PARIS – The weather was nippy and overcast and the water just chest-high, but a new scuba-diving pool in Paris has something Bali, Belize and other diving hotspots don’t: a terrific view of the Eiffel Tower.
To promote the sport, scuba instructors began offering free lessons Friday — with wet-suits, scuba gear and even a biodegradable towel — at the foot of the French capital’s famed landmark.
“Through the water you can see the monument. It’s magnificent,” said New Zealand tourist Adrian Carter, one of the first to try it.
He and a group of friends had planned to go up the 1,063-foot high Eiffel Tower, but opted for a dip instead.
“This is better than the Eiffel Tower,” said Carter, a 28-year-old computer programmer, his hair dripping from the 30-minute dive — his first ever.
The lessons include a safety lecture and a how-to demonstration in which instructors share tips. One first-time diver did a double-take when his guide told him to spit into his goggles to help keep them from fogging up.
The above-ground pool is under the Tower, between its four legs. It’s small, at 50 feet by 50 feet, about half the size of a basketball court. Just 4 feet deep, it’s safe for beginners and children aged 8 and older, said the event’s organizers, an umbrella group of scuba associations. To add a touch of realism, the bottom of the pool is studded with waterproof photos of fluorescent fish.
Though heated, the water temperature hovered Friday around a cool 71 degrees. That, combined with icy winds that whistled down the Champs de Mars, a grassy promenade leading to the Tower, dissuaded many would-be divers.
More people milled around the pool’s perimeter — watching the instructors as they floated on their backs staring up at the tower’s steel girders — than actually queuing up for a lesson.
This was not the first time the Eiffel Tower has become a sporting venue. Three winters ago, an ice-skating rink was installed on the lower of its three observation decks to draw Parisians to the monument that mostly attracts tourists.
Organizers of the 10-day diving event said they were angling for tourists and Parisians alike.
“We want to give as many people as possible a taste of scuba-diving,” said Gerard Puig, the pool’s manager and head of a diving company on France’s Mediterranean coast.
He said organizers also hope the diving experience will focus attention on the environmental dangers threatening the ocean.
“Once you’re underwater and face-to-face with all sorts of creatures, you can’t remain insensitive to the destruction of the sea,” he said.
Organizers expect up to 3,000 people to take the plunge before the lessons end June 10 — so long as the dismal weather improves.
Another first-time diver who took the plunge, English tourist Jonathan Doneley, said the experience was “awesome” despite the cold.
“I’m still shivering,” he said through chattering teeth. “I’m going again tomorrow.”