Is Scuba Diving a sport, a lifestyle activity or both?

July 09, 2014

Is Scuba Diving a sport, a lifestyle activity or both?

I must admit I was never a very sporty person.

I couldn't see the point in running after a ball, spending time in a gym or having to constantly prove myself when clearly I wasn't interested. I was however a good swimmer. I liked to swim in the sea, venturing out to the rocks placed there to create beaches (common on the Italian Riviera), trying to find something interesting. I also wanted a pinch of danger, something that would make me feel that even a few hundred metres swim was an achievement. No surprise that scuba diving would appeal to me one day.

But is scuba diving really a sport when there is no competitiveness, no champions or teams, no tournaments, medals or cups?

I often ask myself this question as I try and explain what scuba diving really is to people who absolutely know nothing about it.
The sad thing is that there are still so many of them!

Let's look at what we need to become scuba divers, whether our plan is just to do it for fun or to turn it into a profession later on:

1. Love of water and good swimming techniques. Unless we have both we will not go very far as divers.

2. A decent level of fitness. The reason why we need to be decently fit is a no-brainer: scuba diving puts our bodies under a lot of stress and a total lack of fitness can put us in danger.

3. Training, of course. The more we train the more confident we become. Diving becomes also immediately more enjoyable with better training.

4. A tiny little love for danger. Scuba diving standards in this day & age are pretty good and we can all say that it's a pretty safe activity. But let's not fool ourselves, it still carries a certain amount of risk. It’s therefore not exactly suited to either scaredy cats nor to daredevils that just love danger too much and ignore safety rules.

5. The ability to accept a low level degree of discomfort. Although we live in an age where almost everything is branded "luxury" (dive trips or liveaboards) some things will not be 100% comfortable. You might overheat or feel a bit cold, your wetsuit will be dump and hard work to don, your equipment heavy. You'll have to slightly micromanage yourself, both emotionally and physically.

6. Dedication, commitment, passion, time … and a bit of money. Unsurprisingly this is the winning cocktail for a lot of sporty, outdoor activities.

7. Equipment. It’s what makes diving possible. It does help if you're a bit geeky and love all things tech.

Given the fact that these are pretty much what we need to practise a lot of other sports, competitive or not, I'd say that scuba diving is most definitely a sport.

It even carries some incredible added bonuses.

I see scuba diving as an adventurous, participative sport, a bit like mountain climbing or trekking in the wild. The sense of discovery, awe and mystery that diving gives you can easily be compared – somehow in a smaller extent - to exploration endeavours. Of course there are different scales of endeavours and to go on a dive is not to go on an expedition (unless you’re a technical diver), but isn’t that the feeling?
We still have to plan a dive, taking into account the environment, the weather, our personal skills level and a certain amount of unpredictability. We are not competing against another diver to see who is best but we deal with an alien environment to get to know it, to enjoy its amazing beauty, to be a part of it. We also have to learn to deal with our own limits, to hone our skills and sometimes push ourselves. I would also say that there is a sense of endurance with diving, especially when diving in cold waters and definitely being a tech diver. This compares to other activities that do have a strong element of competitiveness in them, like cycling, skiing, snowboarding, running and of course, surfing.

All these activities, with or without competitiveness, have elevated themselves to lifestyles.
They have created cultures, values, a code of conduct, communities.
They bring people together, sometimes even shape lives and can be highly addictive.

It might not be that obvious to someone who's not a diver but scuba diving is a lifestyle too.
The problem is that it's not well represented, well portrayed, celebrated or admired.

The best example of a much celebrated lifestyle is definitely surfers' lifestyle.
 When you think of surfing you see beautiful people gliding over the waves, walking up & down the beach with their surfboards under their arms, endless days of summer, incredible love for the sea, nature, freedom and danger, a super laid back attitude to life and of course some really cool clothes. As surfers your life can be ruled by the need for the waves, which will force you to travel to suitable locations at any given occasion. You will become obsessed with it, addicted.

Let's then look at divers.

Forget about the looks, as it seems like a lot of us do not really care about looking good. Forget the cool clothes too because not many companies care about divers style (we do by the way). Forget also about the equipment "cool" factor. As we know we all look pretty terrible in a wetsuit and full scuba gear. So where do we score?

Do you remember the first time you've laid eyes on a coral reef? How about your first large sea creature encounter, that being a grouper, a stingray, a shark, a manta ray or a seal? How about the eerie feeling of getting close to a wreck, drifting away in the current or going through swim-throughs? From heart warming, emotional encounters to adrenaline filled adventures, every dive has the potential to change who you are.
On the scale of experience intensity scuba diving is pretty high up and that's where we score.
It's highly addictive too. We dream about our next trip, save like maniacs for our next liveaboard, plan years ahead for the really big one and have countless lists for all places we'd love to go. The sight of our diving gear fills our eyes with tears of joy and like inmates we keep the countdown to the thrill of our next dive.

How about our life philosophy?
I think all divers should be ocean advocates and be extremely vocal about it. Most of us actually already are. We simply owe it to the ocean.
We should also be earth advocates, champions of green living.
I'm not saying we should all become activists but there is so much we can do just among our friends and families to increase knowledge and awareness, to defeat myths and debunk silly and ignorant beliefs.

Do you have friends or family who still think they can be attacked by a Great White on any beach in the world and are incredibly scared of sharks?
I do, despite all being university graduates and rather outdoorsy people.
It's not their fault when popular culture still pictures sharks as dangerous creatures because that sells papers and movies.

When we started our clothing company we very much wanted to see divers united in a community.
We decided to call it a "sangha", a spiritual community. We came to consider the experience of diving in the open ocean as such -  with no reference to religion at all - just as something that touches us beyond our five senses (your choice to call it "spirit" or "soul").

But are we actually united in a community?

It's not immediately obvious but I think somehow we are.

Think about meeting another diver, the immediate understanding and sense of camaraderie that is almost instantly achieved. There’s no doubt we're all a rather friendly bunch and we're always open to newcomers. This is clearly one of the advantages given by the lack of competitiveness. We can all dive at different levels but we're all divers, we all somehow stand in front of the ocean equally.

So, what's missing? Come on, let's face it. We're not cool.
We need to shape up, take better care of ourselves, be a stronger voice our there in the world, wear better clothes and make scuba diving stand out as the coolest sport of all. Because scuba diving is the coolest sport around.

Then, once we're fit and mentally ready for a new challenge we might give freediving a go.
Now, that's an entirely different story which we will leave for our next post...

Safe diving to you all,