My eleven year old son has wanted to have a go at scuba diving for a few years now. So last week, whilst on holiday in Spain, I finally felt he was ready to give it a try and agreed to take him for a resort try dive booked through our accommodation. He was very excited to finally be going scuba diving with his Dad and truth be told, I was excited to be taking him! When I say ‘taking him’ I made a point of not mentioning I was an instructor, we were to be father and son novices in the dive centres hands, enjoying a holiday experience.
Having booked a shore dive, I thought that we would be going off the beach where we were staying; however in exchange for our 100 Euros, the lady gave us a scrap of paper with an address on the other side of town and a time to be there. Excited, we arrived early and headed in. The centre (no names) was affiliated to a major training organisation which I was pleased about and allayed some of my scepticism.
Our instructor (I think), after finishing his cigarette introduced himself, no questions, no paperwork, nada. The centre manager asked our foot sizes and issued our kit. My son’s shorty was way too big for him and I, much to my discomfort was given one way too short for me - ouch. Such is Resort diving...
After hanging around for a while waiting for a third person who didn't show up we were shown to a clapped out minibus (I'm being kind) and taken to the boat. Boat! We booked a beach dive so he could start kneeling down in the shallows and gain his confidence. In broken English it was explained that they don't do beach dives and we wouldn't be charged the extra for the boat dive. The cost wasn't my issue, it was his confidence. Anyhow I assured my son this was even better and I would look after him.
After a short boat ride, we arrived at a buoyed training site. I could see the bottom so knew it wasn't too deep. There were still no questions and still no paperwork. Could we swim? Did we have any pre-existing medical conditions? I guess we were about to find out. But then a briefing, pinch your nose and exhale into your mask - that was it! I had feared this may happen so had spent some time with my son beforehand explaining basic scuba safety so I was happy he knew what to do and wasn't going to get hurt. It was also becoming clear the surface cover wasn't going to be up to much either, rather the owner’s two pre-teen kids were to be left in charge of the boat, better that than nothing I suppose.
They kitted me up, inflated my BCD, got me standing up and pushed me in. First! No divemaster or instructor in the water (apart from me, but for all they knew I'd never been in the water before). Then the ‘divemaster’ (again I can’t be sure they were qualified) jumped in, my son next, then the ‘instructor’. I was told to buddy with the divemaster and the instructor would take my son.
Free decent – no using a line despite there being one. Needless to say my sons ears played up and we had to go up and down a few times which would have been much easier on a line. I could see in his saucer wide eyes he was concerned but I had hold of him despite the gesticulation from the ‘instructor’ to move away and we slowly descended. He quickly calmed down and we trimmed his buoyancy then the instructor signalled after a few minutes he was going a different way and we should stay with the divemaster. I held his hand (my son’s, not the divemaster's) and looked after him, protecting him from the divemaster being completely unaware of his fins in relation to our masks.
Thirty minutes later, 5.6m max depth but most around 4m we returned to the boat. We got back aboard ok, my son first, then me and by judgement I hope rather than luck the divemaster last. Of course my son was completely oblivious to my concerns. He had gone scuba diving and loved it, he wants to go again! Which made me think, am I just an over protective, over critical dive professional? Most instructors will have taught father/son buddy teams and know the problems of overbearing parents. No one was hurt, so should I just accept that resort dives like this happen every day all over the world with a fraction of the safety we require in the UK but are encouraging non-divers to join the sport by not being in anyway over the top with safety concerns.
The trouble is as a dive instructor I find it unacceptable not to have told us never to hold our breath, nor asked a single question about our health. If I hadn't been a diver I would probably still have enjoyed the experience, happy in my ignorance.
Would it have made me (us) to take up scuba diving? Yep. Mission accomplished? I suspect most people reading this, will like me, be quite critical of the lack of safety, but maybe by being so chilled out the sport will grow? Do you have experience of a resort dive similar to this? Do you think excessive safety may deter people from starting diving making it seem dangerous?