| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Scuba diving for kids

Learning to dive at an early age can give a child a passion for life

If you’re looking to keep active and cool over the next few months, then diving is one of the few outdoorsy pursuits left to enjoy. Once the sole (geddit!) domain of adrenaline junkies, more and more youngsters are now taking up the sport and, says Paul Sant, Master Instructor at Divers Down in Fujairah, it’s a hobby that will last a lifetime.

What’s the fascination with diving?
You get a fabulous feeling of weightlessness, like you’re in space, and just breathing underwater in an environment we were not made to be in is exciting. Plus you get to see all sorts of fabulous sealife. On a normal day I can see anything from black tip reef sharks to turtles, puffer fish to clown fish [that’s Nemo to you and I] as well as Moray eels, butterfly fish and all sorts of hard and soft corals. On a great day, you can add whale sharks, mantas and devil rays to that list!

Wow! We never knew the UAE was such a diving hotspot!
It’s great, especially as the diving is right on our doorstep. In less than two hours you can be among the fishes! There are ample diving providers out there and nearly all of them are PADI-associated, and there’s a regulatory body – Emirates Diving Association – to maintain standards. And, of course, it’s always nice and warm!

How young can kids start?
There are age restrictions purely for physical reasons. The lungs and circulation system is not properly developed in a child under eight years old. After that, they can start with the Bubble Maker and SEAL Team courses. Even up until age 15, their bodies are not as fully developed as an adult’s, so we have depth restrictions on junior divers: 12 metres maximum for 10 to 12-year-olds (Junior Open Water), and 22 metres maximum for 12 to 15-year-olds (Junior Advanced divers). Once they turn 15 then there is potential to dive to 40 metres.

We presume they have to be strong swimmers?
Not for Bubble Maker and SEAL Team, no, it’s not necessary because they’re in the pool. However, if they wish to complete the Junior Open Water, then they are required to float for 10 minutes and swim at least 200 metres. They’re not timed, though – they just have to show they can do it.

Is diving suitable for everyone?
Diving is an exciting and demanding activity, but it can be strenuous, so your respiratory and circulatory systems must be in good health. If you have a cold or congestion, or if your child has problems with his ears – which many kids do – then you shouldn’t dive. Basically, everyone needs to be medically fit and answer ‘no’ to all the questions on the medical form. If your answer ‘yes’ then you’ll require a doctor to give permission.

What exactly will kids learn on a Bubble Maker course?
Kids will learn how the mask, fins, buoyancy control device (BCD), regulators and air gauge work. We’ll review how they should breath underwater, equalise their ears and clear their mask. Once in the pool, kids will swim to a maximum depth of two metres where they’ll learn regulator clearing (removing any water), then they get to swim around the pool, play underwater Frisbee and throw the torpedo toy!

Do kids sometimes get scared? How do you deal with that?
Unlike adults, kids rarely get scared. However, they will lose concentration very quickly! If we see that they are not too sure, then we’ll play with the toys in the shallow end first, at a depth of around one metre. Once they are relaxed we can go to the two-metre end.

What are the benefits for kids?
Kids get outside – what can be better than that for their health! They make new friends, develop responsibility and have to work as a team. In the Open Water course, they cross subjects from physiology to physics. It’s a benefit to their education, and many schools run diving trips as extra-curricular activities. PADI also runs Project Aware (www.project-aware.org), which opens up all sorts of avenues for kids interested in the environment, from cleaning beaches to coral reef ecology.

What are the benefits to the family as a whole?
There are families in Dubai and Abu Dhabi that all dive with us – we’ve trained them all from Bubble Maker up to Instructor – I like to call them my PADI families. Diving is most definitely a family sport or hobby. There are no boundaries in terms of age. If the kids are under eight, then they can still snorkel while the older ones finish diving. The parents get a fantastic buzz diving with their newly qualified child, it brings a family closer and certainly makes the family holiday a bit more exciting!

What courses are you running over the summer?
Divers Down is open all year round, seven days a week, even during Ramadan. Courses for kids are always available, but require advance booking.

Bubble Maker sessions Dhs250 each (max six kids); Seal Team programme (five missions) Dhs1,300; Junior Open Water course Dhs2,300. Miramar Al Aqah Beach Resort, Fujairah. info@diversdown-uae.com; www.diversdown-uae.com (09 237 0299/050 553 1688)

By Time Out Kids staff
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