When the time comes to book a trip or a course, how do you choose which dive shop to use? Here are some tips based more around trying to extract a laugh than anything actually constructive…

What do you want?

First of all, why do you need a dive shop? The shop you should go for is the one that will best suit your needs. If you’re a newly qualified diver and you walk in to be greeted by a mad-eyed beard surrounded by rebreather parts who refers to any sub 60 metre dive as a ‘noddy bimble’ then just return his glassy smile and back slowly out of the shop. That said, if you’re a teccie then crack on. I once went to the most amazing tec facility, there were racks of twinsets and banks of premixed trimix, although we did have to wait for 20 minutes whilst they went through every bag in the back trying to locate a BCD for someone to use.

Research

This is the bit where you look at the Internet. Do they have a nice website? Having a nice website isn’t exactly a guarantee of quality but if it’s still one of those HTML sites from around 2002 then it does relay a certain lack of urgency in the owners, which might translate through to other things like the décor of the shop or the condition of their underwater life support equipment.

Perhaps you could look at some reviews but don’t get sucked down the rabbit hole because someone somewhere hates everything. I once dived with a centre that had a one star review on Tripadvisor because the customer didn’t like the lunchtime sandwich. That’s like complaining about a successful medical procedure because you didn’t like the surgeon’s shoes. (The sandwich was grim though.)

How’s their social media? Do they have lots of snaps of happy divers at the end of their courses or is there just an old picture of a man trying to light a fart next to a half eaten kebab in the gas room?

Lots of dive centres advertise the fact that they do things properly.

This reminds me of a famous standup routine which, to paraphrase, points out that this is not something worth promoting as you are supposed to do things properly. You might as well have “We don’t actively try to maim or kill the divers in our charge” as a company slogan.

First impressions

You’ve decided to make contact and say hello. Every single dive centre is the “friendliest dive centre in location x”. To succeed as a dive centre all you need to do is be friendlier than the other centres. This began in the mid 70s with the result that friendliness in dive centres began to increase exponentially until the mid 90s when friendliness plateaued at a level of such suffocating warmth, empathy and camaraderie that the only way forward would have been to introduce an uncomfortable sexual note into the proceedings.

Then the Internet arrived and all human interactions could be performed digitally. There followed the “Great Scuba Friendliness Crash of 1999”. Since then some centres have been rediscovering friendliness but sadly sometimes confuse breathtaking displays of rudeness with “banter”. This has resulted in two equally “friendly” centres one of which will greet you with “Hello, sir, and how may I help you today?” whilst the second will use the opening gambit: “What’s an idiot like you doing in my shop?”

Incidentally, I am the friendliest Course Director in the UK.

Let’s get wet!

You’ve made your decision to dive but there are still a few things to watch out for: How helpful are the guides? What’s the general condition of the kit? Is the BCD like a crispy, brown, leather waistcoat? Are the regulators obscured by a pervasive fizz of bubbles? Are the 5mm wetsuits compressed to the thickness of Lycra with a strong whiff of ammonia? Does the mask have a thick fungal ring of feculence narrowing the field of vision? What are you doing with my kitbag?

Support the dive shop!

Of course, in reality, most dive centres are run by passionate divers who work incredibly hard and will do anything for their customers. If you find a good dive centre then use them. Don’t buy your kit from faceless online box stackers or do your courses with the cheapest volume-orientated, scuba sausage-machine. Support your local dive centre and in return they will support you with great training and great diving experiences!

Article by Alex Griffin, this article featured in SD Ocean Planet (Issue 4/2015)