Ilfracombe Sub Aqua Club is celebrates its 60th next year and to mark the occasion, reporter Sarah Howells tried life underwater...
There is something quite peaceful about being underwater. Once you get the hang of breathing through a regulator, the somewhat tunnel vision of the goggles, and the slow, relaxed movements, that is.
But it doesn’t take long. Under the watchful (and somewhat patient) eye of club chairman and instructor Steve Trebble, it’s only a matter of minutes before I’m happily sat at the bottom of North Devon Leisure Centre pool, surrounded by bubbles.
Slowly we start to glide around the bottom of the pool, before Steve asks – via a manner of hand signals he taught me above the surface – if I am feeling brave enough to follow the ledge down to the four-metre end.
If you’d have asked me half an hour ago I’d have been sceptical. But once I got over the initial anxieties of plunging my face underwater and taking a breath, I was raring to go. Because quite honestly, I found the whole experience was one of the most calming and otherworldly things I have ever done.
And if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to breathe underwater yourself, I urge you to give it a go.
In fact, Ilfracombe Sub Aqua Club runs a number of try dives through its training season (November – Easter) where you can try the sport out from the safety (and warmth) of the pool.
Outside of this, you can also undertake training in one of the more sheltered corners of Ilfracombe Harbour, ranging from initial diving qualifications through to more technical skills.
The club was formed 59 years ago in the early years of the British Sub Aqua Club, and still has some members in their 80s who continue to dive today.
And diving has come a long way since the start of the club, where members used to find a good spot and just jump in from the coastline, exploring the seas until they ran out of air.
During the summer the club – which now has a clubhouse at Ropery Road in Ilfracombe, a boat and RIB, compression system for refilling air tanks and more than 60 members – embarks on many summer diving trips.
Because with the North Devon coastline, we truly are gifted, explains dive officer Martin Davis.
From the wrecks teeming with wildlife to the playful seals around Lundy Island, you don’t have to go far from home for an amazing diving experience.
“We are in an enviable position with the marine reserve of Lundy just over an-hour-and-a-half away from our base,” said Martin.
“This is a venue that is one of the most desirable destinations in UK diving, with incredible drop-offs encrusted with jewel anemones, amazing reefs and several wrecks around its shores.
“Each time I dive along at Lundy, I think how lucky we are to have such a beautiful venue both above and below the waterline.
“We also explore the coastline from Porlock in Somerset down to the North Cornish coast and the numerous wrecks and reefs along the spectacular North Devon coast.”
The club’s membership ranges from novice to technical diving, and everyone who helps out on the training dives and experiences does so as a volunteer.
In fact, instructors Paul Armstrong, Suzanna Rodríguez, Steve Trebble, Martin Lancey, Yvonne Davis, Maggs Ashton and Alan Easingwood spent the day at North Devon Leisure Centre co-ordinating a number of dives, from dry suit diving to rescue training and looking after complete newbies like myself.
“Our greatest asset is our members; their work past, present and future, is the strength and backbone of the club and instrumental for future success,” added Martin.
Members also take part in marine studies and research, as well as diving around Ilfracombe Harbour to rid the water of discarded fishing gear and plastic waste.
In fact, Steve’s love of diving even inspired him to join the plastic free movement, and (he tells me, when we surface after a few loops of the pool) he has helped lead Ilfracombe to become an accredited plastic free town through his environmental work and as a town councillor.
And after spending some time underwater, I can see how the sport lures you in.
My only hope now is to experience it in the ocean, with hopefully a little more to look at than pool tiles.
If you’ve ever wondered about trying diving, we’re lucky to have this club on our doorstep, so don’t hesitate to contact them and get underwater yourself.
To find out more about taking the plunge to try diving, go to www.ilfracombediveclub.com or call 01271 855652 after 8pm on a Wednesday.