The Two Oceans Aquarium is home to Iain’s Dive School, one of Cape Town’s top scuba academies. Under the tutelage of renowned dive instructor Iain Robertson, even a complete newcomer can experience the wonders of the Aquarium's underwater world within a few hours.
Not convinced? We threw one of our Aquarium newcomers, Online Content Coordinator Devon Bowen, into the deep end with Iain to see what completing a PADI Discover Scuba Diving course entails.
If you're like me, your diving experience might be limited to seeing how long you can hold your breath in a porta-pool (barely a minute in my case). The prospect of "learning to scuba dive" may seem daunting, and you may be concerned that you will pay a lot of money for a certification that you will not enjoy or use again.
Fortunately, there is a solution - the PADI Discover Scuba Diving course.
This is a short course where you learn the basics of scuba diving and are then allowed to carry out a supervised dive. At the Aquarium, this will allow you to dive in our I&J Ocean Exhibit and experience an underwater world inhabited by giant stingrays, green turtles and unique fish species.
Guiding you through the entire experience is veteran divemaster Iain Robertson. One of the things that encouraged me in the days leading up to my dive was a recent Facebook post where people from all walks of life were praising Iain’s abilities to put them at ease and guide them through the training. I knew I would be in good hands.
When the day of my dive arrived, I headed up with my fellow divers to meet Iain at the dive centre on the Aquarium’s roof. Any apprehension I had at this point was immediately dispelled by his good humour and easygoing nature.
The day starts with paperwork – a basic questionnaire that would make sure that you are medically able to complete the dive. Luckily for me, physical fitness was not a requirement!
After this theory session, it was time to squeeze into a wetsuit and head up to the training pool. A lesson I learned here is that wetsuits make everyone look much more attractive - and they fit all shapes! Training in the dive pool was the most challenging part of the entire experience. Here you put the theory that you just learned into practice, following Iain's handsigned instructions and ensuring that you know the correct procedure to follow if your DV (the demand valve that goes in your mouth to supply your air) comes out while diving, and how to check your air levels.
Diving in the small pool also gives you a chance to try to overcome some "bad habits" - the urge to hold your breath when becoming submerged, panicking and swimming towards the surface and wanting to breathe through your nose. Once you get used to the idea of breathing underwater, these quickly become non-issues and you'll soon be diving in the main exhibit.
After a quick rest and exchange of air cylinders, it was finally time to dive in the I&J Ocean Exhibit! You've read about other diving experiences before, and you've seen the giants, the endangered species and the wonders that live in this exhibit - but whatever your preconceptions are, everything is bigger and feels more "alive" from inside.
My final thoughts – if I can do this, with the agility and fitness of a sack of bricks, anyone can. Before my dive, my thoughts were that “it would be cool to touch a turtle”, but once underwater that changed – the turtles were amazing, but every fish, every shimmer of the light is larger than life.