Just picture several hundreds of kilometers of pristine beaches and some of the most remarkable coral reefs you could ever imagine. What’s even better, all of this prime real estate isn’t even touched.
Despite its enviable position on the east coast of the Red Sea and south of the tourist hotspot that is the Sinai Peninsula, Saudi Arabia has never been on the list of must-visit locations for divers around the world. However, that may be changing as more people inside and outside the Kingdom dip their toes in the water and take up diving.
Much of the change in the sport’s popularity is down to the increasing number of certified dive centers and dive groups established by enthusiasts. One group, Bubblers, which was founded last year is using social media to spread the word about Saudi’s underwater riches.
“We set up Bubblers to offer people new to the sport a simple way to get certified and also give divers the chance to get back into the water once they’ve completed their certifications,” said Nawaf Al Otaibi.
The aim is to show to as many people as possible what the Red Sea has to offer.
“We wanted to help people dive in an organized fashion, and we focus on arranging group trips that range from one to five days in length. We also offer snorkeling to people who want to dip their toes into the water but aren’t yet sure about taking up diving…eight percent of our snorkelers sign up for a full diving course as soon as they’re out of the water.”
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Others are also getting in on the act. On the other side of the Gulf, Continental Stars Divers and a host of other diving clubs are offering both locals and tourists alike the chance to enjoy the nature of the Arabian Gulf.
“As we’re part of a five-star hotel our customers are diverse and include Europeans, Americans, South Africans and Canadians,” explains Continental Stars Divers’ manager Rashid Al Moqbel.
“Diving is different to other sports. There’s a saying that divers are always happy. And we have so much to offer here in the east coast, from a diverse aquatic life to beautiful islands, sunny beaches and good water currents. Everyone can dive here without any difficulties.”
As the first Saudi-based scuba diving community that bills itself as multinational – the group has a Facebook presence and just under two hundred members to date – Bubblers is looking to break down barriers as well as get people in the water.
“We have a diverse group of divers, including Saudis. We’re finding that more and more Saudis are joining us on our trips. Over the past two months, Bubblers has arranged four trips, each with a maximum of twenty people. The ages have ranged from 11 up to 72 years,” Al Otaibi said.
“We’re also finding that women are taking up the sport. They can dive fully hooded and covered, and we welcome them on board our trips.”
Arab News wrote in February about Saudi women’s efforts to secure more support for diving facilities and spots that would cater specifically to them. Officially, Saudi Arabia’s Coast Guard doesn’t allow women to dive unless they are accompanied by their mahram or guardian. It seems the women, many of whom have obtained their diving licenses abroad, are determined to request their own diving locations where they can practice unhindered, as well as tackle other issues such as transportation and a lack of female-only diving groups.
Saudi Tamader Baitallmal, a certified diving coach, told Arab News that it is difficult for women to practice diving since they do not have their own areas where they can dive freely, privately and without a mahram.
“Nonetheless, an increasing number of women have started taking an interest in the sport,” said Riham Al-Qhadi, another licensed coach. She could not provide the number of women divers in the Kingdom, as such statistics are not available.
Women divers also deal with transportation issues since most coaching centers are in remote areas, Al-Qhadi added. But remote coaching centers that welcome women are the only ones that can provide privacy.
Saudi Arabia’s coastal landscape and natural beauty should make it an ideal location for diving, and the sport’s fans are doing their part to push for better facilities and more organization. While the Kingdom may still need time to establish its reputation as a diver’s paradise the sport is already making waves by bringing together diverse communities and helping to push forward women’s issues that will allow them to dive without restriction.
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