Without air, there can be no diving, but after a few summers of recession and awful weather, the number of decent places for an air fill is getting more and more of a problem for club divers (or those that just want to fling themselves into the sea somewhere from the shore).
This trend is made worse by the shift from buying dive kit at your dear local supplier to the vast, and vastly cheaper, population of online dive shops, making independent shops with a handy compressor a dying breed.
As a result, in central London, over the past ten years, more places for air fills have given it up as uneconomic and pointless. Whereas there used to be a station in the Covent Garden Fitness Centre, that closed many moons ago. Then Tony moved Collins & Chambers out to Kent, Tim moved Timunasea into different premises near Canary Wharf, leaving just a couple of shops, such as Scuba Zone in Finchley for north Londoners and Mike’s Dive Store in Chiswick for the west Londoners.
This makes filling up before you head out for the weekend almost impossible for normal wage slaves, particularly in the south and east.
In some ways this may not be a complete surprise – there are few credible dive sites in central London (although wading fully suited into the Serpentine might be tempting to create a stir). But it does, sadly, reflect the smaller number of dive schools and clubs now operating in central London, as fewer people take up British diving.
On the coast, next to the dive sites, the situation is obviously better, but along the south coast, again, many of the smaller dive shops and dive schools have closed, leaving only the major dive centres like Divers Down in Swanage, Scimitar in Portland and In Deep in Plymouth as places where independent/club divers can definitely get a fill (in some cases, day and night!).
This makes a weekend diving in some of the less well-known or dived places along the coast either impossible or requiring well-planned relay runs to the dive shop to get the air fills for the morning. Short of having to trundle around one’s own portable compressor (and sitting up all night waiting for it to complete four fills), there seems no quick fix for this.
It does, however, demonstrate that, while they can be bloody-minded and independent, British divers still need to be part of a strong diving community to maintain both dive sites and diving facilities, including vital things such as air fills. This is arguably what makes BSAC and encouraging diving through the club system so important for diving as a whole.
As, if British diving increasingly runs out of air, we’ll all have to abort our dives.