I HAD my chance. Clear blue waters with temperatures of around 28C, the world’s largest coral reef system, home to some of the most vulnerable and endangered species in the world … I came close to learning to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef when visiting Queensland, Australia, more than 10 years ago.
Circumstances went against me and it never happened, but the desire to try it never went away. So when Penrith Divers offered me the chance to give it a go at their weekly training sessions at Penrith swimming pool, I literally jumped at the opportunity to take the plunge.
Unsure what to expect, I was a little daunted by the number of experienced divers around me, but my instructor, Richard Govan, soon put me at ease and everyone was keen that I enjoy the experience.
Charlotte Skelton, from Morland, who started diving ahead of a school trip to Indonesia seven years ago, loaned me her kit. The 24-year-old wanted to do some underwater studies during her visit, so it made sense for her to learn how to dive before she went. Her dad, Dave, decided to go along too and is now an instructor and chairman of the club.
Just a few minutes of introducing me to the kit and some safety advice and I was straight into the water, tentatively ducking my head at first, just to check I was breathing correctly. Breathing only through your mouth, using tanked air, takes a little practice, but I soon felt comfortable and was off to the deeper waters, with Richard closely in tow, in case I felt uncomfortable or was struggling in any way.
Kicking too hard, I was zooming ahead at first, but after I learned to relax, clear my mask if it let water in, and became more at ease with the buoyancy of my vest (BCD), I began to enjoy myself.
“Have you ever done gymnastics?” asked Richard after a while.
“No …” I replied tentatively, unsure what he was going to ask me to do!
“Well, you’re going to do a forward roll,” he announced, confidently.
“No, I’m going to land on my head …” I thought to myself, with confidence falling short of his own. But sure enough, after watching Richard demonstrate, to my surprise (and I do believe to Richard’s if he’s honest!), I managed some underwater acrobatics too, completing an unaided forward roll under the water. I do believe I’ve already caught the bug! Scuba diving clearly appeals to people of all ages. The oldest member at Penrith Divers is 70 and the youngest 16.
Secretary David Bell is holding the mantle for the older generation and has been scuba diving for 14 years, after starting on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand, in 2003.
Despite being in his 50s when he started, he felt he was “never too old to learn” and after five days of thorough training, did his first open water dive at Sail Rock and was hooked. David joined ScotSAC and Penrith Divers in late 2008 and attained sports diver level in the first 12 months, finished master diver training in March, 2012, and qualified as a branch instructor in early 2014.
He has now clocked up 400 dives in places ranging from Ullswater to Zanzibar and the Maldives.
Dylan Beattie, aged 16, and his brother Josh, 18, are the next generation at the club, with Dylan qualified as an open water diver and Josh a qualified sports diver.
While diving equipment is not cheap, the benefits of learning with a club include the fact you can borrow kit until you are certain that diving is for you.
All that is needed to start out is a club membership, which gives you all your training at the pool for the year for free, and membership of the training accreditation organisation ScotSAC. Penrith Divers meet at the town swimming pool every Sunday morning between 9 and 10am. For more information, visit penrithdivers.co.uk.