26 May 2014 11:48

A diving instructor in Cyprus says he is inspired to help people with disabilities and special needs experience the underwater beauties of the island.
Bournemouth born Simon Banks, who operates ‘The Windmills Diving Centre’ in Pernera, has helped hundreds of people grace the ocean beds of the island since his school began operations six years ago and reaches out to all people, regardless of their restriction.
Banks – who began diving back in 1989 – draws inspiration from his mother’s involvement with children with special needs and is using his diving abilities to ensure every person can enjoy the diving experience.
“We have been teaching children with different needs,” he told The Cyprus Weekly. “We had a teenager with Asperger syndrome and we taught him how to dive. His mother said it changed his life and he got more confident with himself and since them we have taught more children. My mother was a special needs teacher and I got inspired by her to instruct people with disabilities and I sometimes seek advice from her about what to do.” It isn’t just children that Banks reaches out to. Indeed, the Windmills Diving Centre has also been offering a new adventure for wounded British soldiers on the island.
“We’ve dived with injured soldiers in wheelchairs and although they were unable to use their legs, we gave them fins for their hands. We take particular fulfilment in taking care of people with special needs.”
He added: “I believe diving is a freedom experience. It brings so much joy which is why it gives pleasure to people with restrictions. That is probably why they decided to give it a try.”
Along with fellow instructors Gintare Tarailaite and Steve Barns, Banks knows all too well the attractions of diving off the island. For the more experienced divers, they arrange trips to MS Zenobia - a famous shipwreck some 42 metres underwater that attracts people from all over the world wanting to glimpse the largest sunken ship in the Mediterranean.
The other popular shipwreck on offer is British battleship HMS Cricket, which is placed upside down on the seabed. And it doesn’t end there. Divers can also visit a bat cave lodged within the coast of Oroklini where they swim seven metres through a tunnel, before surfacing in the cave. There they can experience fruit bats flying around and view the majestic crystals in the cave walls. Beginners, however, need to pace themselves and they are first taken to the Green Bay “fish rock” for training where they will practice underwater breathing and get familiar with the equipment.
“It’s a very peaceful, lovely and humbling experience that allows you to interact with nature and see its beauty,” said Banks. “Our jobs are also a rewarding experience.”
The Windmill Diving Centre has different packages to learn how to dive called SSI, PADI and ACUC which are standards set by Recreational Scuba Diving Training Council for Europe. These include special prices for students, free pictures and filming underwater.
Last month, 20 Erasmus students from the University of Nicosia all completed their first dive together. Diving is also a priority for the government, according to Banks, that purposefully sank three boats to bolster marine life.
“There are not many places in the world where you can be totally free and interact with nature and let nature interact with you. You can really feel the weightlessness and the beauty underwater.”
Currently operating mostly around the Famagusta and Larnaca districts, there are plans for the Windmill Diving Centre to expand to Paphos.
For more information, visit www.windmillsdiving.com


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