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Learning to Scuba Dive

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Beth joined the Diverse Travel team in February and within a matter of days, she was heading to the Egyptian Red Sea to learn to dive! In this blog, Beth shares her first experiences underwater and her impressions of the beautiful Wadi Sabarah Lodge.

There are not many jobs where within the first couple of days you’re heading off on a flight to a sunny destination for your first week’s training. Safe to say I wasn’t complaining! With a background in sailing, being on the water was not new to me. I’m a confident swimmer too and so, when Diverse offered to send me on a learn to dive course, I jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately (but rather sensibly) you don’t get thrown into the water straight away. You begin your learn to dive journey with an online theory course. Prior to my first day at Diverse, I spent a few hours each evening in front of my computer working my way through the various techniques, skills and safety information, all the while hoping that the real, in-water experience wouldn’t be as intimidating as the theory made it sound. Soon, Holly and I were off to the Egypt, and I couldn’t wait to experience scuba diving for real!

Our home from home

We had decided to fly from London into Hurghada – a 5 hour flight, followed by a three hour transfer south to Wadi Sabarah Lodge. For those looking for a shorter transfer time, the seasonal direct flights into Marsa Alam are a good option but the journey via Hurghada was more than worth it in the end. Wadi Sabarah is not dissimilar to an oasis in the middle of the desert. If you were running from the stresses of life, they would never find you there…

Upon arrival at Wadi Sabarah Lodge, we were greeted warmly by staff, who ensured a smooth check-in. The architecture was, in a word, phenomenal. The sandy-coloured and intricately designed brickwork only enhances the feeling of tranquillity you experience the second you step through the door. Wadi Sabarah is not for those who seek late nights and loud music. This resort is a peaceful haven, far away from the hustle and bustle of cities and crowds. For me, it was the perfect environment to relax and focus on my learn to dive course, and getting to grips with my new job role as a member of the Sales team at Diverse Travel.

On our first evening at the resort, we were greeted jovially by the hotel manager, as well as two employees from the Emperor Divers dive centre. Since the dive centre is part of the hotel, the staff live onsite, which really enhanced the friendly communal feel of the place. This was going to be a great week!

Emperor Divers at Wadi Sabarah

We hit the ground running with a 7am start the following morning. I was soon to learn this was considered a lie-in as far as divers were concerned! Emperor’s dive centre is conveniently located overlooking the beach at Wadi Sabarah, with an equipment and dive shop onsite. The staff were super friendly and incredibly welcoming, all trying their utmost to remember everyone’s names in the dive group. The dive centre offers equipment rental and all sorts of important things like diving insurance that is payable for the day.

Since it was my first time, I was introduced to my diving instructor whilst the rest of the group packed up their gear and got into a bus to go shore diving. Khaled was patient and did an excellent job of explaining how all the equipment fits together, along with the importance of pre-dive checks. After a short revision of the theory that I’d covered online, I quickly realised the practical application of certain skills would be far easier than I’d first thought.

Time for the Pool Dives

Onto the pool! Now, I was filled with a little trepidation as I had heard that the pool was a little chilly (understatement!). As someone who’s always hated the process of trying to pull on a long wetsuit, I like to think I’m pretty comfortable with cold water. During my time as a sailing instructor, I would always wear shorts and since I was teaching children, I ended up in the River Alde more than a couple times. However, as soon as I stepped into the pool at Wadi Sabarah, I was grateful the guys at the dive centre had talked me into wearing a 5mm long wetsuit after all.

Your first time gearing up for diving is more than a little strange. You put on almost all of your equipment on land, which makes you VERY heavy. Personally, I’ve never walked around carrying a ton of bricks, but I imagine that’s what it feels like, wearing a 12l tank, BCD, weight belt and a full wetsuit in the sun. But it turns out that entering the pool solved both my weight and overheating problem!

Basic Skills

Whilst studying online, I’d imagined that the hardest part about scuba diving would be keeping tabs on your air, but I soon found out that it’s actually controlling your buoyancy. This was especially difficult for me, since apparently, I needed a lot more weight than I initially thought. Holly told me that it’s common for females to be more buoyant. Note to anyone reading this: if you’re someone of the female gender who’s learning to dive, I recommend taking the extra weights that you’re offered.

Khaled continued to be an excellent instructor. It took me three attempts to successfully clear my mask, but he waited patiently for me to master it, whilst sharing tips for staying calm and controlling my breathing. I didn’t find it easy to swim around in the pool. I think this was mostly due to it not being particularly wide or deep. I remember thinking that if I was finding it this difficult to manoeuvre in the pool, how on earth did they expect me to do it in the open water?! When we could no longer feel our fingers, we exited the pool and Khaled talked me through how to thoroughly clean and store my gear.

Open Water

I’ll be honest, the first time we went diving from the boat, I was pretty terrified. It seemed like a huge step to go from 2m in a swimming pool to 12m in the open water. Despite my nerves, everyone assured me that I would be fine. Once again, the epitome of patience, Khaled took his time to explain hand signals and what the plan was for our dive. By this point, I’d probably had at least five people tell me that diving was a bit like learning to drive and now, I have to admit that they were right.

The first time can be a little scary, as you’re hyper aware of everything around you. You’re told to stay calm when you dive, because that’s the best way to control your buoyancy and keep safe. Well, I can’t speak for others, but when someone tells me to stay calm, I generally become anything but calm. However, as the minutes pass you stop focusing on your thoughts and start to look around you.

This is the beauty of learning to dive in the Red Sea. I started to notice corals, so much more vibrant and alive than you thought they’d be. Different types and colours of fish… and not just a few either. Hundreds of fish of all different varieties swimming around me in an intoxicating fusion of colour and life. In this environment, it becomes so much easier to relax. I found I was no longer having to force myself to breath normally. The sheer beauty of the marine life makes it impossible to worry about anything other than enjoying and exploring the wonderful environment.

Making Memories

After that first time in open water, each dive only became easier. Every time we descended, we saw something new and even more interesting. Spending time with the same people each day, also meant that we soon became friendly with the others joining us. We shared photos, stories and memories of the dives, and chatted about how we had got into diving. It became a routine that we’d meet at the dive centre in the morning, take the bus to Port Ghalib to board the boat, and spend a lovely day out at sea together. At lunch, those with cameras would share photos of what they’d seen, and others would talk about their past diving experiences. I think one of the best parts of scuba diving is how welcoming and friendly everyone is; even as someone new to diving, I felt part of the family.

On my fourth dive, something incredible happened. I had been told that this particular dive site was home to several turtles, so I was extremely excited when we found one resting close by a coral outcrop. I was so mesmerised by the size of the turtle that I didn’t notice something come up behind me. I felt a shape bump against my left shoulder and immediately froze. I had about 5 seconds to consider the fact that I might be about to confront a shark, when Khaled signalled to me that it was another turtle! Sure enough, I turned my head to see a turtle flipper resting on my shoulder and an inquisitive-looking turtle staring me in the face. It took me a moment to process what I was seeing before it swam over my shoulder and proceeded to nibble on my weight belt. Khaled found the entire situation hilarious, as my expression changed from terror to confusion to joy in the span of 10 seconds!

I made some truly incredible memories diving from the boat, but I did find the motion sickness to be a problem on occasion so I took tablets for this and all was fine. I was given the option to go shore diving on my last day, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. My sixth and seventh dives were from Marsa Assalayia and Gabel Rossas. I really enjoyed trying a different type of diving and this is one of the great benefits of diving out of Wadi Sabarah, as the program gives you the chance to do many different kinds of diving.

Après Diving

At 6pm every evening, Joe, an employee at the dive centre, would lead presentations in the hotel library. Since we got back from Port Ghalib at around 4:30pm, this gave us plenty of time to wash the salt from our hair, put on some fresh clothes, and meet in the library for 6pm. The presentations were always informative yet informal, and including all kinds of subjects such from mimicry to cleaning stations! By the time the presentations were finished, dinner had started to be served in the restaurant. We’d all gather round a big communal table and eat together, whilst talking about our day and sharing stories. One of the best parts of my experience was the camaraderie at the family-style dinners and how everyone was on a first-name basis. We had divers, dive centre employees, other hotel guests, and even the hotel manager at our table. The team at Wadi Sabarah truly know how to make you feel welcome.

Until the next time…

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the Red Sea and Wadi Sabarah. I had made some incredible memories, overcome challenges, and enjoyed things I never dreamt that I’d get to experience. I also returned home a newly qualified PADI Open Water Diver! I wouldn’t hesitate to return to Egypt in a heartbeat. The welcome I received and the whole experience were incredible. My advice to anyone who’s nervous about learning to scuba dive or has just started their journey, would be to absolutely withhold judgment until you’ve jumped into open water. There is an entirely different world down there and it’s full of beautiful, breathtaking things. If you’re given the chance to experience it, seize it with both hands. It’s such a privilege. I guarantee you’ll not regret it!

Interested in learning to scuba dive?

There’s plenty of ways to experience your first breaths underwater. You can choose to learn to dive in the UK or abroad, or opt for the best of both worlds and take a referral course with your pool dives at home, and your open water dives in warm water and sunshine! Whatever you choose, diving is your passport to a world of incredible, life enhancing adventure.

If you’re just starting out, a diving holiday destination that isn’t too far from the UK, is affordable, offers interesting diving and marine life and above all, quality and safety, is ideal. For the full diving experience, the Egyptian Red Sea is hard to beat. It ticks all of these boxes and underwater, it’s got everything a new diver could possibly want including luscious reefs, impressive wrecks and outstanding marine life.

Diverse Travel’s top picks for dive beginners:

Find out more about a diving holiday at Wadi Sabarah Lodge.

Find out more about diving the Egyptian Red Sea in our destination guide.

Want to travel further afield? Already booked a holiday somewhere else? We can arrange a learn to dive package or further dive training in almost all of our destinations, worldwide. If you would like to chat about learning to dive, please give our dive travel experts a call on 01473 852002 or email us and we will be happy to tell you more! What are you waiting for?!

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