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The Joys and Challenges of Teaching Kids To Dive

We all lament the fact that we don’t see more young people getting into diving. British instructor and content creator Victoria Brown
is doing something about it, and finding joy in the process.

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by Victoria Brown
Header Photo by Leo Grower, Ocean Leisure

The sound of escaping air whooshing through purge valves tears through me. I consider the impending hours I will be standing in front of the compressor, filling the cylinders as my group of divers is using their air supply as ammunition stocks for their new air guns. Sorry, I mean regulators. 

I am dressed in my wetsuit, with my diving instructor hat on, loudly addressing the rowdy crowd of teenage boys, attempting to gain silence and get their attention.  Futile, as you can imagine. In a bid to appear in control, I try again in a firmer voice, this time individually name checking each member of the group, none of whom are paying attention to me over the buzz of activity. I walk around the buddy pairs conducting final checks, repeating the pre-dive safety mnemonic to the group (that seems to slip their minds from week to week), ensuring the strict sequences are executed, sorting tangled hoses, and tightening the cam bands of BCDs worn by the next generation of divers.  

The crowd of excited boys yells gas pressures to the instructor on surface support duty, and they waddle carefully in their fins toward the edge of the pool to get ready to make their giant stride entrances. This is Kid’s Club, and it is more than fun. Once I’m happy, I step into the water and all eyes are on me.  I mutter the weekly joke about how cold it is in the 28°C/82°F pool and go on to instruct the divers to enter the water one by one.

In the next moment we are sinking into the magnificent azure of a hidden world in search of adventure, treasure, and marine life that we discussed just an hour ago during the dive briefing. In reality, the azure comes from the colored tiles that are creating the turquoise hue, outlined by darker navy blue bordering the lanes along the 25 m/82 ft length of the pool. The only marine life are the clumps of hair, rouge plasters and lost sparkly earrings missing their pair, glinting in the bright glow of the strip lights in the roof.  

Ages 13-18, and amongst their school peers, the kids are concerned with looking cool and in control during their brave pursuit of the underwater world. The group is competitive and this helps them to up their game and achieve mastery in their skills. Any slight feelings of apprehension are put aside as they try to out hover each other in sweet trim and give the OK sign every few moments to their buddy.

Colour Me Child Diver

My first experience diving with children was when I began diving.  As the youngest, keenest, and last member of the Brown family divers to experience diving, my family members were my trusted companions. In hindsight, I learnt the importance of looking after other divers from them. Of course, as a new diver I erred on the wild side with little regard for or understanding of safe diving practices. I would laugh until my regulator fell out and use my air up trying to gain some sort of semblance of neutral buoyancy as I darted around discovering new species of fish and corals. I was never left alone to my own devices. They kept me safe and away from danger, they always had my back (and my SPG in view), and they never constrained my exploration through underwater play. 

Victoria Brown underwater. Photo by Leo Grower, Ocean Leisure.

As I edged out of my teens and into my 20s, I was teaching recreational courses every week. My first diving job  was at a dive centre in London that ran a whole variety of kid friendly diving experiences, from “bubblemaker” parties to junior open water courses, via the PADI Seal Team.  I immediately began instructing the kid’s courses, and I adored it. As a young female instructor working in a busy London dive center, I was relieved to have an audience that never questioned the level of experience I had in comparison to my age.

Teaching groups of kids brought a whole world of imagination and joy to diving that reminded me of my early days learning to dive. I felt a great sense of achievement every time I had the opportunity to lead a diver underwater for the first time and reveal the secrets of the deep. This feeling was heightened by the great enthusiasm of youth. 

Hogwarts On Helium?

Nowadays, I run a scuba club at a south London boys’ school. It is magical. The school is mega, it feels like Hogwarts, and is set in stunning grounds. The facilities are excellent too, a large heated pool, hot showers and free cups of tea in the staffroom. 

Energetic kids during a pool session. Photo courtesy of purpleturtlediving.com.

Each child has a unique personality, and it is this powerful individualism of each of my students that defines our communication in lessons. There are the loudest characters who want to catch me out and interrogate me about non-diving related issues in front of their buddies. Then there are the divers who ask a thousand questions, the quiet ones who listen, and the ones that do not!  From the less sporty ones who persist in mastery of the skills we conduct in training to the ones who appear to already be born to dive, they all come together to share this extreme experience.

Despite the liveliness of some groups, as the time nears for open water qualifying dives the groups tend to knuckle down as their thoughts turn toward cold water, and they consider the severity of possible situations if things go wrong.  Concentration and attention are increased tenfold during the final confined water training sessions. The divers are all there to learn now, their natural competitiveness subsides, and the team begins to work together.  

Occasionally diving instructors are not keen on teaching children, for they are uninterested in what is perceived as ‘babysitting’. I find I have endless patience for the wee diving ones and find their spirit enchanting. Kids are not for the faint hearted.   It is not the same as teaching adults, although I can recall a few occasions that maturity might be confused with age. 

It is important to consider that they are not just smaller adults. They have shorter attention spans, and more quizzical questions arise; tactical explanations are a necessity if I want to successfully guide kids into diving. I learn so much from interacting and diving with the kids and appreciate their vivid originality.  I also enjoy the challenges posed by some wonderful questions in class that spark awesome discussions.  

Inspiring the NextGen

Sometimes teaching theory can be interrupted by the excitement of getting in the water, but it can also be more rewarding than the diving itself.  Delivering a lesson in a firm, precise, and comprehensive manner can help. So can shorter, fun bursts that include a clear explanation of value, repetition where possible, and a lot of patience.  I have a cool story to drop into at every moment, so when daydreams replace concentration, and students drift out of the classroom, sharing a gripping tale of an underwater adventure that I have had certainly grabs their attention

And another thing: when I hit waterside, ensuring that the kids have well-fitted equipment is essential. Smaller cylinders, kid-sized BCDs, well-fitted masks and smaller mouth pieces on regulator second stages and snorkels are critical.

One thing you learn when you spend time with children outside the water is anything that can happen, will happen. Introduce water, depth and equipment to the mix and it really gets exciting.  There is not a moment you can safely take your eyes off the young students. You need eyes everywhere. Topside rules are check, check, and check again. 

Taking the first breath underwater. Photo courtesy of purpleturtlediving.com.

To me this is not a chore, it is part of the fun. The intense excitement is infectious, and when a group goes underwater to take their first breaths, it feels great watching the wonderment behind their eyes. I love asking the kids about how they feel and what it was like, and what they thought about.  

Being a role model for my groups is incredibly important. I want to demonstrate how to be safe, have fun, and share experiences and adventures with their friends.  Enabling the children of today to take the reins of tomorrow is going to change the future.  

Imagine the possibilities as future underwater explorers and ocean advocates that learnt under your instruction go on to discover places where no one has ever dived before, or reverse the effects of climate change, or make more divers to protect our water sources.


Victoria Brown is a PADI Diving Instructor, Commercial Diver-Surface Supplied, and Technical Diver.  Based in London, UK, she works as a freelance Content Creator for Suunto, Deeperblue.com, and Midlands Diving Chamber.

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Out of the Depths: The Story of British Mine Diving

If sumps and solo cave diving are, well, a bit too Brit for you, you may want to consider diving into the perfusion of flooded serpentine chert, copper, limestone, silica, slate, and tin mines that honeycomb the length and breadth of the Kingdom. Fortunately, British tekkie and member of UK Mine/Cave Diving (UKMC) in good standing, Jon Glanfield, takes us for a guided tour.

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By Jon Glanfield
Header image courtesy of Alan Ball.

When many think of the UK’s caves, with wet rocks and their penchant for darkness, often the images conjured are of tight, short, silty sumps, that can only be negotiated by intrepid explorers outfitted with diminutive cylinders, skinny harnesses, wetsuits and typically a beard. These are the domain and natural playground of the well-known, highly-respected, Cave Diving Group (CDG). 

In truth, much of our sceptered isle’s caves are of this ilk, but there is an alternative for the diver who favours a more conventional rig, extra room to manoeuvre, and perhaps a more team-orientated approach—one that is less than optimal in many of the true cave diving environments of the UK.

Holme Bank. Photo by Ian France.

Alongside our natural cave diving venues, we also sport a varied collection of flooded mines across the length and breadth of the Kingdom. In the south and southwest, miners have extracted metals such as tin and  copper, while in South Wales it was the mineral, silica. The Midlands Linley Caverns were a source of limestone before being converted to a subterranean munitions store in WWII. Sadly, access to these is no longer feasible. In the rolling hills of the Derbyshire Dales, flinty, hard chert strays close enough to the surface to be mined. In North Wales, the once-proud slate industry has left its Moria and Mithril redolent halls and tunnels beneath the landscape, while copper and slate underlay parts of Cumbria. Meanwhile, just over the border in Scotland, limestone was the resource that drove us to follow its veins into the earth.

Mike Greathead descending the stairway to heaven. Photo by Ian France.

Undeniably, here in the UK, mine diving has a much shorter documented history than that of its close cousin cave diving, but some of the luminaries of this dark world were, and are, active in both. Some of the initial dives in sites like the Cambrian slate mine were undertaken by the incomparable Martyn Farr, Geoff Ballard, and Helen Rider in 2006. But it wasn’t until 2014 that it was further explored and lined by the likes of Cristian Christea, Ian France, Michael Thomas, and Mark Vaughan amongst others. 

Both Rich Stevenson and Mark Ellyatt, who were part of the vanguard of the technical diving revolution in the UK, had personal dramas on trimix dives in the deep shaft of the Coniston Copper Mines, the depth of which runs to 310 m/1012 ft. Ellyatt made his dive at 170 m/555 ft in the early 2000s in a vertical 2 m/6.5 ft square shaft, dropping away into the 6º C/43º F frigid blackness.

Mines Over Matter

As was alluded to, the differences in cave and mine diving are significant. Conventional, redundant open and closed technical rigs can be employed in mine diving due to the predictably larger tunnels, passages, and chambers. Water movement is negligible, so often regular braided lines can be used, lines which would not endure the flow in many of the UK’s upland cave locations. Small teams can dive in safely. 

No Exit. Photo by Chris Elliot.

In general, it is not common to surface and explore the sumped sections of the mines, due to often dangerously contaminated or hypoxic air quality. Also, in some cases, oils and other contaminants have leached into the water. The ever-present risk of collapse—both in the submerged sections and in the dry access adits or portals—haunt divers’ thoughts and is far more common in mines than in the smooth, carved bore of a naturally-formed cave. Casevac (the evacuation of an injured diver) is complex, long-winded, and often dangerous for those involved, and in the event of an issue involving serious decompression illness (DCI), almost certainly helicopter transportation would be necessary given the remote locations.

Landowner access—or, more commonly, denial of access—is an ubiquitous spectre in the underground realm, dry or wet, and much effort is directed at maintaining relations with landowners to safeguard the resources. Some of the most frequented mines are accessible only via traverse of private property, which could be agricultural, arboreal, and in one case, bizarrely on the grounds of an architectural firm. Careful management of these routes into the mines is critical, as is demonstrating respect for the land owner and complying with their requirements when literally on their turf.

At the more prosaic level though, simply getting into some of the mines is a mission on its own, necessitating divers’ decent levels of fitness, the use of hand lines, and sometimes as much consideration of dry weight to gas volume as the dive planning itself. Careful thought and prior preparation are also required in terms of both accident response and post-dive decompression stress, given the exertion expenditure simply to clear the site.

A passageway in Aber Las. Photo by D’Arcy Foley.

Many of the mines are relatively shallow, mostly no more than 30 m/98 ft with exceptions in the notable and notorious Coniston, and the almost mythic levels in Croesor, extending beneath the current 40 m/130 ft galleries that are known and lined. Though, what the mines lack in depth, they make up for in distance and grandeur. 

Aber Las mine survey. Courtesy of UKMC.

Aber Las, or Lost, is more accurately a forgotten section of Cambrian that extends nearly 600 m/1961 ft from dive base at the 6 m/20 ft level, and a second level 300 m/984 ft long at 18 m/59 ft. The section features no less than 35 sculpted chambers hewn off the haulage ways with varying dimensions and exhibiting differing slate removal techniques. Cambrian’s chambers less than a mile away are larger still, and a lost line incident here could be a very bad day given the chambers’ cavernous aspect.

In The Eye of the Beholder

Beauty is—as they say—in the eye of the beholder, but it would be disingenuous to try to draw comparisons between the UK’s mines and the delicacy of the formations in the Mexican Karst, the light effects through the structures in the Bahamian sea caves, or the sinuous power tunnels of Florida. In mines, the compulsion to dive is due in part to the industrial detritus of man, encapsulated in time and water.

In mines, the compulsion to dive is due in part to the industrial detritus of man, encapsulated in time and water.

Parallels are frequently drawn between wreck diving and mine diving, but often the violence invoked at the demise of a vessel—the massive, hydraulic inrush of fluid and the subsequent impact on the seabed—wreaks untold damage and destruction upon its final resting place. In contrast, nature reclaims her heartlands in the mines by stealth: a slow, incremental and inexorable seep of ground water, no longer repulsed by the engines from the ages of men, gradually rising through the levels to find its table. The result is often preserved tableaus of a former heritage with a rich diversity of artefacts left where last they served.

A leftover crate in the Croesor mine. Photo by Alan Ball.

Spades, picks, lanterns, rail infrastructure, boots, slowly decomposing explosive boxes, battery packs, architectural joinery, scratched tally marks, and, even in some cases, the very footprints of the long-past workers in the paste that was cloying, coiling dust clouding the passages and stairways, can be picked out in the beam of a prying LED.

Spades, picks, lanterns, rail infrastructure, boots, slowly decomposing explosive boxes, battery packs, architectural joinery, scratched tally marks, and, even in some cases, the very footprints of the long-past workers in the paste that was cloying, coiling dust clouding the passages and stairways, can be picked out in the beam of a prying LED.

Underpinning, protecting, preserving, and improving these gems of the realm is the UK Mine and Cave Diving Club (UKMC), which formed as mine diving intensified in the mid 2000s. So it was that Will Smith, D’Arcy Foley, Sasha London, Jon Carter, Mark Vaughan, and Ian France, all of whom are respected and experienced cave divers in their own right, forged the club to foster and engage with a community of like-minded divers. 

Sadly, in 2014, Will Smith fell victim to the insidious risks of contaminated air in the Aber Las mine system, which he had been lucky enough to re-discover and in which he conducted early exploratory dives as the club gained traction and direction.

As new members filter into the ranks, new ideas, new agendas, and new skill sets re-shape the club’s direction. At present, we are rebooting the club with a remastered website, focusing on new objectives and seeking opportunities to improve, catalogue, and document the resources we husband.

Lines laid in the Cambrian slate mine. Photo by Mike Greathead.

Exploration continues: the club is laying new line in some areas. What’s more, through our demonstrable respect and care for existing sites, the club is facilitating exploration in previously inaccessible sites, and lost and forgotten sites will resurface. Meanwhile, we’re improving the locations we frequent weekly for the benefit of trainees, recreational (in the technical sense) divers, and survey divers alike. Archaeological projects are rising from the ennui of lockdown; we’re establishing wider links with mine diving communities elsewhere to share techniques, data, and ultimately hospitality.

In Welsh folklore, a white rabbit sighted by miners en route to their shifts was believed to be a harbinger of ill fortune, but for Alice, following the rabbit into its hole led her to a whimsical and magical place. Be like Alice, and come visit the Wunderland!

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Jon Glanfield was lucky enough to get his first puff of compressed air at the tender age of five, paddling about on a “tiddler tank,” while his dad was taught how to dive properly somewhere else in the swimming pool. A deep-seated passion for the sport has stayed within him since then, despite a sequence of neurological bends in the late 90s, a subsequent diagnosis of a PFO, and a long lay-off to do other life stuff like kids, starting a business, and missing diving. Thankfully, it was nothing that a bit of titanium and a tube couldn’t fix. He faithfully promised his long-suffering wife (who has, at various anti-social times, taken him to and collected him from recompression facilities) that “this time it would be different” and that he was just in it to look at “pretty fishes.” So far, only one fish has (allegedly) been spotted in the mines. The ones Jon has encountered in the North Sea while wreck diving just obscured the more interesting, twisted metal.

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