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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scuba Diving Clubs Surface All Around Moscow

Can you flip upside down and hover for half an hour with your eyes closed? Or drink a bottle of sparkling champagne after exploring the MIR station at the bottom of a 10-meter training pool at Star City?


Master the Zen of scuba diving and you can impress everyone with such feats and be impressed yourself by the amazing world you'll discover under water.


In the Soviet times, diving was largely limited to military and rescue agencies. Only a few enthusiasts knew it as a sport or entertainment. Recently, about a dozen small diving clubs have popped up in Moscow's swimming pools, and proved to be good business.


The demand for diving classes is growing with more and more people willing to learn after visiting hotter climates more typically associated with diving.


The best established clubs are Akvanavt, based at the Olympiisky swimming pool and Crocodile at the Olympic Village sports complex, offering open water diving certificates for a price of about $400.


Akvanavt (tel. 288-5645), founded three years ago, is the first and biggest dive-club in Moscow providing training according to PADI, or the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, regulations.


The beginners course is intense and includes a theory lecture and five practical lessons in the swimming pool, during which novices learn the diver's code of behavior and some 20 vital skills. These include clearing the mask and snorkel under water and finding neutral buoyancy so that they don't bounce up and down while under water.


The second part is slightly more tricky and consists of four dives in open water. Moscow's divers practice not in the shimmering blue of the Adriatic, but in an often-scummy reservoir near Moscow where visibility is sometimes blurred.


Akvanavt solves this problem with the help of a special diving platform at the Pirogovo reservoir that protects divers from the silt. From a diving boat, advanced students can reach a special underwater site with a car, rocket, plane and boat, arranged for wreck diving.


In some cases, dives can be even be organised at a training pod that Star City rents out occasionally.


At Pirogovo, Akvanavt offers dives in dry suits until the first ice appears. Students who start the course when it is too cold for the open water can finish the training at a PADI dive-club wherever they go on vacation and receive the open water certificate there.


The certificate allows its holder to dive without an instructor and pay three times less for the equipment than an absolute beginner.


After training, the students' basic skills should be impeccable and they should be able to surface safely from 10 meters in an emergency. This involves moving slowly upward a meter at a time to avoid possible injury through decompression.


"I was a successful businessman, but after I dived for the first time I realized that I was doing the wrong thing," said Sergei Artyomenko, who in 1995 opened a diving club, that he named after his Turkish instructor, whose nickname was Crocodile (tel. 437-4765). He is one of three dozen PADI diving instructors in Russia.


Artyomenko believes that the main thing a student should know is his limits and abilities, be confident and not afraid without cause.


When you go under water for the first time, it is hard not to freak out. All I could do when descending with an instructor, who was holding me by a harness, was stare mesmerized into his seemingly enormous, unblinking eyes.


Blowing hard to clear my ears of air and trying not to panic, I felt like I was entering the world of whales at the speed of a walking turtle. Sinking to the bottom, I harbored there like a crab. Time seemed to stop as huge, shapeless bubbles from other divers' regulators flew straight at my face. Little boys dog-paddled on the surface, and a potbellied man who looked like a fat seal dove effortlessly to the very bottom without any scuba gear.


Our serene instructor then sat in the lotus position a few feet from the bottom while we practiced neutral buoyancy by trying to float parallel to the bottom with our arms in a cross-shape on our chests.


After we adjusted our inflatable vests to give us neutral buoyancy, we did a circle around the pool, thoroughly exploring the underwater world. My discoveries included a smashed beer can, a watchband and a sunken glass with broken edges sitting among ceramic tiles that had fallen off the sides of the pool.


After the session, I was exhausted but happy, even though I couldn't hear my own voice because my ears were still blocked. The breathing exercises practiced in the training provides for great physical relaxation, so I felt clean and deeply peaceful inside.


One inconvenience of the Crocodile is its location far from the center at the Yugo-Zapadnaya metro, and it could be troublesome to get there without a car.


One recent trainee, Viktor Reutov, 58, a white-haired, bespectacled businessman from Riga, became interested in the sport in 1957, after he read about aqualung creator Jacques Cousteau in a magazine. Fascinated, Reutov founded the Amphibia diving club at the institute where he studied.


It was a completely new thing back then, and they made the masks and fins themselves, using rubber mats and inner tubes. Suits were constructed from oilcloth.


Once the enthusiasts wrote a letter to Cousteau, who so admired their efforts he gave them three suits of his own.


After his glorious youth, Reutov didn't have a chance to dive again until last week, but memories of his earlier underwater adventures soon flooded back.


"Scuba gear is like a bicycle -- once you learn how to operate it, you'll never forget," he said.