SCUBA Diving: A Lifestyle for the 21st Century

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in Fitness, Sweden, May 1999

Photo of the author, above, by Steve Gerard, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Swimming with dolphins. Meandering awe-struck through giant kelp forests. Basking in crystal clear, warm, blue waters. Observing manta rays fly and hover like giant UFOs. Playing with an octopus, an otter, or an eel. Exploring deep, dark caves. Searching for shipwrecks and sunken treasure. Watching sharks hunt their prey. Relaxing gently into a silent but vibrant otherworld. This is the world of scuba diving.

Just sixty years ago, the invention of scuba equipment brought to humanity the opportunity to travel in and experience our planet's last great unexplored dimension. In fact, with 72% of the earth's surface covered with water, this invention opened up the majority of the world to today’s outdoor athlete. But of course, becoming a diver does far more than just open up additional places in which to explore and adventure.

The techniques of scuba diving are not as easily learned, remembered, and reapplied as, for example, learning to ride a bicycle. However, they are a group of skills that one can use all over the world in a wide variety of settings. This adds such a wonderful panorama of excitement, variety, and enlightenment to one's life that diving becomes not just a hobby, but a lifetime lifestyle.

Why scuba dive? Here are three of the innumerable good reasons:

First, it's a little known fact that fully 90% of the world's different living things live in the water. So if you want to learn more about the ecosystem in which we live and increase your repertoire of flora and fauna that you can name on sight, you'd better get in the water. Secondly, astronaut careers notwithstanding, the undersea world is truly the final frontier for us earth-bound people, so diving is our last real opportunity to go "where no one has gone before." And finally, diving adds a whole new dimension to your vacation-planning. Why not skip the crowds at major tourist cities and head for some quiet waterfront locale instead? You'll have a blast, see incredible and unpeopled sites, and bring back photos of your family surrounded by sea. Plus you'll be so awe-struck by what you see that you'll actually want to pose for pictures!

So how does one learn to scuba dive? You have two goals in this department: One is to "get certified" and the other is to GET EXPERIENCE. Certification by an agency like PADI, NAUI, or CMAS allows you to rent scuba tanks and equipment and get your air tanks filled anywhere around the world. Basic certification courses are run through dive shops and at tourist-type diving sites around the globe. The quick and easy courses usually involve two evenings of on-land instruction, two evenings of in-pool, hands-on instruction, one day in open water for more hands-on work, then a final day in open water for "the check-out dive." If you pass the written tests and can perform the necessary exercises designed to show that you have control of your equipment and are reasonably comfortable in the water, you receive your certification. Then you are turned loose on the world to dive however and wherever you please.

One important tip: before embarking on this endeavour, be sure that you can, and do, make a long-range commitment to developing your skills, getting more experienced in a wide variety of situations, and always using good judgement. Mother Nature doesn't like Jokers, after all, especially underwater. And seriously consider enrolling in a longer and more "difficult" certification course in the first place. Also, return to your dive school for more advanced courses over the years. Programs may take from one to fifteen weeks, but the longer classes are worth it for the extra measure of safety, control, and preparedness that they instill in their dive students. You don’t become a safe, competent diver in a few days, let alone become an aquatic Zen master overnight. Invest the time in your ongoing training and it will pay big dividends in the quality and safety of your diving experiences.

As you go through your training and your lifetime career as a diver, you will learn many wondrous insights about the underwater world, as well as life in general.

For starters, central to the scuba experience is air (it's implied in the name, after all). What all divers want is maximum bottom time, generally achieved through more efficient usage of a finite amount of air.

We breathe less on scuba by exerting less and stressing less, by being more calm and centered. This is the ancient principle of "waste not, want not" in action here. Don't waste a breath, a heartbeat, a calorie, or a drop of water, and you won't be wanting them. Simply put, if we're not efficient divers, our dives will be short and less productive. This is the principle of Maximal Return for Minimal Investment. It applies equally in water and on land.

This diving efficiency is developed with mindfulness of our body's movement and functions. Breath can be controlled and fluidity of motion can be achieved. This in-water awareness training leads to graceful movement, extending our bottom time and empowering us to look and act less like invaders of the marine world when we're enjoying it. Marine creatures don't fight gravity like we do on land: they move three-dimensionally. And when we dive, we're weightless as well for a time. But this doesn't have to end when we head home and again bear the weight of the world on our shoulders. It's a fact that toddlers shrink an inch or more when they start to walk; that's gravity in action, but awareness of this can lead to a physiological response. So think of this life lesson literally and metaphorically: let diving teach you postural awareness, graceful movement, and how to evade as much as possible the deleterious effects of gravity.

One last note: Do not let your fitness level, age, or any other perceived "barrier" stop you from trying out scuba diving! One need not be a great swimmer or athlete to become a competent and enthralled diver. In fact, as diving pioneer Lloyd Austin put it, "comparing diving to swimming is liking comparing a stroll through an art museum to running a marathon." Words to live by and, hopefully, words to inspire. Best of luck!