Family that dives together
Bottom time had ended. I was paddling about on the surface, awaiting my turn at boarding the platform projecting from the stern of the dive boat, when I felt a tug on one of my fins. As many times as I've had a fin pulled by a mischievous buddy, my heart still thumps hard for a few beats before I realize it's not some gigantic, hungry pelagic beginning to nibble on me. It wasn't an animal this time, but neither was it my buddy. It was the little girl who had been snorkeling behind the boat while the rest of us went diving. A big, impish grin filled the inside of her mask. I smiled back, and then the two of us played for a moment by positioning ourselves directly over a pair of divers still on the bottom and letting their scuba bubbles billow up into the faceplates of our masks. She was the kid, but I felt like one- and it felt great.
Freshness, enthusiasm, an open mind, giggly excitement- these are the wonderful qualities that kids bring to an activity. The girl who playfully spooked me was as excited to be in the water wearing mask and snorkel as anyone could possibly be. In a year or two, when she turns 12, she will be donning BC and tank and learning scuba skills. No doubt she will breeze through the training and embark on a long life of enjoying the undersea world.
It borders on the cliche, but kids like her are the future of recreational diving. Young people have the enthusiasm that lifts them over learning obstacles. They lack the preconceptions and biases that can suppress creativity and understanding. Whereas some older divers raised in different times may not fully appreciate the imperative to protect fragile reefs from adverse human impact, young people who are taught the theory and practice of environmental protection will follow those tenets throughout their lives. This next generation of instructors, photographers, shop owners, and commercial divers will figure out new, interesting, and resourceful ways to pursue responsible diving, and to conduct the business of diving.
Recreational scuba diving does a good job of accommodating youthful divers. A lot of attention is now being paid to snorkeling programs, including formal training and travel, as an effective means of introducing young people and their families to the pleasures of the marine realm. Kids age 12 to 15 can also earn junior Open Water certification, which allows them to pursue the same diving opportunities as adult. The only restriction is that on an open-water dive, a junior diver must be accompanies by an adult, certified diver. Certainly there are special physical and emotional issues that must be addressed when it comes to kids and diving. Not the least of these is thebuddy relationship when the buddies are parent and child, especially if the two undertake Open Water certification training together. The issue: Can an adult stop being a benevolent dictator- a parent- and instead be a co-equal buddy when diving with a young son or daughter.
The long-term health of the sport depends on maintaining better yet, enlarging a pipeline for bringing new people into the sport. That pipeline should be delivering people of all ages including youth. Encourage young people you know to take a look at scuba diving, or if they are reluctant, snorkeling. Snorkeling is a great way for someone to overcome long-held fears such as putting their face in the water.
It's important to be objective with newcomers. Kids have active imaginations, so avoid the fish tales about the great whites you've fed with your bare hands. Take them to the dive shop you frequent and introduce them to the owner and the instructors. Young people often are shy and don't want to appear ignorant, so they may hesitate to ask all the questions on their minds. Help them out. Make sure that when they leave the dive ship they have the information about certification requirements, costs, class times, pool sessions, the gear they will need, and most important, the great opportunities that await them in diving.
Parents who dive are obviously a strong influence. The young girl I met was on vacation with her scuba-diving parents. While she snorkeled and her parents dove, her 12 year old sister was performing her Open Water certification dives with one of the boat's instructors. No signs here of what some call "the insane years"- the testing of authority and discipline that many kids in their pre- and early teens go through. This was recreational diving's poster family. Imagine the fabulous adventures this family of four will enjoy in the years ahead. That's an image each of us can appreciate and aspire to, if not for ourselves, then for those who have yet to peel beneath the surface.
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