Take the plunge
What's so great about diving then? For John Bantin it's the thrill of exploring a whole new world beyond the reach of non-divers. In fact, once you try it you will never see things in quite the same way again...
How deep did you go? Were there any sharks? Did you find any treasure? These are the questions normally asked of divers returning from a foray under water.
The answers: divers don't go really deep; sharks are not the dangerous and indiscriminate predators portrayed by the media; and it is not necessary to bring back treasure in order for a dive to be successful. So why go diving?
Transport yourself for a moment into outer space and look back at where you came from. You were on a tiny speck of land sticking up out of the vast oceans of a blue planet. The earth may have mountains and valleys, vast deserts and pockets of high-density habitation, but to the fresh eyes of an intergalactic traveller these are mainly located under water.
Next time you are in an aeroplane, look down at the clouds. You know there is plenty going on below them. Next time you look at the sea, put yourself beyond what happens on and above its surface. There is as much going on under it as there is below the clouds.
Photography, marine biology and archaeology (principally shipwrecks) are among the interests that open up when you start diving.
Get access to more of the planet on which you live! Scuba-dive!
Not only do you discover aspects of the planet denied to most people, but you make a lot of good friends as well!
Even though swimming under water around the legs of a south-coast pier might not be the most wonderful experience available to a scuba-diver, at least you learn what actually goes on beneath the surface. You see things hidden from those limited to walking the boards of the structure above.
But imagine climbing back to a beach full of sunbathers after a dive with a dolphin or a whaleshark, or a visit to an enormous shipwreck. These are thrills of which the land-stranded are completely unaware - and they leave you with the realisation that you have enjoyed a special privilege.
Then there's the feeling of weightlessness and the freedom of movement associated with diving. Even some people normally limited by their wheelchairs are discovering the benefits afforded once gravity loses its grip.
A casual observer might think that swimming about loaded down with all a diver's paraphernalia might be regarded as far from weightless, but this weight really does slip away as the diver enters the water.
Diving puts you on a par with wildlife in a way that few other activities can. A birdwatcher can never fly with a flock of migrating birds, but a diver can loiter in a shoal of fish.
Scuba-diving really started to take off in popularity only in the late '60s. Because the wildlife under water has not learnt that man is dangerous, it is very approachable. You can get a lot closer even to a shark than you ever can to lions on safari, and it is far less dangerous!
Scuba-divers quickly learn that, generally speaking, it is the sharks that are in danger from man, rather than the opposite. Scuba-divers trek across the world for the opportunity to dive in close proximity to these magnificent animals.
Television has seduced us all with the beguiling colours of coral reefs, but these are normally found in the tropics, a long way from home. I would not be telling the truth if I denied the pleasure of diving in warm, clear waters surrounded by the kaleidoscope of life a healthy coral reef provides - but the limits of time, cost and logistics make this a special occasion for most of us.
Nevertheless, we live on an island, so the coast is never all that far away, and even for those who live in the centre of England there is a famous inland lake that makes a good diving site. Every summer weekend, thousands of divers enjoy visiting British dive sites. And thanks to our rich maritime history and, in particular, this century's two world wars, our coastline is littered with all manner of shipwrecks waiting to be explored.
Wrecked ships may slip beneath the surface and be hidden from the eyes of the world; but, for divers, they are living monuments waiting to be explored. It is an amazing experience to come across a ship lying all but forgotten on the seabed. Some of them are very recent and look it. Others are so old they have become incorporated into the reef.
And wrecks, whether they be former vessels, planes or even oil-rigs, quickly get adopted as habitats for marine life. They are magnets to animals looking to escape the dangers of open water.
Some wrecks were severely damaged before they sank. Others look uncannily seaworthy, almost as though they are steaming along the seabed. Often a wreck offers the diver a chance to visit a bit of history; a vessel the loss of which made the headlines, or a ship that was a casualty of war.
In many parts of the world, notably in the South Pacific but also in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, war wrecks have become valuable tourist attractions. Modern conservation-minded divers look but don't touch. They take only photographs and leave only bubbles. No country wants to see its underwater assets taken home in holidaymakers' luggage!
And what about your holidays? Aren't you tired of aimlessly lounging around in the sun waiting for the next meal and wondering what has been going on at work while you've been away? Then get an interest in an activity full of challenge!
Most holidays are spent at the water's edge. The young and fit may take up swimming, water-skiing or windsurfing. The rich may squander vast sums on sailing and motor cruising. The rest of us want to do something that is adventurous but available to the less athletic. Get off the water and get under it!
You do not need a high degree of fitness to go diving. It is the time spent at the surface that is the most arduous. You dive with your brain not your muscles, which means it is an activity you can continue to enjoy long after you have been forced to give up other sports. The French call it "the sport for grandparents"!
Sometimes scuba-diving gets a bad press. But statistically it is a very safe activity. If the newspapers reported every time someone died while fishing or horse-riding you would realise the comparatively much greater hazards of these, and many other, activities.
So what is stopping you? You need a little knowledge and a few rudimentary in-water skills, and these all come with training.
So join a club or enrol with a school, or better still allocate a whole vacation to the project. Do a short course and get certified as a scuba-diver. Learning to dive does need a little dedication, but once you are in the know you won't get left stuck on the shore.
There are thrills of which the land-stranded are completely unaware
Get access to more of the planet on which you live! Scuba-dive!