Dive Deals column: Where have all the divers gone?

I recently (at the end of August) started writing a weekly column for the revamped DiveDeals.co.za website. Here’s the first of the series:

Where have all the divers gone?

Diving is a sport that draws people from all walks of life. Armed with a qualification to dive the world, several choices present themselves to the new diver. Does one keep diving, enrol for further training courses, travel to tropical dive destinations, or sell all that expensive gear and give it up?

Let’s be honest: the ocean is beautiful, full of weird and wonderful creatures, and incredible underwater topography. I doubt there are many people that give up diving because they felt it was boring.

So why DO people stop diving? Why do so many advertisements for second hand dive gear state that it’s been “used only once”?

Some people will try anything, and some new divers take up the sport just to try it out, to be able to say they’ve done it, and then move on to the next adventure.

Some people just don’t enjoy it, but the majority of people that give up diving will cite a bad experience or some negative event related to diving that was the catalyst to their decision.

Let’s look a little bit deeper. The majority of dive centres are pleasant environments, with shiny displays of the latest dive gear, exceptional salespeople and smiling instructors, mostly enthusiastic about what they do and keen to share it. These are easy places to be and easy places to spend money.

And spend money we do. Some people will purchase a full set of dive gear before they ever enter the water. This is not a bad thing as you then become familiar with your own gear. From a hygiene point of view it’s nice to know only you have worn that wetsuit and booties. However some people have body shapes that differ from average, so a custom wetsuit is the way to go. Some people hate a side inflation BCD but don’t know there is an alternative.

Some people will arrive on your boat, newly qualified and on their first ocean dive with a mask the size of their heads, a BCD one size too big (it was on special) and cheap nasty fins because they blew their budget on the regulator… You know the one: the salesperson recommended it as it’s rated to 100 metres and you can take it diving under the ice. Their weight belt doesn’t fit because they were told to add a few kilos for salt water.

Imagine that you’re this newbie diver. Having qualified inland or by doing shore entries off the beach, the boat is all new. The diver next to you looks really hard core and is kitted and ready to roll into the water 10 seconds after the boat stops. They get annoyed with your hesitant attempts to kit up on a cramped boat whilst seasickness threatens to overwhelm you. You roll into the water, descend into the beauty of the sea, but on the way down you are overcome with fear, stress and near panic as this is all new to you.

Your divemaster and dive buddy did a negative entry and are way below you, and you can hear the boat leaving overhead. Your weight belt is loose, your mask is leaking and you want to gag because the mouthpiece on your new regulator feels strange, so you panic. Perhaps the divemaster comes over, solves all these problems and holds your hand for the entire dive. Perhaps not, and back to the boat you go. And at that point you decide diving is NOT for you.

Sometimes you will be on a dive boat, and the sea looks a little rough. But you have spent a lot of money getting here, and prepaid for a whole bunch of dives. The skipper tells you it’s fine, and that he has launched in far worse. He assures you that it’ll be fine on the bottom. It probably will, but getting there is scaring you half to death. At the last minute you decide to stay on the boat, spend 50 minutes feeling terribly seasick and decide diving is NOT for you.

In each of the situations I’ve described, there isn’t one single cause that led our new diver to the decision that this isn’t the sport for him. A combination of circumstances and factors have led to the decision to quit diving, and we’ll analyse how to avoid those next week.

Skills: Inflating an SMB

Clare's SMB going south
Clare’s SMB going south

I have often watched divers having difficulty inflating their SMBs. Usually when you haul out the SMB it sinks, you have one hand on the SMB trying to get it to be higher than your octo and the other hand on your octo. Somehow it just won’t float like you want it to and by the time you get some some semblance of control it’s full and hauling you to the surface. I too have experienced this and this might help.

SMB (with smiley face), D ring and pool noodle
SMB (with smiley face), D ring and pool noodle

Next dive try this: attach a small piece of pool noodle to the D-ring on the top of the SMB. If you don’t have a decent SMB that will allow this, put the piece of pool noodle inside the SMB. This will ensure the SMB has the correct profile for inflation. Deflate your BCD a little to make you negatively buoyant so the SMB doesnt haul you to the surface.

Clare inflating an SMB
Clare inflating an SMB

Instead of using your octo, hold the SMB open and exhale into it (hold the SMB above you and let it capture your exhalation bubbles). This will inflate it enough for its trip to the surface. Do NOT remove your regulator and use it to inflate an SMB!

SimplyScuba.com: the online option

We were recently approached by an online scuba store in the UK called SimplyScuba.com to review their offering for the benefit of our blog readers. I have spent some time on their website and discovered that apart from a very large range of gear and diving equipment they also have exceptional prices. The website is very easy to use and the pages all have pictures of the items you are looking for. Furthermore they have a nifty facility that tells you if they have stock and if they don’t, just when they will. They accept all major credit cards and most other modes of payment.

I took a random selection of items, the kind of things I would buy as well as a few items Clare and have purchased in the last year and done a comparison.

  • I recently bought a Mares Nemo Wide at a good price locally, but a month later decided I wanted the download cable to update my logbook. I paid R1 500. This item from SimplyScuba.com costs half of that.
  • Clare bought a Suunto D6 recently: the local price is around R10 000. From SimplyScuba.com it costs R6 000.
  • The make of fins I use and have used for many years (I buy a new pair every few years) are Tusa Imprex. My last pair cost R1 200. SimplyScuba.com would charge me R600.
  • A 10 or 12 litre cylinder here in South Africa will cost between R3 300 and R3 800, yet their price is almost half of this.

I could go on but a visit to the website and a good browse will show you just how much can be saved.

You can also pick items on the SimplyScuba.com website that should be more expensive to purchase from them rather than at home. Sometimes the results are surprising. For example, we have gloves and hoodies and wetsuits manufactured right here, less than 10 kilometres from my home, yet the price for a local pair of 3 millimetre gloves is 50% more that an equivalent branded glove in the UK. It’s important to research your options thoroughly!

There are shipping/postage costs (and these are very steep, given that SimplyScuba.com, like Amazon, does not ship standard mail to South Africa but only courier – the minimum postage charge is about R550) and import tax (14% VAT plus a search fee to be paid when the parcel arrives in South Africa) for anything bought abroad. These costs are high, but in some instances – when you wish to buy something big and expensive, for example – you may still find that buying the item online with SimplyScuba.com is cheaper, even when you factor in shipping and VAT.

Something you must be careful about, and research thoroughly, are the warranty and repair implications when you shop online. If there isn’t a local agent for your product, you may have to send it overseas for inspection and repair if it fails. This can cost money, so remember to factor it all in.

I know that there are a whole lot of reasons why we pay more in South Africa for goods: not least because of the smaller market, shipping costs, and so on. I spent several years of my life in the import business importing motor spares from many countries (China, Japan, the UK and the USA). Shipping in containers (of all different sizes) with the correct mix of goods is very cost effective. The steel cylinders we buy here are Faber, made in Italy, which means the UK also have transport costs. A vast majority of dive goods are made in Taiwan, China and similar areas, so if suppliers in South Africa bought directly from the manufacturer why does our price need to be so high?

I am not suggesting you now disown your local dive centre but before you rush out and buy expensive dive gear do some research, make sure you know what is available as we have very limited options in South Africa, make sure you check prices and then armed with this information choose where you buy. It’s very important to shop around – dive gear is an expensive purchase!