ALL MY HUSBAND JOHN’S CHILDREN, taught professionally, are fantastic swimmers. Without exception, they are much better than him. All three of them have swum competitively for their schools.
Embarrassingly, his son when aged 10 would breath-hold at 20m below him in Majorca while he was teaching people to scuba-dive at 10m.
Some people love diving and others do not. We have never pressured our daughters into learning and, frankly, the eldest couldn’t be bothered.
Our youngest, Persia, first expressed an interest in learning to dive while we were staying at Taba in Egypt. She was nine at the time, but John’s old friend Mohammed Ali is a highly intelligent and sophisticated man and there was no one we would trust more with looking after the well-being of our little girl.
The manager of the AquaSport dive centre, he took Persia out for a try-dive on the shallow house reef.
John followed at a discreet distance, watching more out of curiosity than anything else. She was never aware that he was there.
Although all the equipment seemed much too big for her, she managed OK, and returned full of enthusiasm for the underwater world, apparently able to remember every creature she had seen.
The good people at CPS Partnership had found her a TUSA wetsuit that was a perfect fit for her slim child’s build, so she hadn’t got chilly.
“That was fun. I saw an angelfish, an eel and lots of orange fish. I even saw a pufferfish,” she boasted later.
Next, I wanted to go out with her. Her father watched from the shore. It was unfortunate that her tank O-ring blew dramatically after only a few minutes, and she was swapped to my octopus-rig for an unscheduled ascent.
Despite the noise of the rushing air, she seemed quite unfazed by it all and her enthusiasm was undiminished.
Back in the UK, John took her to the private pool he often uses for divEr projects. I wanted her taught properly, but she simply wasn’t interested in pressure effects, or the ramifications of breathing gas under pressure.
She just wanted to lark about, swimming around and breathing under water. We decided to leave it for a while.

A COUPLE OF YEARS LATER, we found ourselves on holiday in Grenada at the True Blue Bay resort. Aquanauts of Grenada has its headquarters there, and Gerlinde and Peter Seupel are the resident owners. We booked Persia onto a PADI Open Water Diver course with them, while John and I went off exploring Grenada’s fine wrecks.
Persia , now 11, sat through the PADI videos and studied the manual. I’m not sure that the manual is suitable for anyone of her age. Some of the specialised terminology is difficult enough for non-American-speaking adults, and it’s worse for kids.
PADI really needs to address this if it is going to encourage more kids to learn to dive.
“I couldn’t understand it properly. It was all in American,” she complained. “It was boring!”
She stuck it out in front of the video monitor in a rather warm classroom, relentlessly bitten by marauding mosquitoes but determined to do what was required of her.
Then there is the Recreational Dive Planner, the PADI no-deco-dive table for repetitive dives. In its standard form, it looks quite daunting with its mass of close-packed figures.
I noted that John had difficulty reading the tiny figures even with his glasses on, so it was hard for him to help her with some parts of her knowledge reviews. It had been 20 years since I had last looked at a table.
“The planner was rather confusing,” said Persia, “and Dad just made me cross about it.”
But one way or another, she managed to scramble through the theory.
It was the same with the poolwork. We took some photographs of her learning, and acted as informed observers. Some of the terminology obviously fooled her. Telling her that she was going to practise a CESA horizontally didn’t really explain what she was meant to be doing (a CESA, for non-PADI divers, is a controlled emergency swimming ascent).
Persia can easily swim the length of a pool holding her breath, and we noticed that this was what she was doing at first, instead of simulating an ascent and breathing out all the way. It took several goes before she grasped what she was meant to be doing.

SOME OF THE QUESTIONS Persia asked about other things revealed to us that she had not fully understood the purpose of some of the skills she was learning, but as someone with great
in-water confidence, she could masquerade and fool her instructor, Reece, into thinking that she was cool.
Reece, a regular instructor, was bound up with PADI-speak that we would have expected not always to be comprehensible to someone of tender years. Persia’s impression was different to ours.
“It was easy-peasy! I thought Reece was very clear,” she said. “He didn’t rush me. He would ask me if I was comfortable doing each skill, and if I wanted to, I had time to try again.”
I guess Reece had taught a lot of people who are less at home in water than Persia, and I still believe that the PADI system needs to talk in a language that children understand.
However, Persia had taken on board the fact that it was Reece, not us, who was teaching her, and was determined to keep her parents at a distance.
When we set off in the boat for her first sea dive she would not let us near her, constantly telling us that she had to set up her gear all by herself.
This was admirable, and by now she certainly knew how to do it.
Neither did she exhibit any fear of jumping into the water from the boat while fully loaded with scuba kit.
However, she did look a little serious, if not nervous, on the journey out to the dive site. I’m not the anxious type, and I let her get on with it.
It was a shallow dive at around 6m, and I watched as John photographed her and Reece while they swam around.
Only once did she suffer from that familiar problem encountered by new divers, when the BC seems to fill magically with air and an inevitable upward journey ensues, but she was grabbed before she’d gone very far.
She enjoyed an hour under water, cleared her mask and regulator when she was asked to do so, and seemed to be very competent.

WHILE SHE WAS BUSY looking at things and exploring, her diving seemed to be completely natural, but as soon as she was required to do a task she became tense and focused on the job in hand, to the exclusion of everything and everyone else.
We photographed her climbing back onto the boat, and her ready smile was evidence of her feeling of achievement.
“I thought she looked cold but triumphant that she had done a real dive,” her father said.
The second dive in Persia’s new diving career was around the statues and sculptures placed under water in Molinere Marine Park. Again, it’s a site that’s so shallow it could easily be enjoyed by any proficient snorkeller, but there are a lot of interesting sculptures that are now becoming overgrown with sponges to form part of the reef.
It’s a novelty dive, but just right for a little greenhorn diver like our daughter, on her second certifying dive.
She looked more confident than ever, but I noticed that when I took over and decided to lead her by the hand, her body language and attitude in the water looked less good.
Sometimes the anxiety of a parent can be transmitted invisibly to the offspring.
“I don’t think she felt as comfortable with you as she did with Reece,” her father reflected dryly.
By her next dive, which she did at Shark Reef, she was firmly bonded with her instructor and they swam off together looking for nurse sharks. They swam through a great cloud of yellow grunts, scattering them as they went.
“Reece swam through them and disappeared,” Persia later told us.
“I wondered what I should do next.
“Then he came back and told me to follow. I was worried that some of the fish might have touched me.”
It was a pity, because she missed the very tame hawksbill turtle that regularly frequents that reef, but her father was unable to attract her attention to it as they swam on by.
The reef is fairly flat, and covered in soft corals. Nurse sharks can often be found lying hidden among the coral structures during daylight hours, and Reece was concentrating on finding one for his latest trainee to see.
“We saw one under a rock. Reece tried to get me to touch its tail but I was too scared to,” she explained gleefully.

ONE YEAR LATER, Persia went with her father to Camel Dive Club in Na’ama Bay, in Egypt’s Sinai. Camel is DIVER readers’ current Dive Centre of the Year.
After a relaxed first day in the superb scuba training pool at the Camel Hotel, brushing up on her skills, she went day-boat diving under the watchful eye of Beth Sanders, a Camel instructor, adding a further 10 sea dives to her logbook.
During these dives at the reefs in the Tiran Straits and at Ras Mohammed, she had close encounters with numerous large hawksbill turtles, schooling batfish, Napoleon wrasse, moray eels, triggerfish, blue-spotted rays, an electric ray, colourful nudibranchs, pufferfish, angelfish and no end of anemonefish, though the masses of half-and-half chromis proved to be her favourites.
The water was a lot cooler than in the Caribbean, but Persia had to be persuaded to wear an extra layer of neoprene in the form of a shortie over her 3mm one-piece.
Beth was patient and kindly, and junior diver and instructor formed an almost unbreakable bond.
Her father was pleased to see that Persia had a better understanding of buoyancy control than most adults, and had really got the measure of her equipment. Not only that, but on being given a diving computer she immediately demonstrated that she understood it, making incredibly slow and controlled ascents over the last few metres, and never failing to observe a three-minute safety stop at 5m.
Persia never strayed below 18m (the depth-limit for an Open Water Diver over the age of 12 years), even though she was often diving alongside walls with extremely deep water below her.
She enjoyed deploying a surface-marker flag at around 2m, when it was time to ascend to the surface.
She spoke fondly of the Camel experience for months afterwards, and hopes to return soon, because she has made it her declared ambition to become a Master Scuba Diver!

The Bantins travelled with Regaldive to Grenada, flying direct with Monarch from Gatwick, www.regal-diving.co.uk. They dived with Aquanauts, www.aquanautsgrenada.com. Persia continued her diving with Camel Dive Club, Sharm, www.cameldive.com

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