Diving? Yes. In Belgium? Yes. It might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think about sports in Belgium, but one of the country’s biggest diving clubs (De Manta) is based in Ghent. With the Belgian and Dutch coastline just 30 minutes away, there are plenty of spots nearby to go diving in Belgium, and a lively scene that welcomes expats to join in.
If you used to dive (duiken in Dutch) back home and you’re wondering how to get back into it now that you’ve moved to Ghent, our interview with local diver Kim Eeckhout will give you a headstart.
Is there really much to see around here?
Well, comparing it to the Red Sea in Egypt, maybe not! But in Belgium there are many lakes and quarries that are great for training and for simple dives. In the quarries you’ll often find old tools that have been left behind – something that’s quite interesting and not your usual find.
Then there’s some unexpectedly diverse underwater life (lobsters, North Sea crabs, anemones, squid…) in the Eastern Scheldt Estuary, which is actually in the Netherlands but you can reach it in under an hour from Ghent. The North Sea has some beautiful wrecks but due to the depth and strong currents it’s something only for experienced divers.
What tip would you give a qualified diver who’s just moved to Ghent?
If you’ve not been diving for a while, the Blaarmeersen is a good place to refresh your skills. It’s easy to get in and out of the water, navigation is straight-forward and it’s shallow. You do need a permit, which you can get from the Blaarmeersen directly, but most clubs in the area also offer them (and at a cheaper price too).
What clubs can you join to meet other divers and go diving in Belgium?
In Ghent alone there are lots. There’s De Manta (the biggest), Thalassa Diving, Gentse Dolfijnen, The Bubbledivers, Ocean Divers, Sepia…and the University also has its own club. I’m a member of the Belgian section of Global Underwater Explorers, an international diving federation that focuses on technical diving. For a full list you can visit http://www.duiken.be.
If I joined a club, would I need to speak Dutch?
You need to check with each club, but my club has a mix of Flemish and Walloon people, as well as a few expats from Russia, Germany and the UK. Generally people who dive regularly like to travel and they love to hear about diving in other countries from a local.
Is it necessary to have a car?
While I do recommend having your own car to go diving in Belgium, a lot of people that dive in the Netherlands regularly use a car-pooling scheme. So if you join a club you should be able to organise a way to get yourself and your gear to the dive sites. Petrol costs tend to be reimbursed either with money or a nice cold beer by the water afterwards.
Diving involves a lot of gear which is difficult when you move to a new country. Do you have any tips?
Most clubs offer equipment to rent. If you get into it, you’re here to stay and you decide you want to buy, then for second-hand equipment, I recommend the Duik Forum. Or of course there’s always 2dehands too. For new things there’s Bubble and Dive in Gentbrugge or online shops like DeepStop, a German company that has a lot of choice, good prices and quick delivery.
In Ghent itself there’s a tank filling station that is on the other side of the Watersportbaan from the Blaarmeersen. It is operated by De Manta and you will need tokens for it. You can buy them at the bar next to the filling station.
And finally, what was your most memorable diving in Belgium trip?
I went to dive a German WWII destroyer at the North Sea where my two buddies and I noticed a small (harmless) shark which is quite rare to see. As we approached we saw that the shark had got a fishing line caught in its mouth and couldn’t get free. Together, we managed to grab the shark and turn it upside down, which stops it moving. I then pulled the hook out of its mouth and set it free. It swam away happy.