Ever wonder what it might be like to come face to face with a yellow tang or a queen angelfish? Or to explore the intricate splendor of coral reefs, underwater gardens or the skeleton of a sunken ship? Scuba diving opens up an exciting new world where you are immersed in tranquility and beauty unlike anything on land. Though a certification can be earned in a few short weeks, there are some health considerations anyone interested in diving should investigate before embarking on an undersea adventure.
Fitness and health considerations
"Anyone who is healthy can learn to scuba dive," says Eric Boone, the manager and dive instructor with Rogue Aquatics in Central Point, who has over 30 years experience in the sport and has taught a wide range of students, young and not so young.
New students are required to submit a medical history and disclose potential health risks such as asthma, emphysema, diabetes and medications. Any conditions that affect the sinuses, the lungs and breathing are big concerns, even temporary colds and flu. "These are important because as you change depths underwater, there is pressure on your ears so you've got to be able to exhale through your nose and re-pressurize your sinuses," Boone says.
Not all medical problems disqualify someone from diving, but a physical exam and a signed doctor's release is required for any condition that might pose a risk. "Any kind of cardiac problems would be something we would check out if a student ever had those kinds of symptoms," Boone says.
Any red flags from the health questionnaire would entail a referral to a doctor. "We'd require them to get what amounts to a sports physical," he explains. "We give a client some guidelines to take to his or her doctor that shows the equivalents of the physical exertion equal to diving and then the doctor has to sign off on that."
There are also some medications that can cause problems, but those should be determined by a health care professional. Boone recommends an excellent resource. "We tell people to check out a Website called DAN (Divers Alert Network) and these folks are just phenomenal. They are scuba diving medical doctors who understand the sport of diving and the physiological issues and pressures on the body," he says. For DAN members, this nationwide group of physicians is available by phone 24/7 to answer dive-related health questions.
Advanced age and certain disabilities are not necessarily limitations in this sport, Boone explains. "We've even got people in their 80s who dive. We also have an instructor who specializes in teaching students with disabilities."
Years ago, scuba (an acronym for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) diving was thought to be dangerous and physically demanding, and true, there are still some qualifications for a beginning diver. But the sport has evolved since its early days with advances in equipment and the use of dive computers, improved technology for dive planning, and a better understanding of diving physiology, all of which have made it easier for anyone who can swim and pass the health questionnaire to learn to dive.
An open water certification can be earned in just a few short weeks. This first level of certification limits a new diver to a depth of 60 feet. The next level of certification, the advanced open water, qualifies a diver up to 130 feet for recreational diving. From there, a diver can take specialized courses in cave diving, deep diving, wreck diving and search and recovery to add a variety of specialized certifications. Students can start at the age of 10 with a parent or a licensed dive professional, Boone says.
For beginners, there is a minimum of 18 hours required in the classroom and then practice time in the pool where students are taught how to use the equipment and to breathe underwater. Some resorts offer a weekend class where in just two days, you're a certified diver, but when your life depends on what you've learned, Boone believes it's really important to practice those skills over and over.
"We have six classes here in the pool," Boone says, "and then there's a test where they have to demonstrate their skills. We make sure the students understand what they were taught. After that, we go out for a weekend of diving in a lake or a river where we do three dives the first day and two dives the second day. If they successfully demonstrate their skills, they get their open water certification."
For people interested in diving but who just want to get their toes wet, there are classes to try the experience before committing to a certification program. "We offer a 'discover scuba' opportunity for people who want to come in and try it," says Todd Bingham, owner/instructor with Coral Sea Scuba and Water Sports in Grants Pass. "We just put them in the pool with an instructor to see if they love it. Then if they want to sign up for classes and rent or buy gear after that, we're here to help them."
Like any physical activity, there are health and safety precautions, but if up to the challenge, scuba diving offers a fascinating view of the world down under. "If you like the water, it's such a fun sport," Boone says. "We try to make it simple for people and instead of overwhelming them with a lot of technical stuff, we make sure they know what not to do. The basics of it are that you always breathe, you don't come up too fast and you don't exceed your known decompression limits."