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ISSUE 22 ARCHIVE - THE TRIALS OF BEING A UK DIVER

Paolo Vincenzo Toomer

Normally when I write articles for Tanked Up, they are about some exotic location or some expensive piece of equipment. But this month we are going to stay at home.

I grew up in South Africa, where the diving is pretty spectacular yet I learned to dive in 1996 in Poole (Dorset) and not in Palau. You now understand that I have a huge amount of love for diving in the UK because I could simply have gone back to SA and learned there. Do I like freezing to death, no visibility, bumpy boat rides and all the other apparent horrors when diving in the UK? Well no, who the heck does. But the 'art' to having fun dives at home here in Blighty is quite simple and nowhere near as expensive as we are led to believe.

In the UK we have wrecks, caves, mines, quarries, lakes, rivers, shallow water, deep water, and even beautiful blue water. This is an amazing island with amazing opportunities.

So let's look at those reasons for not diving in the UK and see if we can make your UK diving career begin, or become even better.

We've all heard UK divers bang on, and boy do they bang on, about how wonderful UK diving is but boy, they never seem to tell many really great stories and they certainly have very few videos that would inspire most divers to go out into this 'wild' environment.

There are, in my humble opinion, a few things you need to get in order. We will put these into four primary categories, training, equipment, experience, and the dive itself. Rather than put them in to boxes, I am going to allow them to interact with each other since none of them is possible without the others.

Training is the first big worry, do I have sufficient training to go UK diving? Well there are thousands of open water divers trained to use scuba in the UK annually. So from this we can assume that diving here is actually possible. But is open water diver sufficient? Well if you are only going to dive here in the summer then why not? Some dive centres and instructors will advise even further training but I have never understood why you need more if you are only really interested in diving in the 20 metre range. Why waste your money on training before you actually have some equipment to make the experience even greater? Just imagine trying to mountain bike without your own bike, or climb without ropes you trust. And make no bones about it, having nice, functional equipment really makes diving everything that you have dreamed it could. There are literally thousands of great dives that are accessible to new open water divers.

If you are going to dive in the colder months (the other eight) you will certainly need to be drysuit trained. Some good schools actually train new divers to use a drysuit while they participate in their open water program. Most training agencies actually encourage this since it leads to a much more comfortable experience in our cooler waters.

Of course this leads us neatly onto equipment and the drysuit itself. This is your first big spend if you are going this route and it is worth every penny. Most equipment, for a new diver can be rented but drysuits need to fit pretty well. Made to measure may be a bit excessive and expensive but most off the peg suits fit brilliantly these days. Add some good gloves and an under suit and you are in business. Most suits come with a hood and a fair few now come with undergarments as well.

Of course there are heated undersuits and all manner of 'stay warm' gear, but for the average diver doing a 45 minute dive, you only need high quality basics, not all the gear that an explorer or technical diver may use.

The discussion of experience is a highly debated one and will continue to be for many more years. My belief, and I stress, it's my belief, is that 80% of the success of a diver comes from training and 20% from experience. What this means is that whenever you are seeking training, make sure your instructor is awesome. There are enough of them out there that quality is not hard to find. But, the 20% experience means a heck of a lot so it should never be underestimated. 80% of something is still not 100%, and to be a well rounded, safe, knowledgeable, skilful diver, you need both.

So, you've just finished your course, you have the thermal gear to go diving in our brisk waters, but you have no instructor to look after you anymore. Plus, what happens if you have no buddy? What infrastructure is there to support divers lacking experience who would like to venture out on their own. Fortunately for us there are so many avenues of assistance.

Dive centres provide a great service. Make it very clear that you want to dive and not do a course as there is a huge difference in the advice that the centres will provide you. You will also have a whole new level of freedom as the guide is not under the same duty of

care that they would be when teaching. This does not however mean that you should just follow them, use your head and abide by your certification limits. Rushing can eventually lead to you getting a scare and actually regressing your growth rather than progressing it.

UK dive boats are actually among the best local dive fleet in the world. The skippers on these boats are good. I mean GOOD. They understand that diving in the UK can be difficult as it's tidal, can be rough, but is among the best most exciting diving in the world. They provide access to literally thousands of wrecks around our coastline. From Cornwall to Scapa to Malin Head and everything in between, these guys will get you there. And good boats have lifts, we don't need ladders when we have lifts, so no matter what the see is doing, your skipper and his crew will make sure you have the easiest access back onto the boat.

On top of that, they serve the best tea, and some now even serve pies, chocolate, and cool drinks. The UK market is starting to understand the golden rule of taking divers on a trip, "make your customers feel like they are on holiday".

And we are customers and we should never forget this. If you are taking a day off work, or giving up a weekend to go diving, should it not feel like you're on holiday?

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