It can be somewhat depressing when the sun spends days or weeks behind a blanket of flat gray and the ocean loses its ultramarine color. But below the surface of that slate colored sea, there’s another entire world just waiting to be explored. Shirley and Steve White, owners of Nanaimo Dive Outfitters, are no strangers to the beauty of the ocean depths. I had the opportunity to speak with Shirley and she let me in on a few of the ins and outs of Scuba diving and snorkeling. Check it out!
Megan: Can you first tell me a little bit about yourself and about the Nanaimo Dive Outfitters?
Shirley: Well, Nanaimo Dive Outfitters has been here for 10 years now. My husband and I purchased it 5 years ago. We moved to the island 10 years ago and just loved diving here so we got into it full time and we cater to all sorts of divers from recreational, very beginner divers all the way up to the most advanced divers. And we do all kinds of diving ourselves. Our favorite kind of diving is introducing people, new people, to the diving world because there’s so much to see under the water.
M: I was wondering if you could tell me a bit of the history about the sport and how it got to be what it is today.
S: There’s so much history to Scuba diving, it’s amazing. They’ve been diving for years, centuries really in some way, shape, or form. It’s kinda like back in the days when divers could go down, come up, breathe a little bit of air, and go back down again but then every time you breathe out you’re breathing out carbon dioxide so gradually their oxygen depleted, so they couldn’t spend too much time down there. Then back in the early 1900s pretty much for modern Scuba diving, Jacques Cousteau and Émile Gagnan, they kind of introduced us to more modern scuba equipment where you have a regulator, or a breathing apparatus, what we call a demand breathing apparatus, so that means that every time you breathe in you actually get air, when you breathe out there’s a valve that shuts it off so it doesn’t waste air. There’s lots of women in the sport too, which I really like, there’s a women’s hall of fame in Scuba diving and there’s some awesome women in that. So, really we’ve been diving for a long time and equipment nowadays is actually going back to what we used to use many decades ago, so it’s kinda come around in circles.
M: When people think of Scuba diving, one of the comments you always hear is “The Bends.” Now you can you explain to me what exactly the bends are and how you can prevent that.
S: “The Bends” are bubbles in your blood that expand too fast. They form in your joints and it causes pain. Basically it can happen from ascending too quickly, and the bubbles don’t have time to dissipate out of the blood. That and a build up of nitrogen in the blood and the nitrogen bubbles expand too fast and get captured in the joints. It’s related to Scuba because it’s related to breathing air under water. You’re taking in new air under water. So you’re constantly circulating air into the blood. So when you descend air compresses and when you ascend air expands. You need to ascend very slowly. If you ascend too fast the air bubbles expand faster than what they can dissipate out of the blood. So they get captured inside your body, instead of being expelled from your body. They will go into your joints; they can actually go into your bloodstream, into your brain, into your spine. It’s called Decompression Sickness; you can actually get very serious injuries and possible death from it. That’s one of the key causes of Scuba diving injuries, is coming up too fast.
M: So, what would be the right speed to ascend? Is there a set rule?
S: There’s an average rule, and it’s basically 30 feet a minute. So, it’s a nice slow ascent. For example, if you’re in the bottom of the swimming pool, the very deep end of the swimming pool, it should technically take you 20 seconds to come up the surface as you’re coming us nice and slow.
M: Now, you say you like to bring people into the sport. What are some of the benefits of Scuba, not only physical but also mental, emotional, psychological, even spiritual benefits that you would associate with Scuba and snorkeling?
S: Well Scuba diving really means something different to everybody. For some people it’s a sense of freedom. You get in the water and you’re floating, it’s like flying almost, you know you’re just in the water, you’re not touching anything, you can turn 360°, look 360°, it’s so quiet and there’s sea life moving all around you and it’s a stress-releaser, because everything else fades away when you see all that and there are some areas of the world, here included, we’ve got some awesome sea life. It’s so cool to just sit there and watch Mother Nature at work and how everything interacts with each other. So it is very spiritual in that respect for a lot of people. Also, it can be a very strenuous sport, especially in cold water. So you do have to a sense of physical fitness. There’s a little bit of swimming that you need to do when you first take the course, just to show us that you have the capability of handling the equipment and the little bit of exercise that’s required for the sport.
M: You don’t have to reveal all the super secret spots, but what are some of your personal favorite places around the island to dive?
S: Nanoose Bay has quiet a few really good dive spots. Madrona Point being one of the favorites, and there are people that come from all of over the island just to dive here because we’ve got some really good shore diving sites and it makes less expensive for people to Scuba dive if you can just grab a tank and walk in from shore. But we’ve got some awesome boat diving just outside the harbor by Snake Island. We’ve got a couple wrecks out there and then further in we’ve got a wreck in the channel, the Rivtow Lion and a couple of pinnacles that we can dive. So, we’re really lucky in the Nanaimo area, we’ve got a lot of really good diving, both from shore and from boat.
M: What is some of the sea life that can be seen around here while Scuba diving or snorkeling, specific to this area.
S: Oh there are so many things. The key thing that people like to see when they come here, that we’re known for in the Pacific Northwest, is the Giant Pacific Octopus. It’s the biggest octopus in the world; it can have an arm span of up to eight feet. The big ones, unfortunately, they only live three or four years. The other thing that we’re known for is the fish called the Wolf Eel, it looks like an eel, it’s actually a fish. They’re about four to five feet long. They’re really, really interesting to see. And then we have all sorts of Nudibranch varieties. A Nudibranch is basically a sea slug, but some of them are very pretty and we’ve got a lot of varieties here. There’s lots of sea stars and sea cucumbers and tons of different kinds of crabs. We also, of course, in the winter time we get the sea lions that come around and visit us as we’re diving. Lots of different kinds of fish, books and books full of fish.
M: How can someone who, like me, has no experience really, or gear, get into Scuba diving or snorkeling? What’s the best way to start?
S: The easiest way is to come on into the shop and we can talk all about the Open Water Scuba diver course. Now there’s a couple steps prior to that, if you want. Just snorkeling, you need to get yourself a mask and snorkel and some fins. And you can just go along the surface. If you’re comfortable with holding your breath and diving down a little bit, that’s a great start. If that’s all you want to do, that’s awesome because that is getting you to experience more of what our world has. If you want to go past that and give Scuba diving a try, we have what we call Scuba discoveries where you go into the pool for an hour or so and you feel what it’s like to be under the water without having to come up to the surface all the time to grab a breath. If you like that, you can go ahead and take your full Scuba diving certification course. It starts off as an open water scuba diver, meaning you can go out into the ocean and you can dive to about eighteen meters and then there’s training from there on. Each step takes you into different realms of Scuba diving.
M: Wow, it sounds just beautiful. I hope we can spark some interest here and maybe send some people your way! Thank you so much for your time!
So there you have it! Next time that sunless sky is getting you down there’s plently of color to be found practically in our back yards. Be sure to check out the shop at 2205 Northfield Rd. Nanaimo, BC (250) 756-1863