As a youngster, I was infatuated by the concept of space travel. Like most starry-eyed infants, one of my ambitions "when I grow up" was to become an astronaut led by the fascination of discovering a whole new world and experience the sensation of weightlessness.  As I grew older, I realised that dream would end up in the trash can just like my hopes of playing rugby for Wales or football for Manchester United.
     However, I recently learned that there is actually a whole new world out there. One that is accessible to anyone and waiting for me to quite literally dive into.
The wonders of the deep blue sea are as illuminating in the United Arab Emirates as they are anywhere else in the world as the corals and bays kissing its coastline offer some sensational sights. Of course, it only takes the purchase of a snorkel and mask to discover them, but if one really wants to be a part of it, to swim with the fish, turtles and dolphins and to glide freely under the surface of the ocean, a scuba diving course provides the only suitable passport to do so.
     There are numerous courses to select from in the UAE, but my choice was the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) course run by Al Boom Diving in Jumeirah.  It didn't take me long either to discover that becoming a qualified diver
was not just about slipping on the flashy gear and taking the plunge. No, it was about learning every aspect of survival in the deep for my own safety and for those that I choose to dive with in the future.  The course consisted of an intensive two weeks alternating between classroom, swimming pool and beach. Each session took two hours.  My instructor for the fortnight was Mel Jones, a 47 year-old Englishman who became hooked on diving when he first 'went under' nine years ago and has spent thousands of dollars climbing the ladder to become an instructor in an activity that started merely as a hobby.
     The course is split into five modules and the pattern is simple. First you learn a module in the class and the following day you get to try out the new skills in the swimming pool. At the end of each week comes the big treat of being let loose in the sea. Here, all the skills studied in the classroom and practiced in the pool, are tested in the deep blue for real.  The courses are tailored to fit around a busy work schedule with some offering just one session a week. My strong advice though is to dedicate
yourself to a fortnight of evenings to really get a feel for it. You learn early on that you must always dive with a 'buddy'. This is the term given to a diving partner who will keep an eye on you under the water and vice versa just to make sure that any possible problems that may arise are dealt with promptly.
     The course teaches the student everything from mastering the scuba gear to
rescuing your 'buddy' should any difficulties occur. The reassuring thing about a PADI course is that you know that if a problem is encountered, someone will be close at hand to help you get out of trouble.  The two weeks culminate in a written exam. If you fail, you retake it until you pass - simple!  So, armed with a credit card-sized PADI pass that is recognised globally, the world is at my feet, or should I say under it. The PADI Open Water Diving Card is a license to dive all over the world.
     But you don't have to travel far from the UAE to discover unlimited beauty that is virtually untouched by human hand.  But don't take my word for it, dive in and see for yourself!

Five phrases to remember
Buddy - This is the person you pair up with when diving.
Squeeze - This is the condition that affects all body spaces while descending into
the depths.
Equalise - This is the method to counteract the squeeze. To unblock the ears, divers are advised to pinch the nose and blow.
Nitrogen Narcosis - Sometimes divers suffer a feeling of being drunk due to too much nitrogen in their system. To overcome this, divers must ascend a few feet to balance out their system.
Aqualung - This is the metal tank that slips onto the back of the diver which is
filled with air and it usually lasts for about an hour.

Why people learn to dive?
Catherine Logan, a 25 year-old flight attendant with Emirates Airline, said: "I was curious to discover what was down there and I was not disappointed."
Alex Anderson, a 48 year-old tourist from Denmark: "An amazing experience, I should have started scuba diving years ago."
Oliver Samson, a 33 year-old television producer, said: "Those first few breaths under water really get the heart pumping, but once you overcome your original fears it is an unbelievable experience."
Elaine Impiazzi, a 52 year-old company executive, said: "I had to find out for myself what everyone else was talking about."
Ian Bebb, a 38 year-old quantity surveyor, said: "Learning to dive has opened up a whole new dimension in my life."

Where to go...
The UAE is blessed with literally dozens of accessible dive sites on both the West Coast, in the Arabian Gulf, and the East Coast, in the Gulf of Oman.  West Coast
What the West Coast lacks in Coral, it makes up for in the number of shipwrecks that are submerged close to the shoreline.  Boats that have either succumb to the elements or simply been sunk by the armed forces' practice rounds or fisherman's explosives provide a
plethora of species that thrive relatively untouched just
a short boat ride from the coast.

Five sites to try on the West
Car Barge and its Tug:  By far, one of the most popular wreck dive sites on the West Coast. Contrasting stories say the barge and tug were bought by a local fisherman and purposely sunk to create a breeding reef, that provides a haven for
millions of colourful fish just 10 miles off Dubai.
Sir Bur Na'air: The island was once used for the Arabian pearl divers and fisherman as a rest stop during their weeks at sea. Its bays provide excellent spots for both diving and
snorkeling but are prepared for a few surprises. Turtles, barracuda and masses of fish can be seen within yards of the sandy and coral beaches.
Hammour Barge: Sunk by local fisherman to form an artificial reef, it has got its name from the amount of hammour that call this submerged vessel home. It is virtually ignored by divers, which is a shame because there is a massive array of colourful coral fish to be seen.
Cement Barge: This site provides one of the few accessible wrecks for snorkeling with the boat less than five meters below the surface. The barge, which sunk in heavy weather about five miles off Dubai, is a haven for wildlife and its original cargo of cement bags can still be seen.
Jumeirah Reef:
The creation of the magnificent Burj Al Arab had a knock on effect for the underwater environment. Hundreds of huge hollow concrete block used to build the island's base were left over and used to create a magnificent reef about three miles off shore. The nooks and crannies created by the man-made marine mansion are now swarmed by wildlife of all sizes.  Sharks and barracuda swim side by side with fish the size of a finger. This reef is not accessible to anyone though, it is owned by the hotel and prior permission must be sought from the Pavilion Dive Centre, Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

East Coast
Snoopy Island: So called because it looks like snoopy lying on his back taking a snooze, Snoopy Island is one of the most extensively dived sites in the country. Located just 100 metres off the beach rolling up to the popular weekend getaway of the Sandy Beach Hotel, the corals and gentle currents make it perfect for smokeless.
Car Reef Cemetery:
When 200 wrecked cars were dumped into the sea in the late 80's, a new reef was born. The silt means it is not ideal for diving but on certain clear days it looks like the car park of a seaside supermarket, which has been flooded. Sea horses and frogfish call it home but the lords of the manor are the resident moray eels that stretch to two metres long.
Dibba Island:
Further north, close to the Omani border, sits the rugged Dibba Island which will virtually guarantee a view of turtles. Night dives are something special here with colourful coral aplenty and it's an excellent venue for snorkeling too.
Shark Island:
Also known as Khor Fakkan Island, Shark Island is one of the most elegant places to spend a day's diving in the UAE. Its close location to shore makes it easily accessible and there's a tidy little beach ideal for picnics and sunbathing. The down side is that the rocks are covered in nasty little urchins that can sting when stood upon. The island, as its name suggests, is frequently visited by sharks in the winter months along with a vast assortment of fish and the odd ray or two.
Coral Garden: For a true botanical adventure under the waves, the aptly named Coral Garden is the place to visit. Located close to Shark Island, Coral Garden is an explosion of colour sprawled over a multi-tiered area and inhabited by a multi-coloured fish population. Coral Garden is home to species of coral that can't be found in most places of the UAE and its tricky location means it is more suited for the experienced diver.

What to see...
Sharks and Rays - It may worry many to know that sharks and rays thrive in the waters surrounding the UAE's shoreline but the comforting factor is that they have
learned to live alongside man and pose little threat.  The UAE's waters are home to dozens of species of shark and rays including the relatively rare and beautiful Whale Shark.
Turtles are one of the most gracious and welcoming animals of the seas. They can be found in the waters of the Gulf and the Arabian Sea in all sizes and are a joy to watch providing they are left alone to carry on with their own business. Be warned though; don't touch the turtles as they may be sleeping and the shock could cause them to swallow water and drown.
You do not need to travel to the Maldives or the Great Barrier Reef to witness a colour bonanza under the waves. The waters around the UAE are alive with an explosion of colour associated with scores of different species of fish. From minuscule to massive, the shipwrecks off the West Coast and the corals off the East Coast are a true wonder and one of the best-kept secrets of the diving world.
While there is a relatively limited supply of coral off the West Coast; there is abundance off the East. Whip Coral, Black Coral, Favite, Seapens, Anemones and Cave Coral are just a few that can be found on both coast lines.
The Arabian Peninsula, and particularly the Oman region, is home to literally thousands of dolphins. While it is rare to see them on a dive, as they don't usually come in close to the shore, there is a very high chance that you will see them on the way to your dive. 
Fancy a go? Diving may seem like a straightforward activity, but there are more levels of expertise to it than you could possibly imagine. From 'try dives' to learning to become an instructor, Al Shindagah provides a sample of the various levels available.
Diving may be more suited for adults, but it's certainly not a kids-free zone. The PADI BubbleMaker programme is for kids who are eight years old or above.  They can try diving in a confined environment under the close supervision of an experienced, PADI-qualified instructor. The maximum depth is two metres and the instructor teaches basic essential skills required for diving in water on scuba. Well-equipped centres will have specially adapted equipment to ensure it's a smooth dive for the little ones.
Try dives
Still undecided? For many, the thought of becoming qualified and going through classroom sessions can prove to be a daunting proposition and put many off. But there are opportunities available to take a sample of the deep without committing to a course. Under the professional eye of a PADI instructor, students are guided through all the theory and basic skills. Discover Scuba takes as little as two hours and includes a pool or confined water session with an instructor.  If the student wants to take their experience one step further, the Discover Scuba Dive builds on theory and basic skills to go for a real dive in the sea.


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