Growing up on the East Coast of South Africa I was privileged enough to be surrounded by incredibly diverse waters. Most of my time was spent in the warm waters of Sodwana Bay, a small town in Kwa-Zulu Natal, and so I was fascinated by the unknown cooler waters of the Western Cape. To me the idea of cold water diving seemed dangerous but exciting and I couldn’t wait for the challenge. My dream has always been to try all different types of diving and so I jumped at the opportunity to work in the Western Cape and experience a whole new adventure.
I seriously underestimated how cold the water actually was and so it was a huge shock to my body. The instant headache you get the moment you descend will take your breath away. I cannot stress enough the importance of a properly fitting wetsuit in these conditions. Water will find its way into any loose bits and so it really needs to be snug (I learned this the hard way). I remember trying to cover as much skin as possible especially my hands, head and feet and this can feel a lot more restricting. The cold water completely changed my air consumption and it felt like I had to learn how to control it all over again. Diving in cold water is a lot more stressful and when your body is cold you tend to breathe faster and more heavily and so this was something I had to get used to. After a month or two of diving everyday in these conditions my body adjusted to it and it became normal. I was able to do 50-60 minute dives and enjoy them, the cold was not that bad.
The Marine Life
Seeing what I saw while working in the cape was what made it all worth it. The marine life is the reason I managed to stay there so long and is what kept me going. To me it felt like I was always guaranteed to see something new because everything was completely different to what I was used to. From the corals to the bizarre creatures every dive felt like an exploration one. I was lucky enough to have some of the best encounters; my favourite being with the seals. Seals are extremely inquisitive and so they would come right up to us to have a look. I still have bite marks on my fins as they would always tug and pull them. The coral reefs, which were mostly made up of sponges, sea fans and sea squirts, were home to an abundance of marine life. The fish were not as colourful as tropical fish but were equally as beautiful. These healthy reefs were also home to various species of sharks and the moments I shared with them will stay with me forever. From the smallest shy sharks to the great whites they all hold a special place in my heart.
What I learned
I learned a number of skills during my time in cold water. Firstly, diving and leading divers through poor visibility. It was so strange to only see the fuzzy shapes of divers rather than their actual features and communication was sometimes very difficult. I had to make an extra effort to make sure the group stayed together and swim really close up to my divers to communicate. Another was learning how to motivate divers, especially my students. Very few people want to brave the cold when the outside temperature is even colder and so finding new ways to get divers excited was a whole new challenge. I would say things like
“you never know until you try” or “ you will appreciate the beauty once you get down there and actually see it”.
The biggest lesson I learned was appreciation. I hadn’t realised how much I took tropical diving for granted until I worked in cold water. I learned to appreciate the small things and enjoy every minute spent underwater. There were some dives where I literally did not see a single fish and so when I did I learned to enjoy it as much as I could.
Cold water diving will offer each person something different. Whether it’s to see something you’ve never seen before or to learn how it’s done everyone will walk away having experienced something new and adventurous. It’s a whole other world down there and I recommend that everyone try it. It’s worth it!
While we currently do not offer any cold water diving options at Orca Scuba, if you would like to book some fun diving at any of our Orca locations please contact us using this link here.
Article by Britney Ireland.