This is one of the most un-Australian things I'm going to say: I don't like the beach. I'm not a huge fan of salt water, or sand up my arse, and I have the swimming abilities of a five-year-old. For those reasons, I had ruled out diving as a hobby and gladly accepted my life as a full-time land dwelling mammal. But I'm also a sucker for bargains -- and when I saw an Open Water diving course deal online, I thought I'd give it a crack. Here are five things I learnt on my first scuba diving adventure.
I signed up for the SSI Open Water diver course which ran over two and a half days. It consists of two exams (which aren't that hard to pass) and four diving sessions. Once you're certified as an Open Water diver, you'll be equipped with the basic knowledge of skills for diving to a recommended depth of about 18 metres.
Bear in mind that this article isn't intended to be a comprehensive guide on scuba diving (you'll need to attend professional courses and obtain your certifications for that kind of detail). There are a number of things to consider when you do decide to become properly certified for diving, such as the equipment and how comfortable you are underwater. But hopefully I can shed some light on what to expect when you decide to take the plunge.
You don't need to be an Olympic swimmer
As part of the Open Water course, you're subjected to around three hours of training, where you're confined in a swimming pool to learn a range of skills from how to "fin pivot" so you can dive deeper under water to emergency ascents when you're in trouble. But before all that, you'll need to do a swimming test.
The requirement is that you must be able to swim 200 metres and be able to tread water for 10 minutes. Sounds intimidating for those of us (myself included) who are terrible swimmers, but it's actually not so bad. I doggy paddled through most of the 200 metres and struggled to stay afloat during the water treading exercise and still passed.
The point is that unless you have absolutely zero swimming abilities, you'll be fine. If I can pass, anybody can pass.
It's harder than it looks, but it does become easier
While the demands on your swimming prowess is minimal, there is a great deal of information to absorb while you're on the course. A lot of it will be theory based, which you can get by without knowing completely, but the practical skills are important to pay attention to. I found it incredibly challenging to stay underwater at first, as my body fought with me to float back to the surface.
It wasn't until the second day before I felt comfortable with the whole thing.
It may not be as scenic as the marketing photos
Image credit: Roderick Eime/Flickr CC
Pictures of people majestically floating in clear blue water with colourful marine life emblazon diving brochures, so you'll be forgiven to think that all diving sessions will be like that. Sadly, you will be disappointed.
What you see in the water is dependent on a number of factors including the location, weather and the type of dive you're doing. In terms of the latter, you have shore dives which means you enter the water from a shoreline and boat dives where you jump in from a boat. Shore dives generally mean you'll be diving in shallow water and marine life there isn't all that interesting. With boat dives, you'll be able go deeper and see more wondrous creatures and plant life that lie beneath.
What you see under the sea is determined by how murky the water is as well, which leads me to my next point.
It can be scary as hell
Visibility may vary depending on the conditions at your dive site. On the first day of my diving course, there was a lot of debris in the water and I could barely see a metre ahead of me. Also, when you're underwater, you can't really hear much besides the overpowering sound of your own breathing as the bubbles escape your regulator. It was creepy as fuck.
It's also very easy to become lost when submerged in murky water. There were times when I lost sight of my instructor and my group. I ended up panicking a little and started swimming forward frantically, clawing at the water and kicking my fins desperately in the direction I saw them last.
It's not uncommon to lose your bearings as well. You'll think you're swimming forward but in reality you've drifted to the far right. All these things can be scary for beginners.
It can be very peaceful
Image credit: Ilse Reijs and Jan-Noud Hutten/Flickr CC
After the first day, my confidence was at an all-time low. I contemplated throwing in the towel but managed to drag myself to the course on the second day. This time, the dive site's water was a lot clearer and, being able to see more than three metres ahead of me, I felt safer.
I was surprised by how I had subconsciously integrated the skills I learnt during the course while I was in the water and soon I was able to let go of the fear and the anxiety so I could just enjoy the diving experience. It was incredibly serene and relaxing as I drifted past an array of coral and a family of jellyfish.
By the end of the Open Water course, I was already planning my next diving trip. I'm not going to lie, there are some things you have to do when you go diving that are downright unpleasant. Lugging a 12-kilogram air tank when you're dripping wet and having to walk past amused onlookers at a crowded beach isn't exactly enjoyable but once you get into the water, it's a whole new world out there waiting to be explored.
Have you been scuba diving in the past? Tell us your experience in the comments.