Take the family diving and you need never be stuck for a reliable buddy again.
Wish you always had the same buddy, someone who cares about you and shares your interests? Wish your partner didn't complain whenever you wanted to go diving? Sign up your family, says JOHN BANTIN
I WAS ALWAYS CONSUMED with envy for those who went diving on diving holidays with their spouses. It's the ultimate buddy system, and in most cases the only buddy you can be reasonably sure will not let you down (depending, of course, on the strength of your relationship!). I was so envious that I went and got myself a spouse. She came pre-trained. But what about all you people who leave a diving widow or widower behind at the weekends, or have to suffer a 'family' holiday while reserving only a measly week for a proper trip away? The answer is to get your partner diving. But how? As with driving, it would probably be fatal for any relationship to try to do the instruction yourself. Let someone neutral take the strain. My own decision to learn to dive was on impulse. I was staying somewhere warm and nice and saw a sign that said: 'Learn to Dive Here'. So I did. Later I came back to the UK and had to jump through all the hoops proffered by my BSAC club, because in those days you couldn't be a certified diver in Britain unless you'd done that. Club training was thorough, just as it should be now, but it took time. Some members took years, assiduously swimming up and down the pool each week, until they had perfected the use of a snorkel and were finally allowed to blow some bubbles of compressed air. It took me a year to get from Novice Diver to Advanced Instructor. But then, I had taken the precaution of getting 500 warmwater dives under my belt first. That was years ago. What are the choices available to the would-be learner-diver now? Well, not much has changed by way of the choices available, but what has altered is the public's readiness to accept what was once the status quo. Diving clubs still exist, and your partner can still take time training with one. The time it takes varies from club to club, but remember, it depends very much on how limited pool-time is, and on the vagaries of both instructor and student, when neither party has the imperative of money to ensure that they turn up each time. It's not surprising that more and more people simply want to pay up and get on with it. Of course, your partner could learn with a school in the UK, using evenings and weekends for theory lessons and pool training, followed by a referral to a school located where the weather is kinder for qualifying dives in the sea. If your other half is hardy, he or she could always do those qualifying dives at home as well, but increasingly people choose to dedicate holiday-time to learning to dive. Schools at popular destinations such as those on Egypt's Red Sea coast, the Maldives and islands such as Bonaire in the Caribbean certify thousands of new divers every year. I went to Ocean College at Egypt's Sharm el Sheikh to see how it was done. Ocean College employs more than 30 full-time English-speaking PADI Open Water Instructors, plus another 60 support staff. At its associated hotels, the Ocean Club and Ocean Bay, you'll find massively deep training pools with thousands of gallons of gin-clear water and all the facilities needed to simulate real-world ocean conditions. With a dozen boats on call at the marinas in Sharm or Na'ama Bay and a fleet of buses, it takes something of a military operation to ensure that every diver is sent out each day to a dive site appropriate to his or her needs.
OCEAN COLLEGE IS JUST ONE of a number of similarly equipped dive schools in Egypt. If you're worried about putting your loved one's well-being into the hands of foreigners, don't be. Most of the instructors here at least seem to have been recruited from South-east England, and the Egyptian ones have learned to speak in a similar way - like Ali G! All right, geezer? For around ?200 including the PADI Manual and final certification, a basic Open Water Diver course takes four days. This includes five classroom sessions, five pool-training sessions and four certifying dives in the sea. Anyone who is reasonably fit and able to swim can scuba-dive. On the first day of a course, while you are out diving at your own level, your partner would be having a couple of classroom sessions followed by two sessions in the pool to reinforce what he or she learned earlier. On day two, three further classroom sessions and three more sessions in the pool will be on the agenda. Naturally, candidates are expected to study the relevant parts of the manual in their spare time or, better still, before they set off on holiday. Because new divers are taught and then build on that teaching immediately in the water, they learn fast. They don't have time to forget what they learned between sessions, as can happen with club divers. By day three, they are ready either to walk out into the sea from the shore or, more often than not, to leap off a boat in the prescribed manner and repeat in the Red Sea what they learned in the pool. The fourth day is used for two more dives in the sea. After that, newly certified Open Water Divers, signed off to dive to a maximum depth of 18m, are ready to book further leisure dives, as is their wont. In four days they have become basic divers. Teaching is thorough, and no short cuts are taken. The instructors are kind, well-practised and attentive, and can cope with a range of incumbent talents and problems presented by their trainees. If the process is of necessity somewhat machine-like, the individual learner-diver would probably not notice that. Diving is not difficult. At Ocean College I observed a number of people of different ages, including those who were already members of British diving clubs, taking their first tentative steps into deep water, and saw how easy it seemed to be for most of them. It was common to see spouses enjoying learn-to-dive courses while partners previously qualified were out diving elsewhere. Later in the week, they would be diving together. What's stopping you from diving with your partner, son or daughter? With limitations on depth, children from the age of 10 can do an Open Water course. Younger children can be booked into a Bubblemaker experience that allows them the experience of using scuba in the shallow end of the pool. One of my own daughters did this and thoroughly enjoyed playing underwater Frisbee with her instructor. It's a confidence-boosting exercise, and she's now ready to do the full course.
PADI Open Water Diver courses and holidays with diving at Ocean College and flights from any of nine UK airports can be booked through Explorers Tours (now part of TUI/Thomson Holidays) for less than £400, www.explorers.co.uk
A couple of days' work in the pool and your potential buddies will be ready for open-water work.
Children can do an Open Water course from the age of 10 (with depth limitations), and younger children can do a Bubblemaker course.