Thursday, April 26, 2007

Anyone Can Dive

Timor Leste’s Youngest Scuba Divers
By Ann Turner

Nandini Hannak and Svein Klakeg (aged 8) have become Timor Leste’s youngest scuba divers. They have just finished the PADI “Bubblemaker” course for kids, whilst their elder siblings Anjleen Hannak and Ane Klakeg (aged 10) have completed the “Bubblemaker” course and are now well on the way to getting their certification as PADI Junior Open Water scuba divers.
Already veteran snorkellers, the Hannak girls decided that they wanted to join PADI Divemaster father, Jurgen and Advanced Diver mother, Elke, in the underwater fun. Mum and Dad duly delivered Anjleen and Nandini to FreeFlow Dive Centre’s Instructor, Marianne Woodward and within a day they were cruising along the bottom of the Hotel Esplanada’s swimming pool like old hands.

Recreational scuba diving has only been in existence since the 60’s and many people still think that it’s the stuff of James Bond movies, a sport only for very gung-ho, adventure sports types. But now that 8-year-olds are doing it, we’d better think again! I didn’t pluck up the courage until I was 40; once I saw my first coral reef, up close and personal, I regretted the non-diving decades that had passed by. To think that so much of our world is covered by oceans and that I could have lived my life without exploring the beauty of the reef and seeing for myself the amazing creatures that live on it. How I wish that I could have started as a child! I think of the things I could have seen and the experience I would have accumulated now that I’m a 50-year old diver. It’s never too late to start, though. An instructor friend of mine once taught a 76-year-old woman to dive!
PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) deserves the credit for opening up the dive experience to children. Their specially-designed courses for 8 year-olds and above are called “Bubblemakers”. Under the very close supervision of a PADI Instructor, the youngsters learn how to breathe and swim underwater according to PADI’s very stringent safety standards. Once “Bubblemakers” are confident underwater, they realise that they can get up to all kinds of fun beneath the water’s surface. Anjleen and Nandini enjoyed playing with the underwater torpedo – it glides through the water like a Frisbee. Young divers can stand on their heads, swim through hoops, or hover motionless in mid-water. “Bubblemakers” also get a personalised certificate with their underwater photo to hang on the wall. Anjleen, at the age of 10, is already old enough to start on the next step: the Junior Open Water certification, which allows kids to get out onto the reef with all the grown-ups (and the fish). She was very excited after her first dive in the sea: “There is so much to discover that you don’t know where to start!” she said afterwards. Nandini will have to wait two years to catch up with her sister but she’s already impressed with her first scuba dive in the swimming pool: “I feel like a fish, weightlessly floating in the sea…”, she said.
But there’s also a very strong educational reason to take the little ones underwater. They learn valuable lessons about underwater life and reef ecology. As the future custodians of the marine environment, the sooner children realise how wonderful and delicate it is, the sooner they can play an active role as ambassadors for reef conservation.
My own enthusiasm for marine life has been magnified through the eyes of these young divers. Anjleen and Nandini were so inspired by the beauty of the reefs in Timor Leste that they started painting pictures of underwater scenes. There is nothing childish about these works of art; each species pictured is correct in its anatomical details, its habitat and behaviour. These girls are already experts.
Instructor Marianne enjoyed the course as much as the kids: “Teaching kids to dive is a fantastic experience, they are so enthusiastic about everything they do and their excitement is infectious, especially when they see their first Nemo. Obviously being at the PADI youngest age for diving, extra attention and supervision is necessary, that’s why I teach kids on a one to one basis. But if their parents are divers they can come along for the fun. It’s something really special seeing your child take their first breath underwater”.
So now, the whole family can get out of Dili for a day’s diving and International schoolmates can play together underwater. No more boring Sundays!
Anyone aged from 8 to 80 can scuba dive, subject to the following conditions:
you must be able to swim (200mt. for PADI Open Water)
you must be in good health. You will be asked to fill in a confidential health questionnaire and may have to obtain a dive fitness certificate from a dive specialist doctor if you have particular medical conditions.

Find out more about dive courses on the PADI website:

Ann Turner is co-owner of Timor Leste’s longest-established dive centre, FreeFlow, situated close to the Hotel Esplanada on the beach road. FreeFlow conducts regular dive excursions to beaches outside Dili, with BBQ or buffet lunches. Families and non-divers are welcome. Call 7234614 for further details. To book a dive course, call PADI Instructor Marianne Woodward on 7234615.

Marianne and Ane Klakeg in the pool

Picture curtesy Anjleen, PADI Junior Open Water

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