In the Alpes

“Feel free to be generous with the saliva!” On the Aiguille beach, Theoule-sur-Mer (Alpes-Maritimes), Yann Stebler mischievously looks at the participants, to whom he explains how to avoid having fog on the mask. In charge of the departmental nature sports plan, the lively diving director is jubilant: for the second time this summer, the underwater discovery trail welcomes people with disabilities for half a day. Created in 2006 to raise public awareness of the seabed, this aquatic course is located in the heart of a protected departmental area, the Pointe de l’Aiguille Park. “We started last year, on the occasion of the Festival of the sea and the coasts, he explains. The morning was a success, so much so that this year we are offering four half-days of discovery for people with disabilities. There is demand. And then, with this kind of public, it’s only happiness!”

A very receptive audience

“Have you ever used a snorkel?” Sarah, Julia, Pascal and Alexis, all fromStatus, an establishment and service of help through work (Esat) in Nice, listen religiously to Yann, seated alongside Catherine and Véronique, their educators. Carla, she came with her mom. “You are here for the scoot!” throws Yann, teasingly, showing a small motor vehicle. His utility? Tow in the water the most tired.

“And here is our encyclopedia of the sea”, he continues, presenting Delphine Lambert, deputy director of the Sea and Mountain Discovery Center, charged by the local authority with the animation of the underwater trail. This one is inexhaustible on the biodiversity of the seabed: “We call this place the aquarium. Of all the places where I have dived in the Mediterranean, it is the prettiest.”

But nothing beats smiles when you come out of the water. Philippe Monnier, volunteer instructor, never tires of it: “When they say thank you, it really comes from the bottom of their hearts!” This 66-year-old man with a tanned complexion explains that he decided to become a monitor Disabled realizing that “among the so-called able-bodied people, many are handicapped when it comes to diving”.

Created in 2011, the Handisub brand is the response to the ambition of several federations – the French Federation for Underwater Studies and Sports, but also those in charge of “adapted sport” or “handisport” – to develop the accessibility of underwater activities taking into account the requirements specific to the handicap (development of sites, training of instructors, etc.). Ten years later, 31 structures are certified on the Côte d’Azur, and several hundred at the national level.

Learn by marveling

Very quickly, the swimsuits are put on, the fins and the masks distributed. Yann gives his latest recommendations. “In case of jellyfish, we look where the hat is. You always have to go ahead!” Sarah smiles. “She is very comfortable in the water”, slips Véronique.

A few minutes later, everyone is floating not far from a supervisor, swimming from one discovery to another under the direction of Delphine. “Look, it’s a sea cucumber!” suddenly trumpeted the scholar, showing in her hand a kind of enormous black radish. “But don’t get too close or he stresses out and releases toxins.”

Atherines, bugs, lizard fish, wrasse… Divers never stop widening their eyes at the parade of colorful scales. Suddenly, Carla is cold. Neither one nor two, Philippe brings her back to shore with the underwater scooter. An educator encourages Julia, who wants to follow Carla. “Don’t exaggerate, you can still hold on!” A few minutes later, the young woman keeps quiet, totally overwhelmed by a school of saups passing before her eyes.

But already noon strikes. “It was good, huh! says Julia, back on land. I would like to come back with my parents.” Everyone changes to leave. The bet is won: the smiles shine on the faces.

Recipes for success

A free activity All you have to do is register on the department’s website, under the “Handisub snorkeling” tab. Participation is 100% covered.

Trained instructors The instructors are specialized in supporting people with disabilities, and must pass different tests depending on the degree of disability, mental or motor.

An exceptional site Located in a protected area promoting astonishing biodiversity, this water course offers a superb landscape.

In the Alpes-Maritimes, an underwater trail opens up to the disabled