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Here is how to get started diving this spring

“We offer the program twice a day, seven days a week for our entire season. So when someone is not sure if diving is for them I just tell them to give me four hours of their time and we will give them an experience they will not soon forget.” So says Rich Henning, training centre manager at Divers Den in Tobermory, Ontario.  

Henning is a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) IDC Staff Instructor who has been working in the Canadian Dive industry for the last 19 years. So, when we wanted to speak to someone for an introduction to the sport of SCUBA, we didn’t have to look very far.

“Diving took me from my home just east of Toronto to our nation's capital when I got my first roll in the industry, filling tanks and sizing clients into rental equipment,” Henning says. “It's also where I learned to be an instructor and began teaching others to dive. During this time I met many people who have become lifelong friends. I also met the girl who became my wife when she was a student on the first Advanced Open Water Course that I taught.”

Since then, diving has been a major part of Henning's family life. He and his wife found out that we were going to be parents on the drive to a dive trip in Tobermory. His family, including his two children, have travelled far and wide to teach and dive in some amazing places, meeting many incredible people along the way.

Henning’s interest in diving was first piqued as a child watching nature shows and wondering what was under the surface of the water.

In 1993, he tried diving for the first time during a family trip to Mexico. It was in the resort pool, but it was a start. And from there it was off to the ocean.

“To this day I don’t know how we did it but we managed to convince my mom that let a perfect stranger take all three of her sons into the ocean for an open water dive, where we got to tour a shipwreck and see all kinds of fish,” Henning says. “It was even more amazing in person than they were on the old TV set at home.  When I was in college, the local dive shop ran an advertisement in the school day planner. I called them and signed up for a course and received my PADI Open Water Certification in August of 2001.”

These days, Henning says people don’t usually need much convincing when it comes to diving. The internet and social media have fuelled the FOMO and most people are raring to get in the water when they make their way up to Tobermory to check in with the Divers Den.

“Mostly I just need to point them in the direction of how to get started, which is great for me because it leads to me getting to tell some of my stories and just talk about diving,” he says. “We are lucky at Divers Den in Tobermory because we can run PADI Discover SCUBA Diving. Students are provided the opportunity to go for a dive with an instructor and experience the thrill of breathing underwater and see some of the shipwrecks at Fathom Five National Marine Park.”

Henning started his training in Peterborough, Ontario, and finished with a dive operator doing check-out dives in the Thousand Islands Region of the St Lawrence River.

Diving

 

“This is one of the great things about the PADI Training System. It has been designed so that you can move from one place to another and continue your training,” he says. “All you need to do is show the new instructor your referral paperwork and away you go diving somewhere new.”

His love of diving has never wavered.

“There are so many things that I love about diving that it is hard to narrow down to a few points that you can fit into an article,” Henning says. “First and foremost, I would say it’s the people. No matter where I go, as soon as you set foot in a dive shop you will meet someone to share stories with who also has a love for the sport and the underwater world. As I mentioned before, I even met my wife through diving. The feeling of calm that you get when you are floating weightlessly underwater and all you can hear is the sound of your breathing. It's something you can't put into words. It's one of the things in life that you have to experience to truly understand."

Is it hard to learn?

For those interested in trying the sport, Henning says it isn’t hard to learn.

“Most of it you already know how to do, breath in, breath out and repeat as necessary. Joking aside, I have found that the hardest thing for most people to learn is to not hold their breath and to trust the equipment. I think this comes from a lifetime of being told that you can't breathe underwater,” he says. “The course skills are broken down into pieces that are easy to master and build on each other, ensuring that you keep having success and building your confidence. All of the skills that you need to learn are introduced to you in confined water like a pool or someplace with pool-like conditions so that you can master the skills in a comfortable place.”

Do you need to be super fit?

There isn’t any strict fitness requirement aside from some who might need to get medical clearance from a doctor. And, of course, a swim test is used to determine the student's comfort in the water and swimming ability, which might consist of 10 minutes of treading water or floating and a 200-metre swim.

First steps

The first steps to learning to dive are simple. The first thing you need to do is walk into your local dive shop or pick a destination where you would like to learn to dive.

“At Divers Den, we teach students from across the country and around the world,” Henning says. “All of whom have decided that they would like to learn to dive in an area where they will be able to see shipwrecks on every dive. Our students get to experience the thrill and history of shipwreck diving on their first day.”

Once participants have decided where they would like to learn and register for a course, they will receive a web link to PADI’s online training platform to complete the knowledge development at their own pace.

“Then it's off to meet your instructor where you have a short classroom session and it's off to the water!” Henning says. 

What about gear?

Investing in gear depends on what they want to do with their diving. Whether it is something to do on a vacation on a Caribbean vacation, or if they want to explore local waterways. If it’s something closer to home, investing in a good wetsuit is key.

Henning also suggests moving towards the purchase of a regulator or Buoyancy Compensator (BCD).

“But if you are the person who wants to dive in the warm water near the equator, where there is no need for a heavy wetsuit or drysuit, starting with your own reg and BCD, that you know has been properly maintained and fits you properly, makes the most sense to me,” he adds.

Citizen Promaster Diver

 

Some people also like a good dive watch, an example of which is the Citizen Promaster Diver. This watch is the perfect ISO-compliant timepiece for the deep-sea set. Built with diving in mind, the Promaster Diver is tough and durable and features a one-way rotating elapsed-time bezel, a screw-back case and screw-down crown, and an anti-reflective crystal. It is water-resistant up to 200 metres. The Diver also features Citizen’s Eco-Drive tech, meaning it is continuously and sustainably powered by any light source, and will never need a battery replacement.

Is diving possible solo or only in a group?

“Diving is considered to be a group activity and is typically done with a buddy or group of friends,” Henning says. “That being said, most of the major training organizations now offer a course that will help a diver learn the required skills to safely dive solo.”

In the first certification, the Open Water Course people learn the basic safety skills, including what to do during the unlikely event that you or your buddy run out of air as well as how to deal with equipment malfunctions.

But, beyond that, it is hard for Henning to gauge what the hardest part of learning to dive will be for any particular person.

“For me, the hardest part of teaching is meeting the student diver where they are at and helping them deal with their preconceptions and fears,” he says. “I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of people on their path to becoming a diver. Each of them has brought with them their challenges.”

Henning says he has helped people who were afraid of the water or scared of fish as well as Veterans and active-duty emergency services personnel.

“Each of these people has brought their own world view and past experiences to the course,” he says. “As their instructor, I feel privileged that they allowed me to work with them to find a way to ease their anxieties and help them to overcome any challenges. Diving is a sport for everyone and includes amazing people around the world who want to help others from every walk of life get out and enjoy the underwater world.”

Diving in Tobermory with Divers Den

 

Where to go?

When asked where the best spots for diving are in Canada, it is no surprise that Tobermory is at the top of the list.

“Tobermory is known as the freshwater wreck diving capital of Canada and boasts excellent visibility and clear water,” Henning says. “There is also amazing diving to be found in the rest of the Great Lakes and the Upper St. Lawrence River with shipwrecks dating from the 1800s to modern cargo freighters and geological formations that have been thousands of years in the making. The Pacific Ocean off the shores of British Columbia provides the diver an opportunity to see everything from starfish to sea lions and orcas. I think one of the best things about diving is that no matter where you find yourself across Canada, you will find a local dive shop that can tell you all about what makes their local dive site some of the best in the country. There are lakes and rivers scattered across Canada that are just waiting for someone to jump in and find the beautiful secrets that are hidden below their surface.”

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