By Andries Burger

Image By David Pilosof

There are many myths surrounding scuba diving, ranging from how expensive it is to how dangerous it can be. Without further ado, we debunk the top 10 diving myths.

South Africa’s water is too cold to dive

South Africans are in a very fortunate position to live in a country where we have moderate weather and where the most amazing dive spots in the world are not far from reach. Even if you stay in the most northern or central parts of South Africa, dive spots are easily accessible by car with just a few hours’ drive away. The inland Marico Oog near Groot Marico is one of my favourite dive spots and is truly beautiful with water lilies and crystal clear waters.

If cold water is an issue, do not despair. Advancements in technology and diving gear provide snug and warm suits, making it a pleasure to dive even in colder waters. Going to work in winter is colder than diving in the Cape with a comfy drysuit on. The invention of the glove and hoodie is almost as significant as the wheel when it comes to cold water diving. Also, making use of things such as gloves, hoodies, booties and exposure suits help us to enjoy diving in various conditions. With proper gear, you can dive in any condition.

I will hurt myself

In terms of injuries, scuba diving is like any other sport. The most common diving injuries include bumping toes or scraping your arm against a branch while walking around at an unfamiliar dive resort. As a scuba diver, you are taught to be safe and to take care of your body when diving. Your instructor does not necessarily teach you how to walk without dragging your feet or carrying a torch with you when you need to find an ablution block late at night.

Ear injuries is something that all of us are worried about when we start diving, but as students we are trained in equalising air spaces and we practice these skills with every dive. Like driving a car, diving is all about obeying the rules and diving within your limits. There is no underwater ninja fish waiting to pick a fight with you and unlike skydiving, you do not bounce when you hit the bottom.

I will drown if I am not a good swimmer

I will explain this with a question: Do you have to be Usain Bolt to walk the Spar women’s race? Being able to propel yourself forward, water-tread and float is essential. However, you do not have to be able to swim the Midmar mile to be able to dive. As part of your compulsory diving attire, you have to wear a jacket-type floatation device called a buoyancy compensator that enables you to float in the water much like a polyotter or the “floaties” children use when learning to swim. You have complete control over your “life jacket” and you can use it to float on the surface before and after your dive. When you move your arms or kick your legs, you become an instant swimmer. If you kick a little bit harder, you might even become a serious threat to Chad le Clos.

Qualifying seems like too much effort

It takes more time (and frustration) for a 40-year-old person to learn how to operate a new cellphone than to learn how to dive. Most entry-level courses take about one week to complete. These courses consist of two or three evenings of lectures (or e-learning, if you prefer taking the lectures online), a few pool sessions and qualifying dives.

In the end, a dive course can take as long as you need it to. You can decide when you are comfortable with a skill and you also have the prerogative of informing your instructor when you need more practice. All good dive instructors will give you the time, material and support you need to master the required skills.

After the initial theory, which a 10-year-old can do, all you need to do is breathe and enjoy. To become a certified scuba diver is fun. Do you still want that new cellphone or shall we rather go diving?

It is no use diving if you do not dive deep

In scuba diving, we never say “go deep or go home”. Shallow waters offer the best and most amazing dives with astonishing tropical fishes and coral reefs. Here, the marine life is abundant and colourful. When diving deeper, there is less light penetrating the ocean, thus the colours are less vivid.

There are only a limited number of divers on this planet who find it exhilarating to dive to the deeper, darker places. We call them technical divers and they find pleasure in the adrenaline rush that the deeper dives pose. Like all extremists, they push the limits and for them it is a wonderful experience to go all the way. However, the vast majority of divers are recreational divers who are people who want to experience the beauty of the underwater world and see new things while at the same time enjoying a comfortable and relaxing sport. You can decide what tickles your fancy but scuba diving is not synonymous with deep diving.

Image by Mark van Coller.

I just do not have the money

There is no need to spend exuberant amounts of money on your scuba diving gear if you do not feel like it. It is uncommon for a diver to purchase their full set of gear after the first dive. After purchasing the basic snorkelling gear, most divers rent the more expensive equipment at a minimal amount whenever they go diving. How much does a decent pair of running shoes cost? This is roughly the amount that you will spend on your wetsuit. If you are a gadget junkie you might want to brace yourself because there are many funky and appealing diving gadgets that make diving fun for nerds as well. If, however, you want to set yourself up for scuba diving by buying all you gear, it is comparable to buying a set of golf clubs. Again, with diving like with golf, you do not have to buy your golf clubs – you can rent it when you need it.

Children and elderly people cannot dive

Children can dive from the age of 10 with some restrictions to depth and supervision. If you are an adventure-loving pensioner or senior citizen with loads of spirit and zest, you can start diving at any age. I have trained a retired couple in their sixties and they still join us on many dive trips, enjoying life to the fullest. Diving might just keep you younger for longer.

An inspiring story is that of Martha Loats from Denver, the USA. She is 90 years old and an avid scuba diver, which many non-scuba divers find astounding. Her motto in life is: “We do not come here to die. We come here to live.” Diving is a sport for almost all ages and can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Being physically disabled prevents me from scuba diving

Contrary to popular belief, a disability my not necessarily disqualify a person from obtaining a scuba diving qualification. Associations such as the Handicapped Scuba Association of South Africa (HSA-SA) offer specific courses that have been designed to accommodate a person’s disabilities. With years of research and training, the trainers are adept in teaching the required skills for scuba diving and addressing additional requirements where necessary. Before commencing with training, the individual will need approval from their doctor as there are certain medical criteria to assess, but once that is done, the sky is the limit.

On a recent visit to Ponta Malongane, I witnessed a large group of divers from Scuba Doo, an HSA training centre, with a few disabled divers that were doing their first sea dives. The whole operation was quite effortless, attesting to the fact that a disability is not a contraindication to diving. Scuba diving truly frees your mind and body and this is a true testament to that.

I have to be fit and strong to scuba dive

My closest dive buddy is 1.45m tall (or shall I say short) and weighs 50kg. She is not an athlete nor does she compete in Ironwoman competitions. Myth busted. No, you do not have to be strong or extremely fit to dive. It will help if you have a reasonable level of fitness and a healthy lifestyle as there is nothing wrong with that. Diving it not a sport where you have to exert yourself. Less is more. The less you swim around the longer your dive will be. It is all about floating and drifting with the current and wasting the least amount of energy on swimming.

A fully filled 10ℓ scuba cylinder weighs about 13-15kg, which is almost the same weight as the school bag which you carried around as a child – I am referring to the days where we used books instead of iPads. Also, most dive resorts carry your dive gear for you, meaning that you often do not even have to pick it up.

Once in the water, everything, including you, feels weightless. This is perhaps the closest you will ever come to feeling like and astronaut, except that you will be floating in water and not in space. It is fun too. Think about it – underwater ballet looks much more graceful than on stage. All slow-motion movie action scenes are inspired by scuba divers on safety stops.

 It is dangerous to swim with sea creatures

This is probably the most common myth, understandably cultivated by Hollywood during the 1970-1980s. No one ever stopped to think that the big shark that featured in the movie Jaws was a mechanical prop which was built specifically for the movie. So, unless they build angry mechanical sharks with added artificial intelligence for us to swim with, we are quite safe.

I suppose the truth is in the statistics. If it were so dangerous underwater, there would be no divers left. In the United States of America (USA), the year-on-year statistics show that shark attacks result in less than one human fatality annually, and these are normally surfers, not scuba divers.

On average, 150 people die each year from falling coconuts, 24 from popping champagne corks and 20 from cow-related incidents. What it all boils down to is that a properly trained diver is much safer around sharks and other marine life than the rest of us are on land. Swimming amongst sea life is probably one of the most exciting and therapeutic experiences that is available to us. People often flock to dive sites to see turtles, nudibranchs, seahorses, octopuses, eels, dolphins and sharks, all gracefully exploring the natural habitat.

FACTS

  • The diving part of a certification takes only about three to four days.
  • Incurring serious injuries from marine life is uncommon.
  • For your open water certification, you only need a mask, fins and a snorkel.
  • Most recreational divers only dive about 30m in depth.

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