Exclusive Guest Article from John Bantin: Persia Learns To Dive

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My youngest daughter, Persia, first expressed an interest in learning to dive while we were on holiday at Taba in Egypt. She was then only nine-years-old. Notwithstanding that, my I entrusted old friend Mohammed Ali, the manager of the AquaSport dive centre, with looking after the well being of our little girl. He is a highly intelligent and sophisticated man and the conditions in the sea at Taba are extremely benign.

They went for a try-dive together on the shallow house reef. I followed at a discreet distance, watching more out of curiosity than anything else. She was never aware that I was there. Although all the equipment seemed much too big for her, she seemed to manage OK and returned full of enthusiasm for the underwater world. She seemed to be able to remember every creature she had seen. We had found her a wetsuit that was a perfect fit for her slim child’s build so she didn’t suffer getting chilled.

“That was fun. I saw an angelfish, an eel and lots of orange fish. I even saw a puffer fish,” she boasted.

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A couple of years later, we found ourselves on holiday in Grenada at the True Blue Bay resort where Aquanauts of Grenada has its headquarters. We booked Persia on to a PADI junior open-water diver course while we grown-ups went off diving. She sat through the PADI videos and studied the manual.

“I couldn’t understand it properly. It was all in American,” the eleven-year-old complained later, but she stuck it out in front of the video monitor in a rather tropically warm classroom, resolutely determined to do what was required of her.

One way or another she managed to scramble through the theory. It was the same with the pool work. I took some photographs of her learning and acted as an informed observer. She loved it.

“It was easy-peasy! I thought Reece was very clear. He didn’t rush me. He would ask me if I was comfortable doing each skill and if I wanted to, I had time to try again.”

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Persia is very at home in the water and I guess Reece had taught a lot of people with greater problems than she had. However, she had taken on board the fact that it was Reece who was teaching her and was determined to keep her parents at a distance.

When we set off in the boat for her first sea dive she would not let us near her, constantly telling us that she had to set up her gear all by herself without any help. This was admirable and by now she certainly knew how to do it. Neither did she exhibit any fear of jumping into the water from the boat while fully loaded with scuba kit. However, she did look a little serious if not nervous on the journey out to the dive site. My wife and I are not anxious types and let her get on with it.

The first dive was a shallow dive of around only 6m deep and I took photographs of her and Reece as they swam around. The water was warm and clear. She enjoyed an hour underwater and cleared her mask and regulator when she was asked to and seemed to be very competent.

While she was busy looking at things and exploring, she looked to be completely natural but as soon as she was required to do a task she became tense and focussed on the job in hand to the exclusion of everything and everyone else, but that is how it is when you first learn anything.

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I photographed her climbing back on board the boat and her ready smile was evidence of her feeling of achievement. I thought she looked cold but triumphant that she had done a real dive.

Persia then went on several more dives. Nurse sharks can often be found lying hidden among the coral structures during daylight hours and Reece was concentrating on finding one for his latest trainee to see.

“We saw one under a rock. Reece tried to get me to touch its tail but I was too scared to,” she explained gleefully.

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One year later, Persia went with me to Camel Dive Club in Na’ama Bay, in Egypt’s Sinai. Camel is a Diver Magazine’s Dive Centre of the Year. After a relaxed first day in the superb scuba training pool at the Camel Hotel, brushing on her scuba skills, we went together day-boat diving under the watchful eye of a Camel instructor and added a further ten sea dives to her logbook.

During these dives at the reefs in the Tiran Straits and at Ras Mohammed, she had close encounters with numerous large hawksbill turtles, schooling batfish, Napolean wrasse, moray eels, triggerfish, blue-spotted rays, an electric ray, colourful nudibrachs, puffer fish, angel fish and there was no end to the number of anemone fish, but the masses of half-and-half chromis fish proved to be her favourites.

The water was a lot cooler than in the Caribbean and we had to persuade her to wear and extra layer of neoprene in the form of a shortie suit over her 3mm one-piece but everyone was patient and kindly so that the junior diver and her instructor formed an almost unbreakable bond.

I was pleased to see that Persia had a perfect understanding of buoyancy control, better than most adults, and she had really got the measure of her equipment. Not only that but she was given a diving computer, which she immediately demonstrated that she understood. She made incredibly slow and controlled ascents over the last few metres, never failing to observe a three-minute safety stop at 5m and never straying below 18m, the depth-limit for a Junior Open Water Diver.

Overall, she had a great time at Camel and forever spoke fondly of the experience for months afterwards. The twelve-year-old was now a proper scuba diver. It’s great to share an activity like this with your children.

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Happy Diving – John Bantin