Explore the deep blue yonder
At first glance, Hong Kong's waters may not seem the best place in Asia to learn to scuba dive, but the sport is popular here. Those who learn to dive locally can gain internationally recognised qualifications - sending them on their way to the region's more famous dive sites.
Most schools teach the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (Padi) courses, that are highly regarded worldwide. First-time divers can qualify with a Padi open-water course in as little as three days, but this can also be spread out over a few weekends spent in the classroom, the swimming pool and the sea.
'Hong Kong is the best place to learn to dive,' explains Raymond Chan, of the Clear Water Bay Dive Training Centre (www.cwbdiving.com). 'Because the visibility is low, it means that people who learn here are able to dive in a [more] challenging environment.'
Chan says that children can start to dive from the age of 10 and it is not uncommon for him to teach people of 65 and over, provided they are healthy.
Dive schools tend to take learners to sites across the Sai Kung area where most of the best diving is found. It's not uncommon for divers to see large fish, hard coral and even the occasional sea horse, ray or octopus.
However, safety is of paramount importance. Danny Wong, Padi course director at Diving Express in Tsim Sha Tsui (www.divingexpress.com), explains that the key to safe diving is confidence. 'The Padi training itself is designed to instil confidence, so that divers can use the skills they have learned to get out of any difficulty without panicking; it's panic that causes most accidents,' he says.
The Padi open-water course starts with classroom-based theory lessons and a written exam, followed by at least two dives in a swimming pool or very shallow water close to a beach and four dives in open water, usually spread over two days. Most schools also teach refresher courses and more advanced courses for experienced divers, right up to divemaster and instructor level.
British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) branches also offer internationally recognised certification. These offer a more social environment and dives are organised most weekends. Training can often be substantially cheaper than at private dive shops as instructors are usually qualified and experienced club members who teach voluntarily. Two of the biggest local BSAC clubs are the South China Dive Club (www.scdc.org.hk) and the Hong Kong Underwater Club (www.hkuc.org.hk).
Padi open water courses cost from HK$2,800 to HK$3,300.