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September 2023    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 49, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Divers of a Certain Age: Part I

The Freedom to Dive

from the September, 2023 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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"On our first charters with NAI'A 30 years ago, most of the passengers were older than me. They still are today."

Rob Barrell, the owner of the highly regarded liveaboard NAI'A in Fiji, has described the change in diving demographics pretty clearly.

Thirty years ago, the industry didn't give much thought to older divers because there weren't many. But, a lot of divers certified in the 80s and 90s (even the 70s) kept right on diving it. And while they did, empty nesters - people in their 50s and older - began to see scuba as an sport they could handle and a ticket to visit faraway places. Certification numbers increased, and divers' demographics changed remarkably.

He was surprised to see an average diver age of least 65. Many divers appeared to be 75 to 85.

Today, scuba diving is as much a geriatric sport as is bocce and competitive putting, though it's far more exotic, demanding, and dangerous. Readers Dave Marchese and his wife flew from their Pennsylvania home earlier this year to dive Bonaire and were surprised to see an average diver aged at least 65. "Many divers appeared to be 75 to 85. We've done almost exclusively liveaboard trips where the average age has been about the same."

Having money and spare time has something to do with being able to head off to Indonesia for 10 days of diving and four days of flying. But to do so, you have to be able to carry 40 pounds on your back, roll off a boat, spend an hour 80 feet down, and then do it all over again, and then again, before you can order your first Tequila Sunrise. Diving ain't for sissies, especially if you battle surge or four-foot waves. So, really, the only similarity to bocce and golf is that you can stick with it until your body says "no more." And when a diver's body says no more, the golf course beckons.

It was tougher back in the day. Sweating divers in wetsuits schlepped their tanks from the dive shop across the road to the boat while carrying a mesh bag with all their gear. Then, it would be a walk back to pick up their Nikonos packed in a Pelican case. These days, liveaboards and dive resorts cater to the aging. We luxuriate in valet diving - may I help you with your tank? Would you like help slipping on your fins? - luxury accommodations with mints on pillows, chicken cordon bleu (or special vegan plates), with a bottle of fine Napa or Australian wine. What's not to like, other than the price for two for these trips that could also buy you a Mini-Cooper?...

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