A year ago I decided that I needed a change. I’d tried very hard to conform to a conventional lifestyle but, like a square peg in a round hole, it just didn’t quite fit. So I decided to quit my job, sell my house and move to Honduras to train to be a scuba diving instructor. After months of deliberation, I booked my flights and slowly began to tell people my plan. One by one my friends, family and colleagues learned that I’d be trading in tea breaks and board meetings for a 9-to-5 of sub-aqua adventure.

My decision was met with a range of responses. In Camp A were the supportive ones, the adventurous-at-heart to whom a life of diving sounded like a dream come true. “You’re so brave,” they’d say “good for you, you only live once!”  But Camp B found it harder to digest. Accepting that I was turning my back on stability and professional good-sense was one thing, but getting their head round my desire to plunge headfirst into a life of daily diving was a step too far. “Won’t it be really dangerous?” they’d ask nervously, followed swiftly by “what if you get eaten by a shark?”

After hearing this concern for about the twentieth time, I started to realise that there’s a lot of misconceptions about diving out there. People think that it’s an extreme sport, or that it’s highly dangerous or that they won’t be able to do it because they don’t have the necessary experience. It saddens me that there are hundreds of people who have passed up on the opportunity to try the experience of diving, not because they’re genuinely too scared or apathetic, but because they’ve been misinformed. But let me assure you that the majority of myths about diving are just that – myths – that when put under the microscope, can easily be explained away.

1. It’s a fast-paced adrenaline sport

Because there’s a small element of risk involved with diving (just as there is when you drive a car or take a plane journey), travel insurance will often categorise diving as a “water / winter sport” alongside skiing, snowboarding, kite-surfing and jet-skiing. It’s thanks to this that it’s often thought to be a high-octane adrenaline activity, suitable only for the thrill seekers out there.

But I find this distinction to be a gross misunderstanding of what diving actually involves. To my mind, diving isn’t a sport at all. There’s little to no element of competition about it and it’s neither fast nor furious. The best divers in the world tend to be chilled, laid-back types, because diving requires you to be unhurried, languid and relaxed underwater, taking slow, deep breaths and using the leisurely pace to take in what’s around you. In fact, I would cite diving as one of the most calming activities I’ve ever undertaken. Once you’ve entered the quiet, tranquil world that lies beneath the surface, you can be alone with your thoughts. You don’t have to race anywhere, or achieve a certain time; there’s no pressure to move faster than your own pace; instead, you’re encouraged to take in the amazing underwater vista that surrounds you.

There are definitely thrills to be had from scuba diving. Some seek to swim with an array of stunning marine-life, from rays and turtles to sharks and whales. Others find thrills in more technical or adventurous types of diving; drift diving allows you to be swept along by a strong current, and entering the carcass of an abandoned ship during a wreck dive is definitely an exhilarating experience. But if the idea of coming face to face with a great white or exploring the depths of the ocean doesn’t float your boat, diving needn’t be anything more to you than a way to experience the beauty and peace of the ocean.

2. You have to go really deep to see the best stuff that the ocean has to offer

One of the best dives I’ve ever done was at 4 metres deep in St Lucia. We swam around a small but vibrant reef just off the shore and peered at tiny seahorses and ultra-violet corals whilst rainbow shoals of tropical fish glided around us. While we were diving, we’d look up and see snorkelers waving down at us. At points towards the end of the dive, we were so shallow that, had I stood up, my head would have popped out above the surface. Without going deeper than the height of a regular school bus, I enjoyed some of the best spectacles that I’ve ever seen.

Whilst some divers enjoy the challenge of pushing the limits of recreational diving pursuing thrills up to 40 metres deep, it can be equally rewarding to explore the shallows. For those who are nervous of the ocean, who feel anxious about the idea of taking a boat out and dropping into the depths of the sea, a shore dive allows you to enjoy the experience of diving without pushing your fear threshold too far.

3. You’ll get eaten by a shark

Galeophobia, or fear of sharks to you and me, affects a startlingly high number of us and, with sharks portrayed by Hollywood and the media as a lean, mean killing machines, it’s easy to see why. But sharks are actually shy, reserved and graceful animals.

There are over 375 breeds of shark, the majority of which are harmless to humans. Dive centres who specialise in shark sightings will know better than anyone that you’re unlikely to simply bump into one whilst on a regular dive. Instead, it takes years of research and experience to know where sharks can be found and when is the best time to see them. Often, divers will actually try and lure sharks to them using meat or fish blood. This goes to show how hard it is to come across a shark by accident. Thanks to their cautious nature, many divers who dream of seeing a shark have never had the privilege, simply because the shark has no interest in finding out what the large, strange creature in the distance with bubbles coming out of its mouth is.

Even if you do see a shark underwater, shark attacks on divers are extremely rare. According to the International Shark Attack File, since the 1800s when the records began, there have been only 224 attacks on divers worldwide, only 42 of which have been fatal. In the last 200 years. Are you getting this? That’s an average of 0.2 deaths per year. In comparison, hippos kill on average of 2,900 people per year, and an average of 20 deaths per year in the US alone are caused by cows. In fact, while you sit on the beach waiting for your mate who’s gone diving, it’s 750 times more likely that a coconut will fall on your head and kill you, than your friend will be “eaten” by that shark you’re so scared of.

If your fear of sharks is insurmountable, research destinations that are not famed for shark sightings. Most places will have hot-spots for spotting sharks and rays which you can avoid. Although it’s an understandable fear, it shouldn’t be enough to stop you dipping your toe in the water.

4. It’s the same as snorkeling, just more expensive and more hassle

The beauty of diving is that it allows you to get up close and personal with marine life you’d never otherwise get to see. Whilst snorkeling is a great experience that affords you a great snapshot of the underwater world, nothing compares to the sensation of being fully submerged. It’s like the difference between going to the zoo and going on safari; only when you immerse yourself in the natural landscape do you really appreciate the beauty, the tranquility of these stunning animals in their natural habitat. Rather than peering through the window, why not break down the walls and become part of your surroundings? It’ll be an experience that you’ll never forget.

5. You need to have a PADI qualification

Whilst you’ll need to be certified to dive unaccompanied, anyone can try scuba diving to see if they like it. As long as you’re over the age of ten and you’re generally fit and healthy, you can dive up to 10 metres – which, as discussed in point 2, is more than enough to experience what the ocean has to offer.

Any diving centre will happily take new divers on a Discover Scuba Dive. These begin with a short tutorial in a pool or confined area of water, where your instructor will show you the basic skills you need to know. Once you’ve mastered the hand signals and a few basic skills, you’re ready to head out into the open water and enjoy diving for the very first time.

6. Diving is a male-orientated activity

Diving is one of the few activities which is virtually gender neutral. Size or speed is no advantage in underwater, and you do not need to have longer legs or a naturally faster metabolism. Having hips, a bust, PMS or long hair will not set you back in the slightest. In fact, women are often recognised to be better divers as they generally have smaller lungs which can mean they consume less air whilst underwater.

If you need proof of the fact that women are welcomed in the diving industry, just look to the major brands. All diving retailers recognise that women are a key target market, and consequently sell ranges designed specifically for female divers. Whether it’s altering equipment so it fits a woman’s figure better, or offering a wider aesthetic range to suit a variety of tastes, the industry acknowledges the need to take the specific requirements of female divers into account.

7. It will feel claustrophobic

Until you’ve tried diving, it’s hard to know what it’ll feel like and how you’ll respond to it. It’s easy to imagine that the heavy, complicated breathing apparatus will be restricting, or that the pressure of the water will be uncomfortable. But as you descend, you’ll find that your body gives way to a serene lightness as the water cradles your weight. Looking around, you’ll be amazed at how much unspoiled, sprawling natural beauty stretches all around you. The human desire to build, to populate, to conquer has not ventured as far as the seabed, and diving offers the chance to enjoy the rare spectacle of unadulterated space.

It’s a sensation I can only liken to staring up at the vast night sky when it’s peppered with stars, a feeling of humbled awe that you are one small living part of the phenomenon that is our universe. Being underwater, staring up at a ceiling of fractured sunlight splintering the waves is, for me, the most liberating experience that humans can enjoy. Once you’re submerged within that space, any notion of claustrophobia will drift away like the flotsam and jetsam around you.

After reading this, you may still be convinced that diving isn’t for you. And if that’s because you are still a bit too scared, or you’d rather spend your money on something else, or just because it’s not for you, then that’s fine. But if you’ve ever been curious to give it a try but have resisted the urge because you’ve believed one or more of these myths, I hope this will give you the confidence to take the plunge on your next trip.

 

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This is a guest post by Ellie Brampton. All photos via Unsplash.

eleanorAfter years of trying to conform to a normal life, Ellie has embraced defeat, quit her job and bought a one-way ticket to Central America where she’ll train to be a scuba diving instructor. She plans to travel the world for as long as she possibly can, diving and blogging as she goes. You can follow her adventures on her blog or on Twitter.