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Deep into the planet’s ‘underwater rainforest’

by David Leck

When someone describes the activity they spend their life teaching as one designed to enable you to “meet people, do things, go places and be sociable” it’s hard not to be intrigued…

And that’s exactly what Samantha Varns is able to achieve as we discuss the Tonbridge-based family business of which she belongs and which, for the past 18 years, has been introducing people to the world of scuba diving.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, visit www.divemachine.com. Also try:

• Tunbridge Wells Sub Aqua Club (www.twsac.org)

• The British Sub Aqua Club (www.bsac.com)

• PADI (www.padi.com)

You will be required to complete a medical questionnaire before embarking on any sub aqua course and, if in doubt, you should always seek medical advice.

As a master instructor at Dive Machine, Samantha is part of a team – led by her parents Robert and Carol – introducing people of all ages, from as young as eight to as adventurous and inspiring as 86, to the natural wonders beneath the planet’s waters. And you can safely say “planet” with a mix of justification and allure for, once acquired, this is a skill that can take you around the world.

Dive Machine is an impressive and respected operation. Not only does it run courses for adults and children, teach in schools and offer instruction for those

diving at an advanced level, it runs first aid training and crucially, for those looking for the highest standards, it’s a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) accredited centre for the development of professional diving instructors.

“People who’ve long been interested in taking up diving are often put off by a variety of factors, whether that’s cost, perceived levels of skill or health considerations. The truth, however, is that once you’ve addressed those things and dispelled the myths this is a pursuit suited to a broad mix of people,” explains Samantha.

PADI is the globally-recognised gold standard and there are a number of routes through which people can acquire a licence.

It is possible to address the “classroom” elements of the course via e-learning accompanied by one on-site session in which the knowledge acquired through distance learning is assessed, particularly in relation to the use and maintenance of equipment.

The course can also be completed over a weekend in which mornings are spent studying and afternoons in the pool, while, for those who want flexibility, Dive Machine offers private courses.

Whichever route is taken, it is then necessary to complete four open water dives to acquire the PADI licence.

The full course can be completed for around £400. Equipment and clothing for the beginner can however represent a significant financial outlay (think in the region of £1,500), making it crucial to get the best advice.

“This is something on which we place great emphasis,” says Samantha. “We want people who have obtained their PADI licence to then enjoy many years of diving at home and abroad.

“Across our team we have decades of experience and can help people to make the most appropriate purchasing decisions. And provided you don’t eat too many crisps or cream cakes it’s an investment that’ll last you for years and years!”

But what’s on offer to the newly qualified diver who doesn’t have the budget to go deep under the Caribbean or Indian Ocean? “What can often surprise people is the fact we have some truly excellent dive sites off the UK mainland – and we’re especially blessed here in the south.

“For example, we do a lot of our training around the shores of Brighton, Eastbourne and Ilfracombe in Devon but there are also places like Lundy Island with its colony of grey seals. There are some wonderful diving conditions around the UK with a fascinating array of species. I describe it as a ‘rainforest under the water’,” says Samantha.

“Once qualified, people tend to make a decision about the sort of diver they want to be and that could be diving off the British coast and in flooded quarries or they may decide to make diving a part of their travels, in which case the sky’s the limit with places like the Red Sea, Maldives, Mauritius and the Philippines offering some of the world’s finest opportunities.”

Dive Machine operates as a career development centre offering on-going training for instructors as well as a full range of activities designed to nurture the next generation of divers.

This begins with snorkelling sessions and progresses to Bubblemaker – a programme for eight to 12-year-olds in which they use full equipment to experience the thrill of breathing underwater for the first time.

And for those youngsters who want to progress, Dive Machine runs a number of opportunities from Master Seal to the PADI junior scuba diver and PADI junior open water diver courses.

“The PADI Team Seal programme is a brilliant way to introduce youngsters to diving,” explains Samantha.

“We offer it at swimming pools around Kent, allowing participants to complete a series of ‘aqua missions’ using full scuba equipment especially designed to fit them. They learn a range of techniques which they then can, if they choose, use to progress to speciality missions such as night diving, wreck diving and under water photography.”

But isn’t diving just for the young and adventurous? “Absolutely not,” says Samantha. “The oldest person to complete the PADI course with us here was a gentleman of 86. If you’re reasonably fit and are curious about the planet then scuba diving is a great way to acquire a new skill, meet like-minded people and go explore, whether at home or around the world.”



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