrities Steve Backshall, Ross Kemp, Andy Torbet and Monty Halls.