As a child I was always terrified of water. I am sure that many people can relate to this. A vivid memory of feeling seasick on a rowing boat at Skegness (in knee deep water) still haunts me.
But ask me how I feel about water now, and you’ll hear a different story – I can’t get enough of it! There really is no need to be scared of the sea or the pool, it’s just a case of getting used to it, or learning more about water.
At school you may have experienced ‘the swimming lesson’ a personal hate of mine, as my teacher repeatedly attempted to drown me with ‘breathe and blow’ exercises that involved shoving my head under water for ridiculously long periods of time.
But lessons in the local indoor pool are usually not enough to prepare us for swimming in the sea, especially as many people are thinking about all those Jaws movies.
Diving is one of the best ways to overcome a fear of the water and to educate yourself about the underwater world. Every PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) recognised centre will take you through the whole process step by step, ensuring that you feel confident with everything that you do.
“I once had a near drowning experience and have been nervous of the water ever since,” says Zoe Sharman, a recent convert to diving.
“I tried the introductory dive offered by a PADI centre while on holiday and I absolutely loved it. It was brilliant. I’m so glad I tried it, and I can’t wait to do it again.”
PADI adheres to the highest safety standards the world over, which makes it a good place to start diving. You will learn not only about safety, but also about how the kit functions, what you can expect to see and the future possibilities of diving once you have gained confidence and experience. PADI centres usually carry waterproof information cards detailing the local fish and other species that you are likely to encounter under the surface – which you can take down with you, once you have mastered some basic techniques.
If you are thinking of diving and have no experience then you can do what is called a ‘try dive’. The name speaks for itself and provided that you pass the medical questionnaire you will be taken out to only a few metres under the supervision of a qualified instructor to experience diving at its most simple level.
Typically this will involve the practice of a few essential skills while kneeling in shallow water.
On my first dive my instructor began by explaining the tasks I was to perform, and then demonstrating them for me. Of course you have to get your face wet and put your head under water. If you are the kind of person who tends to panic in this situatio, then tell your instructor who may recommend snorkelling in a swimming pool first. Remaining calm at all times is key to becoming a good, confident diver. And no-one should ever dive without a dive ‘buddy’ – an experienced partner who stays close at all times.
My first skills included half filling my mask with water and learning how to clear it by blowing through my nose; retrieving my spare air supply (or octopus); and practising a few hand signals, such as the ‘out of air’ (unlikely to be needed!) and ‘I’m OK’ signals. If you bear in mind that at all times you can actually breath while under water, there really is no need to worry. The most common error made by new divers is to automatically hold their breath, as the mind instinctively tells us that we cannot breath under water. Anyone used to snorkelling knows not to do this.
While diving you must keep breathing steadily at all times. This is because the pressure of the air that you breath is automatically adjusted to match the surrounding water pressure. The air is more condensed at depth, and as you rise, it expands. Therefore it’s not a good idea to hold that air in your lungs. Should the air supply (regulator) ever leave your mouth you must continuously blow out a stream of bubbles until you have it back in place again. Injuries from air expansion in the lungs are very rare.
The thrill for most divers is the huge variety of marine life that can be seen up close. Although snorkelling in clear waters means you can see many aquatic life forms, the problem is staying down long enough to really look at them. Diving enables a relaxed and gentle way to glimpse the beauty of under water world, without having to worry about running out of air.
In the Mediterranean there really isn’t much to worry about in terms of dangerous sea life. There are jellyfish, but they don’t all sting, and can be easily sighted while diving. Plus they move so slowly it is virtually impossible to get stung.
Sea urchins here are not poisonous. I have had over ten spikes in my foot, and the ones I didn’t manage to pull out have done me no harm. Think of the spines as splinters. While diving your feet will be completely covered, and so will either all or most of your body (depending upon the water temperature) – the wetsuit is there to protect you and keep you warm. You only need beware that you are not crushing innocent sea creatures in your wake.
There are barracudas and moray eels in the Mediterannean, but more often than not go about their business just looking fierce, as opposed to acting fiercely.
The golden rule with all aquatic life is to look and not touch. There are so many beautiful colours and species to look at that fear is quickly forgotten and awe takes over. Bright red starfish cling to rocks, purple and yellow sponges line rocky walls, and elegant fish shimmer as they catch the sun’s rays.