The Psychology of Scuba Diving
by: Karen Pietrantonio
I am not a diver; at least, not yet. I am excited to learn to dive and yet a little bit nervous about the whole process. There seems to be so much to learn about how the body reacts to pressure and the mix of gas in the diver’s tank. It made me very curious about the kind of personality that is drawn into this “extreme” sport.
It seems that divers take up the sport at various ages, from childhood into their “twilight” years, and for various reasons; however, it seems that only a small percentage of people who become certified divers will continue to enjoy the sport throughout their lifetimes. According to one instructor, it is about five percent. Which leads to the question: “Why?”
I interviewed several divers, from basic open water divers to instructors and industry professionals; I asked them why they dive and what diving does for them. The answers were as varied as the divers’ personalities.
One teenager, Sarah, says that she enjoys it because it gives her the opportunity to do something with her father and she feels “accomplished” after a successful dive. She earns bragging rights because most of her friends are not divers. Matthew, age 18, has been certified since he was 13 years old and primarily dives as a family activity – his parents and two brothers are also divers. He states that he loves diving because he loves the ocean and it’s fun and interesting to see what’s underneath you in the water.
Sal, a 28-year-old dive master, calls diving the “ultimate freedom.” He says that even when you’re with a dive buddy, you’re basically alone because the buddy might not be really paying attention. Forty-seven-year-old Coz states that diving is the closest that human beings can get to actually flying. “You’re so free to be at whatever ‘altitude’ you want, and swoop down on things deeper than you,” he told me. Johnny, a mental health professional, dives for the relaxation and peacefulness that he feels in the water.
J.B., age 51, says he does it because there’s no one down there complaining or yelling; it’s quiet and the diver is by himself. He says that diving is calming and relaxing; while forty-one-year-old Tony says that diving is the ultimate peace. “You’re down there, face-to-face with God’s great creations that we weren’t born to live among, in their environment. God gave us this way to experience this,” he said.
Peter, an instructor with decades of scuba experience, started as a commercial fisherman who had to learn to dive in order to perform certain duties of his job, but now he dives because “it’s really calming to just focus on what you’re seeing and let everything else just go away,” he says. He teaches it because he wants other divers to be as safe as possible. Thomas is also an instructor with long experience; he began diving as a father-son activity and fell in love with the sport. Like so many of the others I talked with, he finds peace and freedom beneath the waves. Sean, a scuba professional, always loved the water; he says that growing up, if he was near a body of water, he was determined to find out what was in it. He says he has always been fascinated by marine life and that when diving, “you’re exploring, and it’s incredible.”
Relieving Stress and Anxiety
While scuba diving is considered an extreme sport because of the potential for injury and possible death, it does not attract only adrenaline junkies. People from all walks of life – every race, socioeconomic background, ethnicity, religion, and gender – are drawn to the sea. Or beneath the sea. Psychologically, recreational divers seem to be no different from people who do not dive, with one exception: divers seem to have realized that this sport is an excellent outlet for reducing stress and anxiety. It is a temporary escape from the cares of daily life – just ask almost any diver. Among adult divers, there seems to be an underlying theme of peace and freedom as the primary reasons for engaging in scuba diving even though a 2008 study showed that the top three motivators for divers to engage in scuba were for fun, to be with similar personalities, and to explore and see marine wildlife (Lusby and Cottrell, 2008). All the divers I spoke with suggest that when they dive, they find a quietness that exists nowhere else; they find peacefulness that cannot be found in daily life. And while this “extreme” sport can be dangerous, it is also liberating, peaceful, relaxing, and fun. One might suggest that there is something almost magical about the underwater world and something freeing about the sport of scuba diving.