Support through Sport UK spoke to Toni Brooks about dry suit diving and her recent expedition to Antarctica ...
Hi Toni. Thanks for talking to us. So tell us, how did you get into diving?
Growing up on an island gave me many opportunities to see the ocean at its best and at its worse. I've lost friends to the ocean and so I was apprehensive about taking up diving. For most of my life, whilst friends and family enjoyed snorkelling and diving at the beach, I'd stay closer to shore. Then, in 2013, I finally mustered up the courage to do a Discover Scuba session. I was worried about two things: one, sharks, and, two, whether or not my brain would be able to process breathing under water. However, once I slipped below the sea's surface, I was hooked! I saw a shark and, to my surprise, I didn't shy away. Instead, I wanted to swim closer. I knew immediately that I wanted to dive the world!
And so this led you to your desire to dry suit dive in Antarctica?
When prepping for my Open Water Certification, I learned as much as I could about diving and came across an article about extreme diving locations. Having had the urge to visit Antarctica since I was a child, I knew it had to be done. I had to dive Antarctica!
Can you tell us about the training that you had to do in preparation for your expedition?
In order to dive Antarctica, most expedition companies require the following, at the very minimum:
- Advanced Open Water Certification, or equivalent
- 50 open water dives
- 20 dry suit dives
I would actually recommend many many more dives as you want to be 100% confident in your abilities. The cold can be disorientating at first, so I would also recommend some cold water diving. Iceland is the perfect place to practice!
And how did the expedition go? What were the highlights and were there any scary moments?
I didn't want to leave Antarctica! The place is just so beautiful - almost completely untouched by humans; pristine; sporting some incredible wild areas; quiet and calm! Very mysterious and adventurous at the same time.
I think the expedition went quite well. The expedition company, Aurora Expeditions, and the dive company, Waterproof Expeditions, took very good care of all of their clients and we were sad to have to leave them. I have definitely made some lifelong friends through sharing such an amazing experience.
The scariest moment was meeting everyone for the first time but then I told myself: 'I'm on a boat with 53 like-minded individuals - we are all crazy enough to want to venture to the bottom of the planet, and some of us are even more crazy for wanting to dive it. So I'm in very good company!" Nine of us ended up diving a total of five dive sites.
And are we right in thinking that you also wanted to use your expedition to raise awareness of the issues that the world will face if the Antarctic Treaty isn't renewed? Tell us more ...
Yes - once I started learning about diving, I learned about ocean conservationism. And, once I started learning about diving in Antarctica, I started learning more about the Antarctic Treaty and how important Antarctica is to our global biosphere. I decided that I had to be more than just a tourist when I dived ... I needed to contribute something more. So I suggested to David, my trainer and a professional underwater photographer, that we share some images of Antarctica from a diver's perspective. Along with the images, we're sharing the message that keeping Antarctica pure and untouched is essential to our ability to live on this planet. Without Antarctica, and the Arctic, protecting us by regulating the climate, we wouldn't last long as a planet.
If any of our readers are thinking that they might like to have a go at diving, what would your advice be? How do they break into the sport?
My advice would be to start by learning as much as possible about the sport, as well as the environment in which you will be diving. Local diving clubs and shops are always thrilled to meet new divers and will have all the information you need. Take it as slowly as you need to - make sure you are working at your pace and that you always feel safe. Also - have fun with it!
And, finally, what would you say are the benefits of diving and how has diving enhanced your life?
Diving has enhanced my life in so many ways ... I almost can't list them all! First, I have the water as a quiet, beautiful place for escape. Second, there's the physical challenge and the generation of fitness. Third, I've learned to be more mindful of my surroundings and I have seen so many amazing creatures! I have developed a new appreciation for this unique planet of ours. Fourth, I have learned to be a good buddy, both in the water and on land. However, the biggest benefit so far has been sharing my passion for this wonderful sport with others and inspiring them to overcome their fears and try something new and rewarding.