For a lot of people, scuba diving is a relatively unfamiliar sport; there aren’t many films or documentaries about it and it rarely features on tv. When it does, it’s disproportionally referenced in terms of danger: sharks, decompression sickness, getting trapped underwater, and so on. Perhaps a result, there are a lot of myths and preconceptions out there. You only have to start typing ‘scuba diving is’ or ‘do scuba divers’ into Google to see the kind of things people search for. Which is more or less all I did to get the list below.
Scuba diving is expensive
I don’t know if this is a myth or whether it’s true, the thing is that it’s all relative. Sure, PADI courses aren’t super-cheap and to get certified and take a few speciality courses could easily set you back more than a £1,000, though not all in one go. By the same token, you need a fair bit of specialist equipment if you’re going to take scuba diving seriously; a full set of everything you require could again be close to £1,000.
On the other hand, there’s no rush to do all that at once. You can do your certifications slowly, when you can afford them, and hire kit for a fairly token fee. Equally, once you are certified and have all your own kit, all you need to pay for is to have tanks filled and whatever the dive site costs. For some lakes and quarries that could be as little as £10 or £15, or if it’s somewhere that requires a boat to get to it could be more. Either way, as an add-on to a holiday it starts to compare quite favourably with other activities, particularly given what an extraordinary and enjoyable experience scuba diving is.
I feel like now when I travel I get so much more out of somewhere. While other tourists may have enjoyed the bars and beaches and perhaps the castles and museums, I’ve done all that and also seen the wrecked ships, the coral reefs, the tropical fish, the turtles and even the sharks. I’ve doubled the value of my holiday just by spending a few tens of pounds to get my tanks filled and get a ride on a boat. From that point of view, scuba diving is a bargain.
Scuba diving is dangerous
This is another one that depends slightly on your perspective. Scuba diving, like almost anything, is more dangerous than simply watching TV (that said, sedentary lifestyles are a big killer, so…), but it’s statistically a lot less dangerous than many people perceive it to be. Figures vary depending on source, but one useful summary puts Scuba Diving as one of the least dangerous sports; less so than skydiving, cycling or running a marathon. I’m not sure it’s really possible to compare like-with-like in some of these cases but suffice it to say that Scuba Diving has a very low fatality or serious injury rate. In addition, a disproportionate number of fatalities (though sadly not all) occur when people go outside of their training, whether that be swimming into a cave without doing a cave diving course, or simply diving longer or deeper than training agency tables recommend. It would therefore be reasonable to say that scuba diving within your training, and within the recommendations of your training agency, is a very safe though not entirely risk-free activity.
It’s certainly beneficial to be a decent swimmer, and comfortable with open water, if you’re going to scuba dive. Being able to move around with minimal effort reduces your air consumption, and you may have to swim on the surface at times, particularly if you ever run into difficulties on your dive. At the same time, being fit reduces your chances of decompression illness.
However, all that said, there’s a big difference between the basic swimming capability required for scuba divers, and being an extremely strong or accomplished swimmer. There’s little to no crossover between the techniques of competitive swimming and those of scuba diving, except basic fitness. I am, despite having managed to splash my way through an ironman swim and just beat the cutoff, a deeply mediocre swimmer. I have rubbish stroke and difficulty with breathing smoothly when swimming front crawl. I’m slow and awkward and, well, generally just not very good. I don’t think any of that, however, makes me a bad diver. So, if you’ve struggled with swimming on the surface of the water, don’t let that put you off swimming beneath the surface. It’s a different world down here!
Scuba diving is exhausting
Interestingly, scuba diving is strangely tiring; I tend to finish a day of diving feeling pleasantly sleepy and ready for bed. It’s the same feeling a lot of people get after swimming, and some scientists believe it’s to do with the way water cools us down, and then we warm up when we get out, triggering a sleepy response. Either way, it’s nothing to do with exhertion. Quite the opposite, good scuba divers minimise exhertion for reasons of both enjoyment and safety. When you dive, you float effortlessly through the water; it’s a feeling like no other and it is absolutely not exhausting. If it is, you’re doing it wrong.
Scuba divers get attacked by sharks
Shark attacks against scuba divers are actually very very infrequent. While deliberately diving with great white sharks might best be done in a cage or a chainmail suit (seriously), in general sharks do not attack people and they attack scuba divers even less often.
While I’m not sure that anyone really knows exactly why sharks sometimes attack people, there’s a view that people on the surface with limbs dangling in the water: surfers, swimmers and so on, look more like prey to poorly-sighted sharks. People fully in the water, such as divers, are more easily discernible as ‘not prey’, particularly with their unappetising metal tanks. Unprovoked shark attacks on divers are therefore vanishingly rare.
What other preconceptions do you have about scuba diving, or did you have before you started? Post in the comments!