Learning to Dive
We are still in Coron. That’s Coron Town, the meandering if unbeautiful little port of Busuanga Island, not Coron, the island, across the way. As is the thing to do in the Calamians, we’ve been diving.
There are many amazing things about scuba. There is the feeling of weightlessness — neutral buoyancy — whereby you move through the water in whichever direction you like, slow and lazy as an astronaut.
Then there’s the closeness to nature. You will, and do, see more of nature on a coral reef in a 30-minute dive than anywhere on land bar, say, the Serengeti or the Arctic during one of their great migration.
And, in coral, you are right among the life. Fish (and sea snakes) swim up to you, past you, around you, without the slightest fear, amid coral gardens picked out in technicolour.
It’s extraordinary. Not just coral reef. But lakes, rivers, quarries, kelp forests too. And a world that you have to experience. And I’m so, so glad that Z loves it too. We just need to get him qualified…
Now, Z did the PADI entry-level course for kids, the , back in Puerto Galera. I’ve dived ten or twelve times in different places, but always as “fun dives” (shallower, simpler dives for untrained divers) and been wanting to learn properly for years.
But the entry-level Open Water course for adults takes three days. Which would always have required leaving sir with our companions, or, when we’ve travelled alone, alone on the dive boat for three days diving plus classroom time.
Anywise, I was intending to stick a few months on sir’s age and have him take the course with me, which qualifies him to dive to a maximum of twelve metres but only when accompanied by a Divemaster, and will enable us to dive together.
He is, when he needs to be, extremely sensible, very risk-aware and pretty mature for his age, plus extremely aware of the risks of depth, pressure, etc, so I’m not concerned about him going off on his own, swimming into caves, or holding his breath (doing this on an ascent can kill you). I’m also not concerned about his ability to cope with the maths, physics and phsyiology involved in the course.
But the course is pretty intensive. And kids, appropriately enough given the inherent dangers of an environment in which you cannot breathe unaided, do precisely the same as the adults.
It requires quite serious physical exertion — towing, while wearing full kit, an adult diver, in full kit, for 25m across open water (and that is a LOT of drag) — and long periods of concentrating seriously, underwater, while you learn skills from different methods of exiting safely if you run low on air through to moving up and down using only your breathing or taking your mask off, replacing it and clearing it of water.
So we decided that I would do the course. He would sit in on the classroom stuff and start learning that, and come on the boat with us. And he would do at least one fun dive over the three days to use what he’s learnt. (A single Bubblemaker dive costs roughly the same as four or five dives as a qualified adult, is limited to depths of 3 metres, and lasts about half as long.)
So, he can assemble scuba units. He understands pressure and the calculations around nitrogen left in your system which govern safe dive times. He has a handle on the physiology of diving. He knows 25 key underwater signals, plus the signs for boat, shark, turtle and lionfish. And, most importantly, he understands the safety rules. (One of the benefits of the unschooling approach is that he understood bars and pressures without being aware that he had learnt it.)
Plus he’s become a dab hand at swimming down a metre or two from the surface, in his trunks and mask, nicking the alternate air source from whoever’s at hand, and taking himself off for impromptu dives. A little distracting, when it happens just as the instructor is switching your air off (to take one memorable example), but highly entertaining.
Oh, and he’s driven the dive boat. Complete with veering, James Bond style chase of another dive boat, mercifully interrupted before completion.
He’s had one very fun dive with the lovely Fred, who’s really fond of him. He picked up sea urchins and jellyfish to show to him, prodded an anemone to make it shrink to almost nothing, and put blue and black cleaner wrasses on his hands. Which, as cleaner fish do, nibbled at dead skin. (It would be fair to say that Z found this less pleasant five metres below the sea than on a street in Siem Reap.)
But he has missed out on a lot. From 40C volcanic thermals which you enter through a shimmering underwater heat haze, barracuda, snapping shrimp and great cathedral spires of limestone in the clear waters of Barracuda Lake to rays, polka-dotted jellyfish, lettuce corals, humbugs, angelfish and quite comically territorial clownfish on the reef around CYC island, to pivoting on your fin tips using only your breath.
I am diving two wrecks tomorrow. I am hoping he will be able to join me to explore the third, which is shallow. If not, we will snorkel together, and move towards a point when he can do his course…