Scuba Diving – Part One – Old Bitch, New Tricks

The Aegean is full of pristine, uncrowded dive sites

I’m kneeling in the squishy sand at the bottom of the Aegean Sea, three metres above my head the pale grey surface is lit with slanting sunlight, a small Bream is swimming bossily through the fat bursting bubbles in front of my mask and I’m reciting Tolkien to myself.

“Earendil was a mariner, he tarried in Arvernien, he built a boat of timber felled in Nimbrethil to journey in……”

I’m learning to scuba dive by taking my Open Water Diver course and I’m taking to it like a duck to roller skating, hence the Tolkien, which is a form of self hypnosis I’ve been using for thirty years (recite poetry, distract brain from physical yuck stuff). In this instance I’m using it to over ride the howling instinct which is telling me to bolt for the surface, right now.

Water has always been home to me; I was brought up on the sea, I sail, I snorkel, I surf, I swim like the proverbial, I’m actually happier in the sea than I am on land, probably because I’m built like a seal, and now, at the age of 46, to go from being totally at home in a medium to being totally alien in it is a weird and horribly disquieting feeling.

For the first few dives I hated it. Really hated it. I went from being beyond competent at something to being bloody useless and that frightened me. It was like being a baby and learning to walk again. To stay down, below the surface, for longer than I can hold my breath meant I had to override every long ground in instinct I have. To be clumsy underwater was an awful feeling; as I struggled to control buoyancy and not kick up enough silt and sand to obscure the whole Aegean I felt useless and control freaks like me don’t like feeling useless!

Nick, slightly smug AOW diver 🙂

Of all the things to struggle with when learning to dive this is a weird one. Most people struggle with the technical stuff, but I’m fine at that, it’s all mental for me. I would kneel on the bottom going through exercises – clear mask, equalise, buddy breath, remove and replace kit – and my façade of competence was hiding a deep well of “not liking this.” It wasn’t helped by Nick, who is Advanced Open Water diver, being revoltingly good at all the exercises and obviously at home in his gear despite ten years away from diving.

So why do it? Why try something this new and challenging at 46? Why not give up and stick to the snorkelling? There are a couple of reasons why I would put myself through this, one is practical, and the other is personal.

The surface is less than half the story, we have to go below!

For practical reasons I’d be an idiot not to learn to scuba dive; I live on the Aegean, right on my door step are fantastic, pristine, dive sites that are un-crowded, pretty, teeming with beautiful bright fish and are suitable for the beginning diver. Diving here is really accessible, apart from our local sites within a few hours drive we have the whole Aegean coast, we have wrecks and short hops over to Greek islands, we have dramatic underwater canyons and undersea hot springs, we have few currents, practically no tide, clear water and sea temperatures that make diving pleasant for eight months of the year. To ignore all that and stick to just the surface seems, to me, to be a waste of an amazing opportunity.

Feeding the fish (in a pretty way!)

On a personal level I kind of need to challenge myself. I feel fear more than I used to, it’s an age and widowhood thing, it plays hell with your confidence, so every now and then you need to go and do something that pushes you, or you may as well give up right now. I’m no adrenalin junky, but I do think I need to feel a little fear and overcome it every now and then, or I wouldn’t really be living and that’s a betrayal of those who left this life before us, we have to really live because they can’t. Which probably sounds mildly bonkers, but there you go!

So there I am, I’m kneeling in the sand reciting Tolkien, if things get really bad I may have to resort to Heinlein, because whilst the water is warm and the surface is only three metres away and the air comes easily through the regulator and the calm brown eyes of Osman, my instructor, never leave mine I am still struggling, mentally if not actually.

Active Blue Diving Centre at Pamucak beach, Kusadasi

They tell me I’m ready for a boat dive, for open water, that I’ll be fine, that deep water is easier than shallow water, that I’ll love it, there is so much to see. They say I don’t have to do it, I can stay is shallow water as long as I like, but honestly, deep water is better and technically I’m ready. Nick and Tagmac, the dive centre owner, Osman my instructor and Tim (Nick’s rescue diver brother), they all say the same thing, deep water and you’ll be fine, you can do this. Do I believe them? Hmmmm. Will I do it? I think I have to, everyone is encouraging me so much and I really, really want to do this.

“As time and space came bending back to shape that star specked scene…..” Bugger, resorting to Heinlein, must be scared!

Learning to Dive in Turkey

The internet gives us access to so much and scuba diving organisations have cottoned on to this. Both PADI and SSI, two of the most popular recreational diving training organisations, now allow you to learn the theory of scuba diving online via their websites and then move on to the practical aspects wherever you choose once you have passed the online course which is free. So you can sit in the UK (or Kirazli) and watch the videos, read the training manuals online, take the written tests and then step into the water when you arrive at your dive school, be that Tonga or Turkey.

I chose to take my open water course through SSI because according to reviews I read they take a slightly less regimented approach and will work through things at the student’s pace, they have a very well reviewed dive school near us here in Kusadasi and their Turkish office is proactive and helpful when you need to contact them about procedural stuff.

In the family we have PADI divers, BSAC divers (Nick!) and now SSI divers, and honestly there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the training offered by the different organisations (apart from BSAC being totally brilliant and best in the world according to Nick) and I think the individual instructor/school will always trump the affiliate organisation at the end of the day and most schools these days are linked to more than one organisation.

I have a lovely instructor, Osman at Active Blue, he just exudes calm and that works for me. Both he and Tagmac the owner are totally clear that this Open Water course takes as long as it takes and whilst they are keen to get me in open water it is totally “me” led and there is no rush at all. They’ll stay in the confines of the bay until the end of November if that’s what I want!

Apart from the attitude of the people I’m learning with I think there are some major pluses in learning to dive here in Kusadasi. It isn’t massively busy, so classes are practically private and you don’t feel any peer pressure to move faster than you want to which you may do if you were part of a big class. The payoff is pretty immediate, as opposed to learning in a pool where you only see tiles you are in the sea and seeing the things you wanted to, pretty fish and shells and octopuses. The staff are massively qualified because most are coming from a navy background and with Active Blue they are the first response team for DAN (Divers Alert Network) so they are about as good as it gets and you’re going to be taught by someone who has maturity and experience and isn’t just doing this because they look good in a wetsuit and can get free tanks of air. That sort of matters to me!

If you want to try diving in Turkey or Kusadasi here are a few links:- – Kusadasi dive centre. They have a dive shop in town down near the Marina, behind Garanti Bank, and they dive out of Ephesus Princess and Aqua Fantasy hotels on Pamucak beach. – Scuba Schools International, you can register online to take your theory training as well as check out dive schools worldwide in the area you want to dive in.

Part Two – Feel the fear and do it anyway coming soon!