IN 2004, DIVER PUBLISHED a standalone book called Get Started in Scuba Diving, full of articles designed to overcome the fears of would-be divers, to ease their way into the sport, and to explain the benefits that would accrue.
What we discovered in the process was how tricky it is to strike the right balance between dispelling misconceptions and overselling the upsides. Piling on the detail before readers have even got wet can be off-putting, especially if they feel they’re expected to remember everything.
Such books are not manuals but primers, meant to lay the foundations for an underwater career that without a few nudges might never get started.
In Scuba Fundamental, Simon Pridmore seems to have cracked the problem in some style. In his previous books Scuba Confidential and Scuba Professional he has proved himself one of the most readable diving writers around, deftly mixing advice and observation with anecdotes and sideways thinking (that’s why we asked him to write a technique column for DIVER). This formula works a treat when it comes to addressing non-divers in Scuba Fundamental.
“The biggest difficulty I had writing this was putting myself in the reader’s head,” he says. “Once I figured out how to do that, I then knew where to go with the book.”
Scuba Fundamental doesn’t tell you how to dive, but I think it could tip a hesitant diver-to-be into the water.
Such persuasion shouldn’t mean sacrificing honesty. Pridmore doesn’t pretend that everybody’s the same or that diving is for everyone, as witness the section on junior divers, which uses his three daughters as examples.
Negatives are tackled but balanced, so while he emphasises the need to breathe normally under water, at this early stage he doesn’t go far into the gruesome consequences if you don’t.
He spends time on snorkelling as a precursor to scuba because it embraces techniques that will come in useful, and allows him to discuss masks and fins.
Helpful tips pop up – not putting sunscreen on your face before defogging a mask, learning to breathe from the diaphragm, or working out whether a mask will fit in the shop (but it’s not the usual advice to inhale through your nose and let go).
Bad schools and instructors who might put off trainees or worse are the author’s bugbear, and he doesn’t mince his words about them, but does offer 15 ways to tell good from bad.
He strongly believes that dive-computers should be used alongside tables from the off. And he underlines that cut-price courses are invariably cheap for one reason only.
He sees little difference between the training agencies other than “the speed and level of commitment with which they have applied themselves to the Internet revolution”, and regards some as still existing in the dark ages.
As the book continues, Pridmore presumably considers that readers who have come this far are all but in, and risks being frank (though ever-balanced) about the risks of diver separation, boats with no oxygen and hazardous sea creatures.
The author is a professional instructor based in Bali, and my only issue with this book is that this might be why he mentions dive-clubs only as a way of advancing your diving once qualified, and doesn’t specifically factor in learning through volunteer instructors at a club.
This won’t endear him to the amateur training agencies in the UK, where clubs remain a significant route into diving. They also give newcomers another way of having a say in who trains them, which at pro schools can be easier said than done.
Scuba Fundamental is an easy-to-read and very entertaining book that won’t demand too much of non-divers, but will enthuse them.
Most importantly, it will help them get off on the right foot. Instructors will enjoy reading it too.
Softback, 204pp, £9.50