by Georgina Crawshaw
Scuba diving is enjoying a bit of a renaissance among the more mature generations, and rightly so. Far from being the dangerous sport it’s had bad press for in the past (really there are very few risks that don’t affect younger participants) its delights can be enjoyed by all. Indeed, Jacques Cousteau, the godfather of underwater exploration, apparently dived right up to his death at age 87.
We got the lowdown on diving for the over 50s from Natalie Alderton, owner of Scuba Junction dive school on Koh Tao, Thailand – the place I trained and first fell in love with diving.
Forget outer space - ocean waters cover over 70% of the world’s surface, and there really is a whole other world under there to explore! Natalie has been diving for over a decade and an instructor for eight years – but she says the excitement of heading beneath the surface never wears off.
“There’s no way of describing it apart from total escapism – the feeling of weightlessness, seeing another planet alive with marine life of all colours, shapes and sizes and best of all - total silence apart from the magical sound of the bubbles.”
She continues: “Just looking at the ocean from the shore is impressive, but when you see what is underwater – it truly is breathtaking.”
PADI, the world’s largest diver training organisation, offer courses in the UK and at dive centres all over the world – many in popular holiday resorts. Prerequisites are few – you need to be in a good state of health no matter what your age (so don’t let a little stiffness in the old joints stop you!) and everyone has to fill out a medical questionnaire which may result in a referral to a doctor for assessment.
“At Scuba Junction we ask anyone who is 45 or older to take a medical – just to make sure. If you are medically sound there shouldn’t be a problem – any sport is dangerous if you aren’t healthy!” Says Natalie.
You also need to demonstrate you can swim 200 metres and tread water for 10 minutes.
An internationally recognised PADI Open Water qualification usually takes 3-4 days. The cost of this (and future dives) really depends on where you are but the PADI website says initial training will set you back about the same as a full day of surfing lessons or three hours of private golf lessons.
The course itself consists of:
“People can be nervous,” says Natalie. “But we can all overcome more than we think! If people are struggling we spend time with them on the surface explaining the theory and then we get them to just relax and breathe in 1 metre depths. That’s the most important skill to begin with! Everything else is easy – just move around and breathe!”
According to Natalie, diving will change where you go on holiday forever! “Wherever there is water you can dive...Oz in particular is amazing – even snorkelling you can see everything from tiny crabs and sea slugs to huge hump back whales and dolphins.”
“Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are all worth visiting. And of course Thailand! But everywhere has something different to offer that will wow you underwater!” In fact, despite being cold, even the UK seas are renowned for their shipwrecks.
The most important thing is to enjoy diving. Remember - age is just a number. So forget growing old gracefully – get down with the kids and start growing old a little dangerously!