WHEN I went to meet Sunderland Scuba Centre owner Steve Gibson I never intended to get my feet wet, never mind being totally submerged at the bottom of a lake – but that’s what happened, and now I’m the proud owner of a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) open-water diver certificate.
Steve has been diving for 11 years and he turned his hobby into a business in 2005. Alongside his wife Val he now teaches members of the public the joys of scuba.
“I did a dive in Greece in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2000 when I needed a new focus that I really got into it. I met my wife on the course and I proposed to her at the bottom of the Red Sea.
“I wrote on a dive slate ‘will you marry me?’ and produced a ring in its box – everything looks bigger underwater, even diamond rings, so she said ‘yes’ straight away!”
Steve realised that there was a niche in the market for a good-quality dive centre in Sunderland so he decided to open his PADI dive centre and he hasn’t looked back since.
“The job I was in before was quite stressful,” said Steve. “Diving does have its stresses but when I first started everything else was pushed out of my mind, because underwater you had to focus on what you were doing and where you were going.
“That’s what I liked about it and travelling to a dive meant I met lots of new people and I now have friends all around the world.”
He added: “It’s something new and it’s the opportunity to see a whole different world that a lot of people will never see.”
The walls of Steve’s shop are covered in diving certificates and photographs. He and his wife have qualified in pretty much every aspect of diving and you can tell they are both very passionate about their hobby and livelihood.
There is a constant flow of new and old members coming in and out of the shop, whether it’s for advice on equipment or dives, or to sit exams for their diving qualifications. Through the whole interview Steve’s door and phone never stopped!
He said: “I get a big kick out of seeing people pass their course. Until people get in the water and experience diving they can’t properly understand why people do it.
“The camaraderie that you build up once you’re a member of our club just grows and grows.”
The PADI Open Water course is the first qualification you work towards. It involves a minimum of five pool sessions, some classroom sessions and then you have to repeat the skills you have learnt during four open-water dives. Steve takes his students to Ellerton Lake in North Yorkshire or Capenwray quarry in Lancashire. He said: “There can be 300 to 400 people diving at Capernwray on the days we go so it gets really busy – people come from all over the UK.
“Once you have developed your skills here we will move you on to diving in the sea and from a boat. It’s a steady and slow progression – crawl before you walk and walk before you run.”
Diving is perceived by some to be a dangerous passtime, but Steve believes that if you follow the rules, you shouldn’t ever have a problem.
“If you follow the rules you won’t have any problems,” he said. “The people who do have problems are the people who flout the rules.
“Diving is the same as any skill. It’s like driving, we all have to pass a test and then you have to practise the skills you learn, and as you develop you polish those skills and you progress.”
Steve has pupils as young as eight who want to learn to dive and he says youngsters take to it really well. But it’s not just kids, he has a huge variety of people who want to take up diving. From students at the university to surgeons, this hobby attracts people from all walks of life and he can now add a journalist to the list.
Sunderland Scuba also has a Diva Divers club which is largely run by Val, which is just for girls so they can get away on their own and take over the boat.
Steve said: “We find that the men do most of the work if they come along with their partners, so this way we can encourage the women to be more independent and they become more confident in the water and they can look after themselves.” Steve has dived in some of the world’s most exotic places, from the Maldives to Thailand and the Philippines. He has some breathtaking photographs on his website, and I could see why he has such a love of diving.
He said: “I do get a thrill out of seeing the big things like sharks and turtles, but it’s the small things I really enjoy seeing – the things that most people would just swim straight past.
“The Red sea takes a bit of beating, the diversity of life that’s there and the clarity of the water is amazing, but even here in the UK we have lots of wrecks to dive and at St Abbs or the Farne Islands, people would be surprised at the amount of life there is. There is nothing like diving with the seals in the Farne Islands and the underwater life at St Abbs is absolutly stunning, there really is lots to see.”
l Visit www.sunderlandscubacentre.com or call 0191 567 0147. Sunderland Scuba Centre is running a Christmas special where customers can buy the PADI open-water course before December 24 for £175, instead of the normal £225.
To read the full feature, pick up today’s Echo.