As a scuba diver your friends and family consider you unbelievably brave and questionably sane. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me about sharks I could afford a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. Certainly scuba diving involves some inherent risks, and requires diligence to safety practices. Sadly though a few false fears keep many people away from trying this amazing sport. I understand the natural concerns and I want to allay some of these false fears about scuba diving.
Here are the top 5 false fears I have encountered:
#1 False Fear-Marine Wildlife Attacks
Didn’t you ever see Jaws? Aren’t you afraid of sharks (eels, stingrays, etc)?
It is true that many underwater critters can be dangerous if handled or harassed. All outdoor sports require a level of informed precautions. Hikers and campers in Yellowstone avoid fresh food and food waste that attracts bears. Divers know that chum (bait fish) in the water will attract sharks. When I hike in the North woods, I consider it a rare treat to spot wildlife. Wildlife, whether in the woods or underwater fear humans and consistently skitter away. Yes I have seen sharks, yes I consider it a treat to see them. I keep a very respectful distance. Actually, I think it is the sharks that determines that distance.
Several years ago the wildlife expert Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray. This was truly a freak accident and honestly Irwin, known for “wrestling” dangerous wildlife, often disregarded common sense precautions. Stingrays, beautiful and graceful creatures never attack unless severely provoked.
Naturalists know this Chief Seattle quote that also aptly applies to scuba diving.
Many underwater animals use toxins and barbs for protection. All reef life is incredibly fragile. Divers know never to touch. Some dive regions actually prohibit divers wearing gloves in order to discourage the temptation to “touch”.
#2 False Fear-Claustrophobia
The second most common of the false fears about scuba diving refers to claustrophobia. People fear the sense of all that water pushing down on them. I understand this misconception, after all certification classes teach the effects of the water pressure at varying depths. In reality, diving gives you a sense of weightlessness. As a matter of fact the sport plays a significant role in veteran rehab therapies. Given proper training and gear that fits well, scuba diving is wonderfully relaxing.
Although purchasing your equipment adds up, I cannot overemphasis the importance of well-fitting gear. Neoprene wetsuits feel tight and awkward when dry, but as soon as you dip into the water they are like sleek seal skin.
#3 False Fear-Swimming
Concerns around swimming ability, while valid, are also false fears about scuba diving. Yes you do need to swim a short distance for the certification test. However this swim can be done with mask, fins and any stroke you prefer. It certainly does not require a competitive swimmer’s ability. While underwater, the “swimming” involves kicking with fins, no arm movements and no worries about breathing because of the regulator with fresh air.
#4 False Fear-Physical fitness
People worry about their level of physical fitness but are often embarrassed to voice it. If you suffer with a chronic illness you should check in with your physician about diving. Heart disease, respiratory issues and diabetes require special considerations but may not be deal breakers. The more common fear is about weight. As with any physical activity, it is easier and more comfortable if you are not dealing with extra weight. But this should not keep you from diving. This takes us back to well-fitting equipment. I have encountered divers of every shape, size, age and gender. Underwater all that matters is your diving awareness and skill not your shape or size.
#5 False Fear-I Hated Snorkeling
Believe it or not, I find scuba diving far easier than snorkeling. Snorkeling requires a degree of coordination that I don’t seem to possess. I am forever dipping too deep and filling my snorkel and lungs with seawater. I have never mastered the blowing out water trick. When diving, breathing is far more natural and secure feeling. Snorkeling can reinforce false fears about scuba diving.
Rocking and floating on the surface will always be the worst spot for nausea. Just a few feet below the surface the water calms down. In addition, snorkeling prohibits you from really seeing the teeming life up close. So many critters crawl and hide on the ocean floor that you cannot see from the surface. Please don’t let a disconcerting snorkeling experience keep you from scuba diving.
One last piece of advice:
If you took that “resort/cruise
course” years ago but never felt comfortable, there is a reason why. Those courses are typically not thorough or presented well enough to create a comfort level. Take a full PADI course at your local dive shop. Using your local shop will give you support people. Often these shops will have group dive trips that are a great way to improve your comfort level and skills. If you really want to try scuba diving, commit to working past these false fears about scuba diving. Commit to the expenditure of time and money up front for proper training and equipment. If you make the commitment, I promise you will discover a life-changing and lifelong passion.