By Isabel Ovalle
For people living in Qatar it won’t come as a surprise that the weather in the country allows activities such as scuba diving all year round.
For those contemplating the possibility of beginning to scuba dive, the Open Water Diver Manual of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) gives a powerful description of what the first time undersea feels like: “You ease into the water and your face slips below the surface. Inhale; the air comes with a reassuring hiss, and for the first time, you breathe underwater. In moments, you forget your mask. Your equipment transforms to light and agile, and you’re free like you’ve never experienced before. With that first underwater breath, the door opens to a different world.”
The urge to experience this feeling engages many new divers every year, to the point that the number of diving schools in Qatar has grown in the last couple of years. Qatar’s leading PADI training school is Qatar Divers, which trains recreational divers of all ages and abilities. The owner and founder is Abdullatif Alnaemi. His school had 300 students of various nationalities last year.
He said recreational divers go up to 13 metres below the surface, while experts can go up to 40 metres down. There are three main diving sites in Qatar, the most popular one being the Old Club Reef in Mesaieed, located near the end of the road between the Q-Chem perimeter fence and Sealine Beach Resort.
This is a favourite diving spot of the locals and features an artificial reef made up of several vehicles, school buses, a pickup truck and some small boats, as well as several piles of pipes and water tanks. Qatar Divers explained that this diving location was easy to access and its depths ranged from about 14 metres to 16 meters. Blue angel fish and other small local fish can be seen there.
New Club Reef is another diving site with a close drop off point. It is located near the sand dunes just beyond the Sealine resort. There are fewer fish in this area, though kingfish have been sighted there.
Experts say the Inland Sea is also a great place for diving. Located at Udaid, reached after a 20- minute drive through the dunes from Sealine Beach Resort, it is in sight of the Saudi Arabian coastline. It is a good place for an all-day excursion and has many fish.
In September 2012, Hani Chehab decided to open his own school, Poseidon Dive Center (PDC), which has already prepared 65 students for diving. Hani describes PDC as a club where scuba diving aficionados can gather to learn and socialise around the sport. PDC is the only facility in the country to offer rebreather courses and programmes.
People can learn diving in five days to one month. Courses include theory followed by a dive in shallow water of up to three metres depth. After this initiation, the students have to complete dives in depths of up to 18 metres. The next step is an exam to obtain a certificate from PADI in 45 days.
“We opened recently, but we have already built up a major reputation,” Chehab said. For him, diving is a sport like any other, but it offers the ‘plus’ of meditation and relaxation, allowing the diver to explore sites that not everyone can see, and “be totally at peace.”
The sport offers some health benefits too: it is good for the skin and aids weight loss. He added that diving in Qatari waters was safe since there were no predatory marine species in the area.
In addition, the temperatures here allow diving all year round. From March to December, the sea is warmer and the divers wear a thinner wet suit called skin wet suit. From December to March, the water is cooler and the divers use a thicker suit.
Diving aficionados frequently hire their equipment, but once they acquire expertise, they usually purchase their own gear. Poseidon Dive Center has students aged 16 to 50 years, but most of the divers are between 27 and 40.
It also has students of all nationalities, including many Qataris, who, added Chehab, enjoy fishing and other activities related to the sea.