It was a grey day in Manchester that ignited the first flames of Nouf Alosaimi's future career.
Having moved from her home in Saudi Arabia, she was in the UK studying tourism management. One morning, as she looked out at yet another dreary day in England, Alosaimi longed for the sunshine she was used to seeing daily.
In desperate need of some vitamin D, she and a friend decided to book a holiday to Sharm El Sheikh. With its Red Sea coastline and sunshine-filled days, the Egyptian tourism spot seemed like the ideal place for a much-needed break.
Excited for an adventure, Alosaimi and her friend arrived in Egypt and decided to sign up for as many new activities as they could fit into their week. As one of the best scuba diving locations in the world, it wasn’t too surprising that was on their must-do list. Despite neither of them being quite sure what the sport entailed, they signed up for a Discover Scuba Dive session accredited by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (Padi).
The next day, after some basic instruction, Alosaimi dipped her fins into the Red Sea for the first time. It was a moment that would change the course of her life.
“My instructor was holding me as, at that point, I didn’t know anything about equalising or buoyancy, but I just got so excited. I started swimming everywhere,” smiles Alosaimi as she recalls the experience.
Her friend didn't adapt quite as well, and the pair had to call it a day when she complained of feeling dizzy. “We went back to the surface, but I couldn’t wait to get back down there and explore. I'd fallen for the underwater world."
An experience to remember
The feeling of being beneath the waves stuck with Alosami through the rest of her student days and beyond. In 2009 and 2010, she travelled to Egypt again and completed her Padi Open Water Diver and Advanced Open Water Diver certifications. She also tackled a Rescue Diver course.
When she eventually returned to Saudi Arabia to start working, her thirst for diving wasn't quenched. She enrolled in a diving school in Jeddah where she worked to become a divemaster.
“I took a job in tourism management, but every day I was just thinking about scuba diving. I realised it was my passion and, in the end, I decided to go back to Egypt to work in the diving industry.”
Given that this took place nearly a decade ago, Alosaimi's decision wasn't exactly a common one for a woman from Saudi Arabia. Thankfully, she has always had the support of her family.
“I couldn't have done it without my family's help," she says.
"I got to Sharm and started trying to find work. At first, most people didn’t take me seriously. They thought I was some rich girl who had come to play, not to work,” she recalls.
Ever enterprising, Alosaimi began working as an underwater photographer, capturing pictures of tourists exploring the deep blue. In 2013, she was finally certified as a Padi instructor and began her dream of working full-time in the scuba-diving realm.
Helping women beneath the waves
While there, she set up Pink Bubbles Divers – an initiative that she originally hoped would inspire Saudi women to travel to Sharm El Sheikh and go diving with her.
“It didn’t really work out,” she explains. “Back then, it was more difficult for women from Saudi to go diving; even going out on the boats or travelling was harder to navigate,” she said.
Fast forward to today, and Pink Bubbles is a roaring success. Having returned to her home country, Alosaimi now invests her time and energy into helping raise awareness of scuba diving across the kingdom.
She began working with Padi a few years ago and hosted the first-ever Padi Women's Dive Day in the kingdom in 2017. Two years later, she became an official Padi Ambassadiver, a programme that the association runs to help divers promote the sport and ocean conservation in their communities.
For Alosaimi, this was a turning point. “It gives me more of an international voice rather than only being known within Saudi. It gives me more of a platform and, last year, we hosted the first-ever liveaboard trip for women in the kingdom. It was amazing."
Over the course of three days, a ship sailed from Jeddah to Rabigh with only women on-board. The days were spent diving in the Red Sea, snorkelling and doing yoga and meditation, as well as plenty of relaxation in a destination that holds a special place in Alosaimi's heart.
"I’ve dived in many places around the world now,” says the dive master, “but the Red Sea is number one. A close second is Hawaii, but my favourite place to dive is right here in Saudi’s Red Sea.”
Packed with marine life, the Red Sea's underwater ecosystem is home to more than 300 species of coral and 1,200 species of fish – 10 per cent of which are not found anywhere else in the world. Spinner dolphins, dugongs, turtles, mantas and sharks are just some of the marine species that also call these waters home.
According to Alosaimi, the Red Sea is comparable to any diving location in the world, and the boost that the sport has experienced during the pandemic has been encouraging.
Lockdowns and strict curfews in some regions across the kingdom initially kept people out of the ocean, but when restrictions eased, the diving community witnessed a huge renewed interest in the sport.
“People weren’t travelling, but wanted something to do, and many of them turned to diving," explains Alosaimi.
“The good thing about Saudi is it’s so huge; there’s so much to discover above and beneath the water. And when you go beneath the waves, you forget about Covid-19 – it’s as if you're in a world without it, it's an escape.”
Saudi Arabia's best diving sites
Sharing some insider knowledge of the kingdom’s best places to dive, Alosaimi highlights Yanbu on the western coast. Located on the same latitude as the border of Egypt with Sudan, more than 500 kilometres south of Sharm El Sheikh, it has some wrecks and plenty of wall diving. Reef life here is abundant and colourful, and divers can see schools of big eye jacks, barracudas and tuna, as well as hammerhead sharks.
“The Five Sisters dive site in Rabigh is another one to visit; it’s vast and untouched," adds Alosaimi.
Located midway between Jeddah and Yanbu, it has only recently been discovered as a diving site, and the waters here are truly pristine.
And for those getting to grips with the sport, Jeddah is a good place to begin. “There’s easy diving and lots of things to see for beginners," says the Ambassadiver. The ancient port city has several dive schools dotted along the coast, coupled with accessible, beautiful reefs that make ideal locations for novices to earn their scuba stripes.
A post-Covid diving world
It's also where Aloasimi is planning to develop the next part of her scuba career. In 2021, she plans to open her own dive school in Jeddah.
While it will be open to both male and female divers, she's keen to focus on women. “Because there are less women divers in the kingdom, I want to concentrate on getting women into the sport.
She’s also quick to point out that it’s not just for Saudi women, but for all women. “Saudi women are like all other women, they’re not different. Why do people say Saudi women – why not just women? Girls and women in this country are very adventurous and the younger generations are really interested in sports and diving. And, of course, the tourists when they return will be very welcome, too.
“No matter where people have gone diving before around the world, if they come to Saudi Arabia to dive, they will definitely be impressed."