Why Scuba Diving is the best family sport for a round the world adventure.
By Anne Helmers
I’ve been a scuba diver since I was 18. I love the water. As soon as I saw a SCUBA course listed on my college course list I registered and I was hooked. Then I married a Kentucky boy and moved to a land-locked state. We had kids and the opportunities to dive came less and less. As the kids started to get older we snorkeled everywhere we could go and I always knew I would eventually get them all to dive.
When our Round the World adventure actually became a reality and we started to make plans, one of the first actions we took was to get everyone certified to dive. My son was 10 and my daughter was 14. They could both do PADI Junior Open Water Diver certification, and my husband would do Open Water. I would do a re-certification since it had been a while since I had been diving. Spending a few weeks in the pool of our instructor, a local rescue diver, got us really excited. The kids were naturals and even though completing open water certification in a cold gloomy quarry wasn’t particularly fun, it got us thinking about the possibilities in our near future. The giant map that hung in the living room began to be filled with bucket list sites and it had a few places that looked promising for eager divers. Diving was becoming part of the plan.
It was several months into the trip before we put our diving skills to the test. First, we drove across the USA stopping to raft the Colorado River for a week. We sold our car in LA, flew to Guatemala and spent a month learning Spanish. There we enjoyed meeting the people and taking in the sites. We then went to Peru where we spent a few weeks in the Amazon Rainforest and climbed Machu Picchu. These were unbelievable experiences.
We arrived in Fiji in October of 2012. It was everything you imagine Fiji would be. We took a small plane to the Yasawa’s – a chain of islands – to a dive resort called Blue Lagoon. We would have plenty of opportunity to dive here. You can snorkel right off the beach onto the most amazing soft coral I have ever seen. Octopus, sea snakes, clown fish and giant clams are everywhere. I would just stare at one spot and it looked like the most beautiful fish tank I had ever seen, There were more small tropical fish than I could name. The colors were unbelievable. I couldn’t imagine that the diving would be any better. It was. The kids loved it. Having a dive guide is great with kids because it is hard to relax and enjoy the dive when you are worried about your children. The guide took the kids and David and I buddied up. We followed behind so we could watch them in front but still take in all that is around. This strategy worked.
We had three weeks in New Zealand before we got to the diving mecca of Australia. Our first dive down under was at Lady Elliot Island and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Giant sea turtles came so close you could touch them, manta rays circled and huge beautiful fish and coral filled the water. Again, a dive master led the kids and we were able to watch the kids ahead of us.
Our next dives were from Mission Beach. A rainy day dive was fascinating. We loved seeing the rain drops on the surface of the ocean from underneath the water. Sharks, rays, and fish galore, The Great Barrier Reef does not disappoint.
With several dives under our belt, we took the plunge and decided to do a live- aboard dive trip from Cairns. This promised to take us to a new level of dive experience but diving was a big reason why we had come to Australia. We weren’t sure the kids would keep up with the demands of 11 dives in 3 days. We weren’t sure we could. It would include two night dives and most of the trip would require self-navigation. It was a lot to take in and we were moving a bit outside our comfort zone. The boat, run by Pro-Dive, was excellent, with a large well-trained crew and an excellent itinerary. We were thoroughly briefed before each dive and our equipment was always ready to go. The kids loved it.
The first self-navigated dive gave David and I an opportunity to work on communication skills and involved some new hand signals not taught in the PADI dive manual. (Picture an underwater marital disagreement, lots of directional finger pointing and eventually the middle finger). This first trip took a little more time to get started as the kids were arguing about going too deep, staying together, touching each other etc. In other words it was a normal family experience. And we shared some growing pains.
Once we worked out a system we became like a well-oiled machine. We became quite adept at self-guiding our way around the Great Barrier Reef – even at night! We each took a role, we communicated effectively under water and had many amazing dives. It became something our family was really good at and brought us closer. We had some crazy close encounters with morays eels, sharks, and bumphead parrot fish. It was everything I had ever dreamed of and more.
We went on to dive in Bali, Indonesia. Diving is a little bit different in every place you go. In Bali, the local women carry your tanks down to the shore on their heads. There is an amazing wreck dive (the USAT Liberty) off Amed that was shallow enough for the kids to experience. At the site everything we saw seemed to appear in techni-color and marine life was abundant. Similarly, In Thailand, off of Kao Lak where the mantas play, there was a moment when I was looking up towards the surface with the sunlight penetrating to the coral that I could see my family diving around me. I believe I was as happy right then as I have ever been. Like the transcendent place that can be reached through meditation and is described as “bliss” or “at peace” – I found it then and there.
Because the kids are Jr. Open Water Divers they were limited to a depth of 12 meters or 40 feet. As we were all diving together, David and I generally followed the same restrictions. That was okay. Shallower dives prevented us from having to really worry about decompression problems. Some of the best diving in the world is in less than 12 meters of water. For beginners shallower diving keeps you safe and is a good way to make sure everyone really knows what they are doing. At this point, I’d say my kids are good divers. After 25 dives they are pretty comfortable in open water and have developed the skill and passion to become excellent life-long divers.
If you are a family contemplating long-term travel go get certified. It will add a dimension to your travels that you will find deeply rewarding. There are amazing dive locations all over the world and you will be thankful if you enable yourself to experience them by completing dive certification.
* Editors Note: Diving is an incredible adventure. As this family saw – every dive site is unique and even multiple dives at the same site can be unique. There is a lot of controversy about touching of marine corals and marine wildlife. Many don’t see a problem as long as it isn’t causing damage or hurting the animal. For me though thats a little too open to interpretation and so I like to encourage a hands off attitude to diving. Hang back, observe and see if the animal you are watching sticks around for that little bit longer.
Great story guys. Thanks for contributing. I hope that you have many happy dives together in the future. At 3 my son is obviously way too small to go diving, but I’m excited about this possibility in the years to come. He has already earmarked the animals he wants to see underwater one day! Have you dived anywhere with your family? Where have you found to be the best family diving spots? Let me know in the comments below – I’ll be making a list … :-)