In the hushed classroom I open my mouth to speak and ten hands go up, ‘yes’ I say to one boy. ‘I’ve seen a shark. It was a hammerhead’ He says. Before I can answer another child quips, ‘Yeh, so have I’. Really? I say in amazement. Another hand inches up and a little girl with wide eyes and a nervous smile says, ‘I’ve been diving with Whales’. I now realise you can’t believe a thing a 7-year-old vying for attention says, and nor can you let them run the class, we were seriously eating into our 45 minutes.
The kids are water confident, and the majority of these children have swimming lessons at the local pool. My knowledge of the class tells me that around fifty percent have been for a dip in a clear and warm outdoor pool in the confines of a resort environment, but only a very small minority, maybe 10 percent, have been for a proper wild swim raising the game beyond a paddle; jumping off a pontoon in a lake, an out-of-depth dip in a deep cold river pool, or the body boarding in the sea. They might be mistaking a real hammerhead encounter with one painted on the wall at Centreparcs, but one thing is for sure - they are definitely interested in the oceans.
They have been studying plastic recycling and made huge wall murals to show case a month’s collection of (hard to recycle) plastic bottle tops, which is sobering. They are aware that pollution in the form of chemicals, oil spills and litter is the oceans biggest enemy and that it is up to us to protect them; this was not on the curriculum when I was at school. They have studied the coral reefs, emailed the CEO of Bite-Back Graham Buckingham and asked him a lot of questions about what they can do to help the oceans survive. I tell them I’m here to explain the equipment you need to breathe underwater safely and enjoy this inspiring and beautiful underwater world.
Mrs Reynolds, the class teacher, stands up to be my living model and we talk about each piece of kit while we dress her up (minus the wetsuit). Kids go wild as she puts a large mask on her face and a snorkel in her mouth, there is something deeply funny about a diver on land; awkward, heavy, cumbersome. It’s especially funny when it’s your teacher, your mate, or your mum.
I realise now I’m surrounded by kids. They’ve all moved closer, wanting to be first as they can see the children’s equipment. My son Freddie comes forward and we dress him up. He smiles shyly around his regulator while he breathes a bit of compressed air and the kids hold their breath to listen to it. The class immediately form a disorganised queue to have a go, and three pushy queue-jumpers get moved to last so order can resume. The kids waiting browse my dry suit and two get in it at once, a few try on some of my adult kit, now years old, while they wait a turn to breathe the air and about six children try and walk around in fins. I ask each child whether they’d like to go diving one day, almost all of them say yes, and I hear them work out who is the oldest and can start the PADI system first. ‘What would you like to see first?’ I ask the next child in line while he puts on the BCD. ‘A Shark’… says the boy who has (apparently) been diving with Hammerheads. I raise my eyebrows and say, ‘well, so would I’. We over run by half an hour but I think I could have filled a day.
The Future of diving, according to this group of year 2’s, is alive and well.