The Science & History of S.C.U.B.A

I am thinking about next year’s summer vacation and am looking for something out of the ordinary. I like watersports over all but haven’t yet tried SCUBA. We have all seen those gorgeous underwater photos that are unsurpassed in their colorful beauty. I wouldn’t mind spying around in some island underwater realm to explore the many hidden treasures of nature.

While you may be with a group, SCUBA seems like a solitary endeavor to me. It must be intensely quiet down there in the deep. You can share experiences later of course, but while you are at it, you are a solitary fin-clad hybrid being. So what can I expect? I can give Jacques Cousteau a lot of credit for popularizing the activity, but it apparently goes way back to ancient divers who used hollow reeds for air. In the 14th century, the Persians devised some kind of precursor to goggles made from tortoise shells, and the sport was now in its infancy. From these rudiments, the basics were later perfected to the equipment we know and use today. For example, a regulator is required to control the flow of air from gas tanks. It’s all about the right air pressure.

In the 16th century, they actually had primitive diving bells made from wooden barrels. We have come a long way to the air pump (invented by John Smeaton in 1771) and modern breathing attachments. Throw in diving suits, and you have SCUBA history in a nutshell. Here’s where Cousteau comes in. He updated the suit’s compressible material and created the marvelous aqua-lung with fellow Frenchman Emile Gagnan.

Diving principles are roughly the same (how to breathe longer under water), and perhaps the purposes, but SCUBA soon entered the fast-paced technological era. The “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus” was born. The system can be open circuit, like the aqua-lung, allowing for air to escape to the water’s surface, or closed involving a rebreather, a kind of recycling that eliminates of carbon dioxide. Science has had its practical hand in there every step of the way.

What diver would go down without a set of scuba fins or some kind of propulsion device? Fins go with my image of a diver. They have a large blade area and require some swift leg muscle action for maximum mobility and control. So whether you are in for a round of fabulous photography, a taste of marine biology, or some old fashioned water fun, SCUBA will provide all your needs. Depth ranges will vary accordingly as will gas mixtures. Experts will guide you regarding decompression risk. Furthermore, recreational devotees may elect a half mask which covers the eyes and nose or the full face scuba mask preferred by commercial divers.

There can be a lot to learn what with buoyancy control and weight systems, not to mention optional diving helmets and refraction issues related to underwater vision. It is a vast territory that also requires navigation (pilotage) and air monitoring. You can get as technical as you want, but if recreational dividing is to be your forte, you can leave the advanced details to the pros.