Living in the little town of Southend on Sea, situated on the shingle shoreline of the Thames Estuary, I was interested to find out, on my return to the UK a while ago, a little more about scuba diving in our country. I discovered in the adjacent town of Rochford, Dive Odyssea, thriving and surviving as a UK scuba diving business. It had been difficult to get back under the water again, since learning to dive way back in 2007, so made contact with the quietly enthusiastic owner Debbie, ducked into our local swimming pool for some refresher sessions with Rob, one of the Instructors and decided that maybe there was a little more to scuba diving in the UK.
What does Scuba Diving in the UK offer that is different to other countries?
I’ve been to many places around the world but in the UK, the setup can be a little different. It is one of the more difficult environments to scuba dive in, due to the cold and more challenging boat procedures. To dive in the UK first, then to go to a warm water country can seem a bit of a luxury. The other way round can prove a bit tough.
Scallop diving is good fun in Weymouth. You have to be quite quick and coordinate with your buddy, staying together, as you both look for different shells and putting air into your bag, to send it up to the surface, can be quite interesting when you haven’t done it before.
Dive clubs are probably a better way to go diving in the UK, than independently turning up to get a space on a boat – some skippers won’t take individuals, only clubs and others, you could go on the boat but they wouldn’t be looking at your dive log or be providing you with a guide. Normally on the boat we use in Weymouth, the Skipper tells us the sea conditions, asks us what we want and we sort it out from there!
What is the importance of good Customer Care?
Customer care is important because you need to put someone at their ease. It’s not just about being a good instructor, you also need to be able to pick up on how a person feels. You can be taught to academically teach someone or instruct them in the pool, but you can’t be taught how a person feels. That is something you learn to pick up, after a while.
Diving is a wonderful thing and you find patterns play out over the years with different kinds of customers, but every now and then, something will come up that you haven’t seen before, so you need to keep your guard up and keep your eye on people.
Within a club environment, we try to put people at their ease. Although their are situations where people are a little bit more worried about whether or not they are capable.
Does Dive Odyssea offer winter diving ?
In winter we do more classroom based courses. PADI has a specialty of the month and in December/January we did a nitrox course. We do club outings-like a trip to a decompression chamber, dry diving to 40 metres and we socialise a lot. Pool sessions are popular in the winter and it helps people keep control of their air consumption, when not out and about scuba diving. It can be very easy to talk yourself out of diving.
Tell me what it was like when you learnt to dive?
I spent 6 months learning to dive before going out on an open water one, this is the way it was done at the time. My first sea dive was in Brighton. I didn’t know the procedures, I was as sick as a dog, descending underwater to about 15 metres. You could only see little pebbles, that was it. At the end I wondered, ‘why have I put myself through this. Everyone is raving about UK conditions, there must be something else.’ I went out again two weeks later, did a drift dive above a reef and it was like flying underwater – the visibility was 15-20 metres. I now love the UK for shipwreck diving, lots of diversity but I enjoy the Maldives as it is a Robinson Crusoe paradise, with all the big stuff like mantas and whale sharks. Our Phillipines trip this year comes from when I dived previously in Indonesia, where I kept getting out of the water asking, “what was that,” even with over 20 years experience.
What is your perception of scuba diving?
Scuba diving is about exposing yourself to certain things to learn. Because you are relying on the person with you to teach you, look after you or show you around. Its important, even if I’m going diving with you – in effect you are my life line as well. I’ve taught many people and you find out all their vulnerabilities and because they trust you with their life, they trust you with other things.When you do rescue courses they teach you to stop-think-breathe-act.
On my first deep dive, I can remember going down this line and breathing heavily, I had to consciously calm myself down-reminding myself that I had a buddy with me, other divers were around me and that I could do this.
I think they all have their good points, I’m BSAC trained as well as PADI – I wanted to travel and PADI was the one that was better for that. I think it comes down to the Instructor, not so much the organisation they have trained under. In a UK centre, a person normally learns to dive, then you may never see them again, or it may be that someone stays with you for a long time. Here at Dive Odyssea we do an orientation with a person before they start any courses, so we can work out exactly what they are looking for. We have a broad range of instructors with different styles and backgrounds so can cater for different individuals.
Are you seeing a change in the age group learning to dive?
Because people know that they will get the time from you, sometimes we will appeal to older people learning, as someone will perceive we can give them more time, than doing it within a weeks holiday. From a UK point of view, people dive here between the ages of about 20 – 55. Outside of that bracket we are getting a lot of youngsters coming with their parents. Last year we took some kids to the Red Sea and to see the expression on their faces under water, is something you never get bored with.
What kind of oversea and UK experiences does Dive Odyssea offer?
Countries like Egypt: Sharm El Sheikh or Hurghada. Scuba diving in the Red Sea is always popular with UK divers. Tobago in the Caribbean, is on the list this year and Anilao in the Phillipines is also on the agenda. We will be diving in both Swanage and Weymouth – drift and wreck diving in May and June. In July we will be popping down to Cornwall to dive the Gulf stream: wrecks and reefs this time, with possible sightings of basking sharks and the possibility of additional shore dives. The Farne Islands (diving with grey seals), Wales and Eastbourne coastline may also be available.
What do you think is the most important thing, to think about in scuba diving?
Safety – “There is always another day to go diving!”
If you want to find out more about scuba diving in the UK – pop along to the Dive Odyssea website or give the shop a call on 01702 542759