The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that for many divers, both industry professionals and fun divers, diving has not been an option for at the very least, a number of months. In more restricted countries, it won’t be long before we are approaching the 18 months mark of not getting our heads below the waves. For myself, time away from diving always makes me realise the things that I miss the most about it, which helps me regain new appreciation for the sport every time I am unable to partake in it for an extended time. Some of these are things which when diving every day, it can be easy to lose sight of, such as for an instructor that may have managed to keep working throughout the pandemic. I thought that given it’s been a while since I have written here, this would be a good reflection for myself, as well as for non-divers to read and see what awaits them, the things I miss the most about being underwater regularly.
1 – The experience
A nice copout generalisation to begin with, “the experience” of being underwater with no great time constraints is in itself an incredibly liberating feeling. I touched on this in another article of mine, where I talked about how before I was a diver, I used to spend all my time when I snorkelled diving down and trying to look at things on the bottom, only to get frustrated that I often never had the breath holding ability I needed to explore as much as I wanted. Being able to convert those 30 second or so trips to the bottom (in probably only 3-5m of water), into hour long dives to considerably greater depths was an amazing feeling. It grants real freedom to anyone wanting to spend more time examining the beauty of the underwater world, especially if you don’t fancy trying to become a world champion free diver to spend just a few minutes at depth. Of course, the movement speed of a scuba diver is substantially slower than that of an unencumbered swimmer, but the trade off is that there is no need for speed when you have plenty of time to look around and enjoy the scenery. Underwater photographers especially seem to be very happy moving no more than a few meters across the space of an hour dive, there is just so much to take in and enjoy if you take the time to look. Given the range of dive sites and types of dives that you can participate in as you gain experience, there are so many different ways to spend the air and time you have underwater. Simply being a diver opens up almost limitless possibilities of what you can see and what knowledge you can gain.
2- The mental clarity
I’ll admit that this might not come immediately to all divers, but most of us find that the perceptual “isolation” you experience when submerged can greatly help to still the mind and focus the senses. The slowed, deepened breathing which divers use to help with buoyancy control and air economy also doubles up as a meditation exercise. No matter how I felt before getting in the water, I almost always feel much better mentally at the end of a dive than at the start. I don’t know the exact science behind it, but using scuba diving as a form of therapy for those with severe trauma, especially those from military backgrounds, has been the focus of numerous studies in recent years. The process oriented but slow, relaxed nature of diving clearly helps individuals focus on the task at hand, while being in a generally pleasant and fascinating environment. In my years diving, I have met dozens of individuals who suffer with PTSD and find that diving greatly helps them deal with the accompanying problems. Those mental benefits only get better as you become more comfortable in the water. Once diving is effortless for you, then every dive can have a very uplifting effect.
3- The environment
There is no doubt that most people learn to scuba dive because they want to explore a different world, and the environment is certainly one of the things I miss most when I am forced to spend a while on land. Being able to explore something which we are not adapted to means that everything has a slightly alien feeling. The sensation of flying, particularly when diving in very clear water, is also something you wouldn’t be able to experience anywhere else, other than if you were an astronaut. The inhabitants of the underwater world, for many the main draw of diving, are also a continuous pleasure to observe, photograph or otherwise spend time around. When you dive regularly enough, you start to deceive yourself into thinking you really are a part of the underwater environment too, despite just being a frequent guest. When doing my divemaster internship and repeatedly diving many of the same sites over a few months, I was sure that the fish used to recognise me and be more interactive as time went on. Some of the sights you get to see when diving, such as shipwrecks, gigantic underwater geology like arches and “fields” of seagrass are totally unique, especially given that you are able to explore them three dimensionally, something that terrestrial landmarks would not allow so easily. The environment that we have access to as divers is truly special.
4- The sense of accomplishment
This is a huge one in an any pursuit or hobby, but with diving, increasing your knowledge, earning the next certification and unlocking another variety of dive to partake in is extra satisfying. For a newer diver, there are many steps that can be taken in bite size chunks to increase experience and diving ability. For example, within the PADI system, making the jump from Open Water to Advanced Open Water, gives the diver an extra 12m of water to explore when the maximum depth (circumstance dependent) increases from 18m to 30m. This is a huge leap in terms of the sites that become available to the newer diver, as well as another jump in knowledge about diving. The same can be said of almost any new qualification you earn as a diver, they all add to your own experience, what you can offer to others and what new opportunities then open up to you. The best bit is that if you enjoy diving, earning them will be a fun process. This was what drew me into trying technical diving after become an Instructor, I wanted to continue pushing my own knowledge so I could continue to have that feeling of conquering new horizons and remaining satisfied with self-growth. Accomplishment doesn’t just come from qualifications though, sometimes safely finishing a dive on which you encountered problems can feel like a real achievement, and it is in its own way. Equally, finishing a challenging dive, perhaps in a new environment or with new equipment can also feel like a real accomplishment. What is an accomplishment is quite subjective to each individual, but diving offers plenty of it to go around, especially for those that are just starting to get their feet wet.
5- The people
Last but by no means least, the people you meet through diving are often a great bunch. Regular dive buddies or operations you dive with regularly become lifelong friends, future spouses, adventure pals, great company at karaoke (sufficiently spaced from any diving of course), maybe even colleagues if you decide to go down the professional route. If I had only ever met unpleasant people in the diving industry, chances are I would no longer be doing it and not be wanting to work as part of it. There are always problematic people you meet as there are in any walk of life, but often times these people become irrelevant as you meet more and more likeminded divers who you share more than just your love of the ocean with. I personally miss my diving friends immensely and cannot wait to get back to being underwater with them again. So not only do you get to enjoy a great activity when you are a diver, but you also become a part of a community, which consists both of those you have dived with and those who you are yet to dive with. That for me is in itself a very moving thought. It doesn’t matter how challenging the world over the next few years will be for divers, as long as we keep our heads up and look forward to getting back out there as soon as we can, that community of likeminded people will still always exist.