Before I moved to Dubai my diving-nut best friend got almost more excited than I did. ‘You’ll be able to dive all year round – and we can meet up for diving trips in Egypt and Thailand, or even around Dubai!’ she squealed. I hadn’t quite got my head round her diving mania (and was slightly hurt she wasn’t more upset about my departure). But I was intrigued.
Yet after two years in Dubai I still hadn’t signed up for a scuba-diving course. It wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted to. It was just that as soon as I set foot in the sandlands, life sped up, free time became mythical and arranging two weeks in which to take a diving course always seemed beyond me.
But that was until I heard about Al Boom’s new weekend course. With this you could do all class and pool preparation as well as the open-water dives necessary to get a shiny little scuba diving qualification. Even better, my travels would begin straight away with a trip over to Fujairah, where I would stop for the night mid-course: part training, part mini-break. ‘This will not lead to a full Padi qualification,’ explained Francis, Al Boom’s chief diving instructor. ‘But it will qualify you three-fifths of the way – enabling you to dive with an instructor anywhere in the world, wherever they recognise the Padi qualification.’
After a 6.30am pick-up from Al Boom’s Al Wasl centre on the Friday, I arrived bleary-eyed at their Meridien Al Aqah base.
‘My name’s Ryan Todd’, a gentle-looking South African told our class of two. ‘We’ll be starting today’s course by reviewing the first three DVDs, after which I’ll quiz you on them.’ Nearly three of hours of TV and tests ensued. The main rule of diving, it transpired, is never to stop breathing – ironic, considering that in regular old O2 we subconsciously hold our breath all the time.
Next we were to complete a series of ‘tests’ in the hotel’s vast pool. Although it was only three or so metres deep, the sensation of breathing underwater was mind-blowing. But we weren’t just there to hang about. We had tasks at hand. I was fine throwing my regulator out of my mouth and relocating it, establishing buoyancy on the pool floor and sharing my buddy’s air. It was taking my mask clean off and breathing with my eyes closed very nearly sent me to the surface. But with Ryan’s patient encouragement, following a near panic attack on my first attempt, I managed to completely removed my mask underwater for a full minute on my second. After three hours in the pool, it was time to dry off at the recently refurbished neighbouring bar, Sharky’s, followed by a well-earned night’s rest at sprawling beachfront hotel, the Fujairah Rotana.
The remaining half-day was dedicated to the biggest challenge: the open-water dives. After checking our equipment – that the air blasted out properly and our pressure readers read – all that was left was to jump, or roll backwards, into the warm sea.
Unlike my buddies back home I didn’t fall in love with diving as soon as my flippers went over my head. In fact, I was petrified. I couldn’t see out of my new mask, so I could only follow Ryan’s luminous flippers. The pressure in my ears made my head feel as though it might implode, and it took a while to figure out how to pop my ears with ease. However, my first dive only made my second all the more exciting – and founded my new respect for toothpaste. Apparently, no diver should go to sea without a tube, as it does miracles for clearing lenses. A couple of squirts and my mask remained clear as crystal. Once we’d succeeded with the same underwater tasks – this time under 8m of water rather than 2m – I was free to float around, marvelling at the reef sharks, turtles and alien-looking sea treasures.
After filling out a few more forms to record our dives and new qualification, we headed back to the city on the minibus, half asleep, caked in salt and all the better for a truly special Dubai weekend. I’d texted my friend about that long-awaited diving trip before we even reached Masafi.
Species to watch out for
1. Black tip reef sharks
2. Whale sharks
4. Mory eels
5. Guitar fish
7. Arabian angel fish
PADI Scuba Diver Course, Dhs1,850. Al Boom 04 342 2993 Fujairah Rotana, from Dhs200 per night until October.