Nov 9, 2021
I CHECK MY DEPTH AND MY AIR. We’re at six meters and I have a full tank. I follow my diving instructor through some of the clearest waters I’ve ever seen. He beckons me over and we sit down on a bench to pose for a photo, before gliding over to investigate a submerged Mercedes-Benz. We head down to 15 meters for a quick game of foosball, which I win, so I pose for another photo with a trophy in my hands.
I’m in a surreal underwater setting, but not in the sea. I’m on the edge of the desert in Dubai, exploring the world’s deepest diving pool. And according to my instructor, Jesper Kjøller, this Guinness World Record is perhaps the least exciting thing about it.
Deep Dive Dubai opened to the public at the end of July, and at 60 meters, the length of a Boeing 777 if it stood on its tail, it’s 15 meters deeper than its closest contender. “The facility was originally designed for freediving training,” Kjøller tells me, a natural connection to Dubai’s history as a center of pearl diving. “We could have made a 60-meter pool with white tiles on the bottom, but that would have been boring.”
Instead, they’ve created a post-apocalyptic sunken city.
The pool certainly ticks the box of only in Dubai experiences, and there are of course those who come for its sheer Instagrammability. But it also has the potential to be much more than that. Deep Dive Dubai is the only indoor facility in the world recognized by PADI as an Open Water training site, and it’s already attracting certified divers from around the world who see it as a destination in its own right. It offers scuba and freediving courses for beginners and advanced divers, as well as snorkeling for those who prefer to stay on the surface.
I’m a certified diver, but not a very experienced one. Like many other “holiday divers,” I got my certification in one weekend on Koh Tao in Thailand, studying the theory over a couple of beers at the hotel bar in the evening. I’ve dived once since and felt completely unprepared, completely uncomfortable, and – appropriately – completely out of my depth.
I explained all of this to Kjøller before we took to the world’s deepest pool.
“We want Deep Dive Dubai to be a place that people leave knowing they’re a better diver,” he told me, reassuringly.
With 15 full-time and 10 part-time instructors, the facility has a cast of multicultural, multilingual professionals who bring with them different diving experiences and skills. Director Jarrod Jablonski holds the record for the longest deep-cave dive in the world, and those looking to freedive can join five-times world champion Nataliia Zharkova in the water.
Kjøller himself is a diving instructor and technical diver who also performs maintenance from time to time at the the bottom of the pool, as well as being a magazine editor, writer, underwater photographer, and Deep Dive Dubai’s marketing supervisor.
“Diving is something that you have to practice to develop your skills,” he tells me. “At the end of the day, you’ll have much more fun if you’re good at it and you feel safe.”
And with that, in we went. The water is kept at a comfortable 30°C and you enter the pool on a gentle slope before moving out from the edge, at which point the whole underwater world and its staggering drop-off open up beneath you.
After a few minutes controlling my breathing and buoyancy, as well as mentally reminding myself not to panic, Kjøller led me to my first “task” – sitting on the bench, tank and all. Ten minutes later I found myself perching on a model of a motorbike and maneuvering myself over broken walls and through doorways. I tried a Queen’s Gambit pose as we played chess, and propelled myself up and down as I perused the titles on the bookshelves. With so many things to do down there, and Kjøller keeping careful watch, I’d completely forgotten my initial nerves. I also realized that I’d gone down to 20 meters at one point, which felt like a huge achievement.
Better divers than I can go much further to explore an abandoned apartment, play arcade games, and venture into the main drop, a graffiti-covered, brick-lined shaft that goes all the way down to the bottom.
And there’s one other only in Dubai thing to bear in mind if you’re ticking off the superlatives on your visit. After diving in the world’s deepest pool, Kjøller told me, you shouldn’t go up the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. I thought he was perhaps joking at first, but he was completely serious. “It’s not recommended to ascend higher than 300 meters until 18 to 24 hours after diving,” he told me — and ascending to the top of the record-holding skyscraper is “the same as flying.”
A very Dubai problem indeed.
All photos courtesy of Deep Dive Dubai