Exotic, but not extreme

James Cameron's Avatar was influenced by the underwater world.

scuba 311 (photo credit: Aqua Sport, Eilat)
scuba 311
(photo credit: Aqua Sport, Eilat)
A short introductory dive at the “big three” diving centers in Eilat – Aqua Sport, Manta Dive Center and Marina Divers – costs about NIS 220. It’s enough to find out whether you like it. If you do, take it up as a hobby with a five-day certification course.
Speaking of the introductory dive, Aqua Sport owner Craig Budden said that “the typical reaction [to it] is wow, that’s unbelievable, that’s fantastic, I loved it.”
Dive centers offer daily boat dives to coral-rich locations around Eilat, including such spots as Paradise, the University, the Amphitheater and the Japanese Gardens – which resemble their namesake, down to the little underwater banzai trees. Aqua Sport also has two centers in Taba, Egypt, which can be easily reached for some of the most beautiful diving in the world.
The sensation of scuba diving feels a lot like flying, or maybe like floating weightless in space. A combination of wetsuit, buoyancy vest and weights keep a diver floating neutrally. The world under the sea is completely quiet except for the soft exhaling of bubbles from the mask.
The underwater world feels like an alien landscape.
Avatar director James Cameron, an avid scuba diver, was quoted as saying that many elements from his visually stunning film were based on things he’d seen in the ocean.
In Eilat, common sights include coral, schools of fish, puffer fish, eels and lionfish, to name a few of the more common ones. Budden said octopus and whale sharks can also be seen, as well as the rare frog fish in nearby Taba.
Scuba is actually an acronym for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. Divers breathe pressurized air through a regulator, which makes inhaling and exhaling as simple as breathing, although it takes a few breaths to get used to breathing underwater.
Scuba dives generally last for 30-40 minutes, at a depth of 10 to 30 meters. Introductory dives usually stay at the shallower end of the spectrum.
Asked what type of people he would like to see try diving, Aqua Sport manager Yuval Goren said he would like more families.
“Scuba diving is a great family activity,” he said. “I like to see families here, with their kids, with their grandparents, all diving together. Diving is a very social activity.”
There are about a dozen dive centers in Eilat to pick from. The “big three” centers are Aqua Sport, Manta Dive Center at Isrotel and Marina Divers. All three offer virtually the same prices on diving equipment and courses. Beside the NIS 220 introductory dive, a full certification costs upward of NIS 1100. Once you’re certified, full equipment rental runs about NIS 130 per day.
Scuba diving is sometimes considered an “extreme” sport, but Goren disagreed.
“I wouldn’t call it ‘extreme,’” he said. “Yes, it can be dangerous. But the vast majority of the time, it’s not.”
Owner Budden, agreed, and said that on the rare occasion that things do happen, “99.9 percent of the time, the danger is human error.” Budden added that he’s never before seen an incident on an introductory dive, given the shallow depth and one-to-one instructor coaching.
Budden said Aqua Sport tries its best to minimize that danger through industry-standard professional conduct. The dive center has 15-25 instructors available, depending on the season, and they’re all trained to watch clients carefully during the dive. All of their equipment is in good condition and well maintained.
They even maintain files on each diver, listing strengths and weaknesses on each dive. These files are passed on to dive guides, indicating which areas to watch for.
So don’t worry. Let the instructors do that. Take a weekend with family or friends to head down to Eilat, and then head a little further down, about six meters under the sea.