Is Scuba Diving For You? An Enquiry of the Merits of Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus Exploration
GREAT BARRIER REEF—Hugging the coast of tropical North Queensland, the Ocean Freedom takes about an hour to reach the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a pleasant ride that most people enjoy in silence or idle chatter; largely it’s enough to close your eyes, smell the sea around you and feel the warm sun beat down on your brow as the winds whips through your hair. It can be pleasant or mildly unpleasant depending on the day’s weather, but it’s always a sanguine experience.
My first time snorkeling—really snorkeling, not just popping on a mask and fins and wading through shallow water—was at Hastings Reef, just north of Cairns. Ocean Freedom was stopped in the middle of the surrounding reef, anchored to a concrete block resting on the bed of the ocean 20 meters below the surface of the water. Once the watchman blew his whistle, we were all free to grab masks, fins, and floaties, and dive into the water to explore the land beneath the surface at our leisure.
Completely unsupervised, I was free to swim about the reef surrounding the boat, taking care to not drift too far or get caught in any unruly current streams.. For the most part the coral was only four or five feet below the surface, but there were some points where the water depth was as much as fifteen feet. Fortunately, I was with my friend Margot, who was able to give me a quick lesson in free-diving—diving the without assisted air—and I was able to take a few quick trips to some of the deeper sections of coral, even seeing a small manta ray under one. After an hour or two of swimming with turtles, amongst schools of fish, and exploring the seabed, I was tired enough for one trip.
Swimming back to the boat, my mind whirling with thoughts of this whole other world living below the surface of the sea, I saw a few dark figures silhouetted against the ominous black backdrop of the open ocean. Larger than anything I’d seen in the hour or two I had spent snorkeling, I was unsure of what was ahead until I saw the small air bubbles coming from the figures, making their way towards the surface. These weren’t sharks—they were scuba divers!
No one in the group I was traveling with was a certified scuba diver—we were all only snorkeling, so the thought never occurred to me that there could be scuba divers on this trip as well. I was just easer to get into the water and see the Great Barrier Reef, I hadn’t paused to give notice to everyone who was suiting up with tanks and regulators. I was just focused on getting a mask and jumping in the water, but the memory of seeing the scuba divers stuck firmly in my mind, and I was signed up to get my PADI Open Water Certification just a month later.
What turned me on to scuba diving? Well, the possibility of seeing another world. I had never really realized what lived underwater—from the groups of fish that swim by to the turtles that float past, to the tiny macro-life, including shrimps and plankton that float idly in the current, I had never laid my eyes upon the ecosystem that thrives in the ocean. Going snorkeling was literally just the tip of the iceberg—if I could see all of those things in just a few feet of water, then what else was there to discover deeper down? Regardless of why you want to scuba dive, here are a few recommendations for first-timers:
Be comfortable in the water. This is obvious, yet paramount. If you aren’t comfortable swimming in the open ocean, then scuba diving might not be for you. You will have a flotation device, so you’re not responsible for keeping yourself above water, but it’s paramount to be able to keep your composure when floating in the open ocean before or after a dive.
You should be comfortable in confined spaces. Once you’re underwater and are comfortable breathing out of your regulator, everything is groovy. But until you get used to it, it can be a panic-inducing situation if you aren’t able to keep your cool in claustrophobic situations.
You should know that scuba diving costs a lot of money. Up there with skiing and golf, you will be spending a lot of dough every time you go scuba diving, and equipment rentals are just as expensive as a ticket to go scuba diving itself.
For the longest time, scuba diving was something I was completely uninterested in, but I couldn’t be happier that I gave it a try. As someone who didn’t grow up near the water, it was never obvious to me that there is an entire circle of life that lives in the ocean that we don’t ever interact with, unless we go diving. Our only exposure to marine life is cooking fish for dinner, so we have no sense of just how much lives under the ocean, and how beautiful it all is. Yet once you immerse yourself underwater, there is a whole world waiting for you—under the sea.