Learning to Scuba…in a Swimming Pool?

You don’t need to jet-set to learn to scuba!

It might not be the most attractive of prospects, but it is possible to get a good amount of your initial certificates without have to leave the country let alone the pool! 

Imagine something if you will: you’re 11 years old, it’s a brisk March day in Devon and you’ve just had your first O2 tank strapped to you. Before you is a forbidding looking swimming pool, there are cracks in the tiles and you can tell that there’s certainly no heating in there. Your knees start to shake from either the cold or the anticipation of how cold you’re about to be. I know it sounds  rather nerve wracking but that was how my first diving experience began.

Two hours later I was happily submerging and rising with my friends at will firm in the belief that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Many gap year kids and travellers have the dream of heading out to a tropical island (like our Clara did in Guadeloupe) and gaining all their certificates in the glorious sunshine, but sometimes it can be a better idea to get your initial certificates back in the UK first.

Confined water diving (usually in an indoor pool) is a fantastic way of getting to grips with the basics of scuba diving whilst remaining in a controlled environment with all the safety measures that come with that. Learning environments really don’t get much safer than this and swimming pool heat pumps guarantee that even though you won’t be in the Caribbean, the warm water will at least make you feel like you are!

PADI certificates are the most commonly recognised diving qualifications in the world, if you choose to get your training completed in the UK it means that when you do eventually find yourself in the Caribbean you can head straight to the sea.

Here are my recommended picks for diving centres around the UK:

Puffin Dive Centre


One of the longest running Dive Centres in the UK, this family owned business has been going for 30 years and in that time they’ve built up a reputation for world-class instruction and safety all of which is operated out of their centre in Oban.

How much? Scuba Diving courses start at £425 and run up to £1099 for Open Water Executive courses.

London School of Diving


The capital’s premier PADI dive school this professionally run outfit offer a high standard of training at a reasonable price with a blend of confined and open water sessions. In addition to excellent modern gear, they also offer high level instructor training so you can equip yourself with the skills needed to make some real money whilst you’re away.

How much? Get your Open Water Diver qualification in two parts for a total of £469. Divemaster courses start at $445 with additional fees and requirements.

Aquatech Diving Centre


Established in 1993 this reputable Northern diving school is a PADI Five Star Instructor Development Centre making it ideal for those with current qualifications to get the top-ups required to gain a full instructor-level certificate.

How much? Get your complete Open Water qualification for a very affordable £395. Advanced Open Water Diver certificates start at £260.

Hawaii: Where to Stay and Scuba

Take a dip in the legendary blue waters of Hawaii…

It’s a destination that’s on everyone’s bucket list, but once you get there where will you scuba?

You don’t need to be on a honeymoon to enjoy the shimmering blue waters of America’s tropical island paradise, but you might need to shell out a fair bit of cash. Part of the reason why this archipelago is so highly sought after by newly-weds is the exclusivity and freedom that it offers holidaymaker, not to mention the fantastic scuba diving spots that are on offer. But this abundance of warm, clear water and bright white beaches come at a price: at their cheapest a 30-hour round trip will cost you around £760.

Still, if you manage to find flights that don’t completely break the bank then you’ll want to make sure that you find scuba spots that will keep you busy, as well as places to stay nearby:

Haleiwa


On the northern shores of O’ahu lies Haleiwa. Like many other of the small communities in Hawaii, the 4,000 or so folks that live in this town benefit hugely from the tourist industry and as a result are friendly and more than happy to show you the best places to scuba. Luckily there’s also a good dive centre here that will help you reach the places that the locals can’t show you.

Who to scuba with: Hawaii Eco Divers

Some of the most exclusive sites in Hawaii are spotted around the North Shore which makes Hawaii Eco Divers well positioned to show you them. Their expert knowledge of the local area allows them to adapt and change their plans depending on what the weather throws at them, so they can always show you something worth seeing.

Where to stay: Haleiwa Surf

Within walking distance of the main town as well as some fantastic restaurants, this simple accommodation is the perfect choice for any travellers looking to avoid the pricey resort hotels and feel that much closer to the sea. This place is also ideal for surfers who want to make the most of the swell that the Haleiwa beaches offer.

Mākaha


This good sized town takes its name (the Hawaiian word for ‘fierce’) from a group of bandits that were based in the nearby Mākaha Valley. Thankfully there are no longer any bandits roaming this bustling island community, but you will find plenty of opportunities to discover new scuba spots and excellent beaches.

Who to scuba with: Underwater Oahu

Mike is the owner and lead instructor at Underwater Oahu one of Hawaii’s leading dive centres. Mike’s come a long way since beginning his diving career in Maine back in 2005, since then he’s assembled a team of diving experts who’s skills vary from Mixed Gas Blending to Decompression Procedures.

Where to stay: Hawaiian Princess Resort

Don’t be put off by the name, this quiet seafront apartment block offers great value accommodation with all the freedom of a relaxed hostel and the service of a 3-star hotel. An outdoor pool, barbecue areas and tennis courts make this a great option for groups.

Honolulu


Although locals may warn you off from Hawaii’s capital it’s worth braving the crowds to make the most of the cheaper prices. Honolulu is one of the oldest settlements on the islands and benefits from a fantastic diving community that has been at the forefront of the sport for decades.

Who scuba with: Ocean Legends Hawaii Scuba Diving

Offering some of the best rates on the island, Ocean Legends offer the full compliment of PADI certificates as well as guided tours around the best spots that Hawaii has to offer. The team at Ocean Legends is led by Darren Fox who tries to bring the professional scuba diver out of every person who trains with him.

Where to stay: Pacific Marina Inn

Prices can be steep when you stay in Honolulu which is why it’s not a bad idea to look a little further afield when looking for accommodation. The Pacific Marina Inn is far enough out of the main city to be affordable to most whilst also offering a decent standard of service and facilities.

Australia: Where to Stay and Scuba

Quintessential diving and stunning reefs await in Australia

For most parents the prospect of sending their kids to the other end of the earth is simply not worth considering, yet each year this exact thing happens.

Australia is one of the largest populated land masses in the world with thousands of square kilometres of outback to explore full of wild and wonderful creatures. As much as there is life to discover in the outback, it’s hardly surprising that the majority of the country’s population lives next to the coast. Although the waters surrounding Australia are known for the high-concentration of sharks and jelly-fish, the abundance of stunning coral reefs and huge variety of friendly marine life make this a must-visit destination for all divers. If you’re looking for casual work there are plenty of oven cleaning professionals who can do with a helping hand during the height of BBQ season, or you can ask around at bars and restaurants to pick up some quick cash.

The three months I spent drifting between the hostels and towns of Australia were by far some of the most memorable times I’d spent abroad, made even better by the truly excellent folks working in the diving centres in these hot-spots:

Cairns

Considered by many to be the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is a perfect introduction to diving in Australia; the waters are crystal clear, marine life is in abundance and there’s a fantastic backpacking scene that will guarantee you’ll meet some new people. Due to its popularity Cairns is packed all year round, so don’t expect to find a peaceful place to relax.

Who to scuba with: Diving Cairns

Decades of experience back Cairns’ most popular Diving Centre making it a solid choice for beginners and Divemasters alike. You can get your Open Water qualification here as well as further certificates should you wish – they also offer a variety of packages that include accommodation in hotels/hostels and transport between them and your dives.

Where to stay: Caravella Backpackers

Comfort, cleanliness and value are at the heart of what Caravella Backpackers offer which treated me just fine when I stayed there years ago. Since then they’ve done a great job of updating the place and keeping it looking fresh so that it feels a cut above the rest of the hostels in the area.

Port Douglas

Just up the coast from Cairns is the slightly less busy Port Douglas a fun port town that gives you some stunning coastal view as well as easy access to the Northern regions of the Coral Reef. If you happen to want a break from the sea you’re also right on the door step of Daintree National Park.

Who to scuba with: Blue Dive

Blue Dive have been around for a while and its thanks to this experience that they’ve been able to secure exclusive access to some of the best dive sites in the area such as The Nursery, Helms Deep and Turtle Bay. The Agincourt Ribbon Reefs are their favoured destination and are sure to bring you up close to plenty of wildlife.

Where to stay: Coral Beach Lodge

Although you can choose to stay with Blue Dive as well, Coral Beach Lodge is located nearby and will give you a chance to take a break from the scuba crowd and meet some new people. Dorms are affordable, but their private rooms are also great options for those looking to stay a bit longer.

Indonesia: Where to Stay and Scuba

Escape to the volcanic deeps of Indonesia…

Certain honeymooners and travellers will favour locations such as Hawaii and Australia for their first-world facilities, but there’s a lot to be said for the diving in more affordable parts of the world.

Indonesia is a country that has struggled with widespread poverty for decades, yet despite this its infrastructure has been steadily improving making it a more attractive destination with each passing year, not just to travellers but also to divers looking to explore warm waters that are full of life. Divers who are willing to make the journey are rewarded with good value, comfortable accommodations as well as reasonable rates at diving centres.

These dive-spots deliver on beauty and adventure, but it’s important to check the safety record of any foreign diving centre and insist on checking their paperwork before you use them:

East Nusa Tenggara

You might well notice that the poverty is worse in East Nusa Tenggara than other parts of Indonesia, but that doesn’t mean that you should leave it out of your travel plans. The locals here are working hard to improve the tourist business making it an excellent place to visit, as long as you’re happy investing in relatively new ventures.

Who to scuba with: Manta Rhei Dive Center

Nearly 20 years ago, Benny took his first diving course back in his home of Belgian. He caught the diving bug and was soon travelling the world diving as much as he could and picking up instructor certificates along the way. Soon the whole family were following in his footsteps helping him to set up Manta Rhei Dive Center in the process.

Where to stay: Ciao Hostel

Purpose built in 2016 this hostel offers unparalleled sea views, as well as comfortable clean beds and friendly staff. The bar serves a decent range of food and drinks making it a perfect place to relax in after a long day in the sea.

Gili Islands

Three tiny islands constitute the Gili Islands which are situated just off the North West coast of Lombok Island, there are no cars on the island with all transport being supplied by bicycle or horse. Although I can’t recommend spending more than a few days here it could serve as a perfect pit stop on your Indonesia diving adventure.

Who to scuba with: Gili Island Diving Center

This small but capable company is based on the quieter islands of Air and Meno where you can gain full PADI training certificates, as well as be within just a few minutes of excellent dive spots with plenty of sea life to keep you satisfied.

Where to say: Gili Air Hostel

Traditional Javanese buildings meets contemporary design at Gili Air Hostel where you’ll be able to sleep at peace in joglos for a very small price. Tapered terracotta roofs, walnut modern doors and swinging hammocks make this the ultimate Indonesian chill-out spot within walking distance of fun island based activities.

Sabang

The city of Sabang is spread out over a number of islands with Weh Island serving as the hub for all of them. It’s far less populated than the other cities in Indonesia making it perfect for travellers who would like to experience the bustle of an Indonesian city but don’t quite fancy braving the streets of Jakarta.

Who to scuba with: Lumba Lumba Diving Center

Perfectly located just 5 minutes away from some truly stunning coral reefs, this Dutch-Indonesian outfit are true professionals who have been operating for 20 years from Gapang Beach. Their well run dive shop has a real welcoming vibe and has become a hub for local enthusiasts.

Where to stay: Treetop Guesthouse & Bungalows

Spend your days in the water then your evenings in the trees! The guesthouses and bungalows on offer here range from £13 to £21 per night, giving you respite from the hostel dorms and time to enjoy the stunning views.