Santa Pola Scuba Diving

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a debate over the conflict between the safety aspects of learning to scuba dive, and the daunting prospect of a hard core training schedule designed to ensure my safety in most, if not all diving environments. My name is Gary Fleet and I am one of the two owners/managers of Dive Academy Santa Pola, a PADI 5 Star IDC Scuba Diving Centre based in Santa Pola, Alicante on Spain’s Costa Blanca. The other above mentioned person started as a customer, then became a very good client, and has since moved in to the friendship zone due to many a night of debauchery in either his casa or mine. It was during one of these fiestas that we got on to the subject. John, who I respect immensely as a diver, started by taking an S.S.I (Scuba Schools International) Scuba Diving licence which is very similar to the PADI Open Water Scuba Diver Licence that almost everyone around the globe recognises. But due to the fact that John lives in the UK, and has become somewhat of a diving enthusiast in the last few years, he decided to join the British Sub Aqua Club or BSAC for short. He very quickly realised that the level training required within the BSAC system, to become a diver of any real standing was above and beyond the levels he had encountered in any other training organisation that he knew of. But John being John, was not only unintimidated, he was more than up for the challenge. About a year prior to our debate, we had enjoyed a beer in the sun at one of Marina Miramar’s harbour side restaurants, where we touched on the subject only to agree that the diving climate in the UK was somewhat different to the climate here in Spain, and therefore the BSAC training seemed to reflect that. We were both happy enough with this summary and we moved on to discuss more important things like how many languages could we order beer in.

Fast forward a year and John and I were less able to agree on the same issue. John has developed within his diving club and has a great deal more experience in the colder climate diving of the UK. I know only too well what he is up against as I took the plunge into Stoney Cove quarry myself when I visited him in December during a family visit to the UK. Digging a 4X4 out of the snow on the morning of a dive was a new experience for me. That said, I enjoyed my dive and as a PADI Staff Instructor, I personally had no issues but I can see how novice divers might find themselves in a bit of a pickle in there. And despite the fact that it was bloody freezing, I was told the conditions on the day I dived were extraordinarily good. The issue of whether or not a tougher training regime is recommended in those kinds of climate was never an issue. I actually agree that it would be beneficial to have more training in whatever climate you dive in. But my point is that it is not fully necessary if you are going to be diving in warmer climates where it is a matter of fact, that diving is easier. It is easier for a few reasons. The first is that due to not having to battle the body’s inability to withstand cold water for extended periods of time, less thermal protection is required and therefore you have more freedom to move and less weight to carry. The second is that, as a general rule, the visibility is much better and therefore there is less chance of buddy separation underwater. I wholeheartedly advocate further training and experience, in fact, the whole PADI philosophy is built on that. To encourage further training and education. However, I don’t feel it is necessary, or beneficial to the diving industry to enforce a military style training schedule in order for the general public to enjoy scuba diving. It takes a select few to enjoy that kind of training. But as I said, it’s not that I disagree with that level of training, it’s more that it doesn’t work with a heavily tourist influenced business model, such as mine.

The days of Jacque Cousteau’s adventures into the deep have long gone. In those days, little was known about the effects of water pressure on our bodies and people became seriously ill if not worse. At this time, diving gained a poor reputation in respect to divers’ safety. But through extensive research and ongoing medical advances, we now have a much better idea of our limitations. We not only teach students how to stay within their limits, we also encourage conservativism and staying well within established safe diving time and depth limits by adding a good margin for error. However, there has to be a trade-off between how much training is necessary, and how long it takes before one can enjoy the fruits of their labours. When you learn to drive a car, you are let loose on the roads with a full driving licence with very limited experience. You have been trained to a point where an instructor is able to justify passing you knowing full well you will only become a safe driver with more time and experience on the road. This is the philosophy I adopt with my Scuba Diver training. As an instructor, do I feel comfortable to safely pass you on the basis of what I have witnessed during your course? In the past, there have been times where I have had to insist on further training or further experience dives with a qualified PADI Instructor. But in order for further experience to be possible, it is mandatory that people get in the water and gain that experience. Furthermore, it is not unreasonable that at some stage the onus of responsibility must be passed to the diver to ensure their own safety, and the safety of others according to what they have been taught.

At first, it seemed there were two schools of thought. One in favour of more vigorous training and one that encourages simple courses to gain a bigger audience. In actual fact, both sides agree on the importance of further education and training, we just differ in our methods of how it is delivered. The PADI Open Water Diver Course can be done in as little as 3 days but can certainly be delivered over 4 to 5 days for a more relaxed pace. The BSAC Ocean Diver Course is around 5 days but once again there is the possibility to extend this as above. It can be argued that these minor differences in these basic diving licences are born of local environmental factors and each has its place. There is one thing I know for sure, if I lived in the UK I would be more than happy to extend my training beyond the standards set out by PADI or BSAC, but if I am on holiday for one week with my family, 3 days away from them is already too much.

Gary Fleet

Dive Academy Santa Pola

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