Diving, Sub-Aqua and SCUBA for non divers can often appear to be quite a serious sport. We’ve seen the air tanks at the jetty, the piles of weights and the stacked up boxes of kit; when all we have is a rolled up towel and our swimwear. We’ve seen divers wobbling down the beach to wade into the shallows looking like beasts of burden, with cumbersome kit, sweating in restrictive neoprene; when all we have is a pair of ‘flippers’ tucked under our arm and mask propped on our forehead.
Some of us have been in ear shot of intense briefings from those multi-tank tech divers and many a time we’ve been party to a post dive chat in the local watering hole. As a non diver it seems a lot to co-ordinate, to get right and manage, so it is understandable that it would be the last thing to consider enrolling a kid in a course to learn SCUBA.
Well stop and think again. Diving doesn’t have to be all serious, in fact diving is fun and children just love it. Most diving centers in Sharm are associated with international diver training agencies such as PADI or SSI. These agencies have excellent programs designed specifically for children with an emphasis on fun. There is also a whole heap of child friendly kit; mini tanks (8lt & 10lt), light weight regulators, and children sized BDC’s, wetsuits, masks and fins.
Remember also that children have than uncanny ‘no fear’ attitude which as we age sadly diminishes. Once your child has taken their first breaths underwater, there will be no stopping them, they will be swimming with the fish and eagerly wanting to learn more. I remember clearly, sitting in a well known dive centers courtyard, waiting for the return of the divers when a little girl walked in beaming with a grin ear to ear. She was so excited about her first underwater experience; she had difficulty getting the words out which mainly consisted of “ I saw a pufferfish, a blue spotted ray, a gold fish, an angel fish, a butterfly fish, a ………..fish” which was peppered with gasps of air. She had clearly been won over by the whole experience.
The proof is in that ‘new breed’ the Sharmer Kid. Parents who work in diving and live in Sharm know the benefits of children learning to dive. With not much more than desert and sea available for entertainment and long long summer school holidays it is the perfect solution. Once they have achieved their PADI Junior Open Water certificate they can dive with an adult up to a maximum of 12 meters.
This summer I have dived a lot with a gaggle of qualified Junior PADI Open Water SCUBA divers: Yousef, Younes (AKA Jonas), Amir & Ahmed. It is amazing how their confidence has increased; they learn responsibility for each other without even realizing it, by learning the fun buddy system. One Junior PADI Advanced Open Water diver (aged 13) told me the other day, albeit a bit seriously that “diving is my life, I would do anything to dive everyday – I just love it so much” and that was just after he had spotted his first Hammerhead Shark.
Children can have their first SCUBA experience at 8 years old. PADI have a special program called the ‘Bubblemaker’ which is done in a maximum of two meters of water in ‘confined water’. ‘Confined water’ basically means in swimming pool like conditions. Naama Bay with its sheltered, shallow waters is an ideal location and your child gets to see fish as well.
Children 10 years old and older can sign up for a PADI Discover SCUBA program. This is a one day activity which is also available for adults. A few fun skills are practiced and then it’s off diving to a depth of six meters with an Instructor. This program does not give a certification.
Most children love the idea of collecting certifications; it gives them a sense of achievement and definitely a story to tell when they go back to school. The first certification in the PADI system is the Junior SCUBA diver and/or the Junior Open Water diver. The idea is that the courses are in modules so there is no pressure put on the child to finish. The can start with the 2-3 day SCUBA course and if they love it, can easily continue to the Open Water certification. This will keep them occupied for five days and at the end they will be able to dive with an adult to a maximum of 12 meters.
The beauty of the SCUBA educational system is that each year when they have summer holidays they can continue to learn; improving their skills and confidence whilst having fun. There are so many speciality courses to do from underwater naturalist to treasure hunting search and recovery.
The Advanced Open Water course can be started at 12 years, and for mature children the Rescue course can also be taught, although many Instructors would recommend the child being a little older as it is quite strenuous and potentially a serious subject.
Learning to dive as a child is a fantastic and fun experience. Forget about it being a serious sport for adults only. Underneath the surface there is a colourful, educational playground, just waiting to be discovered by young eyes. Just catching the smiles on their faces after they have dived, says it all.