Five Things I Learnt While Scuba Diving

Five Things I Learnt While Scuba Diving

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

Five Things I Learnt While Scuba Diving

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.


  • This is one of the most un-Australian things I’m going to say
    Which you more than made up for by use of the word arse in the next sentence. I salute you

  • Scuba diving was something I wanted to do ever since I left school (17 years ago). Last year, I finally got around to doing it and pretty much everything here is correct. But one thing I’ll add after doing a number of courses, trips and getting nearly 150 dives in my first 12 months…is that EVERY dive has something different and amazing.

    I combined my love of photography with my new found love of diving and have taken some amazing photos of the things that I’ve seen.

    Keep diving Spandas! And if you come to Brisbane, I’ll be more than happy to take you out.

  • I used to dive (including credentialing on a whole load of optional things like Nitrox). So my 2 cents is:

    Good on Spandas for going back on the second day. Poor visibility can ruin a dive and especially so if you’re a novice. It’s a shame they didn’t postpone that first dive to another day. There are some tips for people looking for clearer waters:
    1. Research locations. Some are always be clearer than others
    2. Don’t go diving the day or two after a storm (churns up sediment)
    3. Keep diving in winter. This will mean either a thick wetsuit/hood/gloves or a dry suit. But plankton levels tend to drop when the water’s cold and so there will be less particulates to cut visibility

    For those looking to try diving, it’s worth finding a “discover” course. These are typically just a single day and get you in the water early on with no exams. You’ll be one-on-one with an instructor, so very safe. It’s a great way to test diving out and see if you like the idea of being able to breathe underwater. I was given one as a present and it hooked me.

    For those interested in scuba as a hobby, be aware of a few things
    1. Expense. You can rent kit on a dive-by-dive basis. But you’ll at least want your own wetsuit, fins and mask. Beyond that, the gear isn’t cheap and since you’re relying on it to keep you alive, don’t skimp or buy the bargain basement stuff. Similarly, be savvy if buying second-hand and get it all checked by a dive shop.
    2. Time. For every hour underwater, I used to estimate at least another 3 hours of set-up/pack-down. This includes things like getting air, checking all your gear, actually reaching the site and rinsing everything off afterwards.
    3. Buddies. The first thing new divers are taught is never go underwater alone. Most shop/club-organised dives will ensure you get a buddy, and this can be a great way to meet new people. But it’s also fun to share the hobby with friends/family, and then you can chose to go whenever or wherever you like. So it’s worth seeing if anyone you know already dives or is interested in learning with you.

    Diving is great. It’s about as close to weightlessness as you can get short of booking on the Vomit Comet. That feeling of effortless movement is worth it alone.

  • If you struggle with swimming (freestyle/front crawl) then may I suggest that you look into “Total Immersion” technique by Terry Laughlin? After a friend of mine told me about it (for triathlon) and I watched the video, it totally changed my swimming. I just can’t believe that I wasn’t taught this when I was a kid and that I struggled with swimming. I used to get tired after my 400m laps, but after Total Immersion, I can easily do 500m, just as a warm up! I told another friend of mine who was also doing triathlons with me, and he said it improved his swimming immensely.

    I tell everyone about Total Immersion now, and you should give it a go and write an article about it! I watched the video and bought the book to read, but I understand that there are weekend workshops all over Australia?

  • Here’s a good story.

    I was diving out in the Coral Sea on an isolated reef off a liveaboard. The reef wall ended at about 30m, then short sandy shelf after which it went straight down to the abyss. Lots of big fish with teeth in that area (I had spotted a hammerhead on aprevious accasion and there were definitely Oceanic white-tips around). The site was a manta cleaning station, so to get close to them you had to head straight to the bottom of the shelf at 30m and hang out, where they would rise up from the depths over you. Very cool. Think the opening scene of Star Wars where that spaceship looms onto the screen.
    So on this occasion, my buddy and I were heading back to the boat. The usual route was back to the reef wall, follow it, find the mooring rope and head up to your S-Stop.
    HOWEVER, the current was very strong that day and we finned hard trying to get back tot the wall. Before we knew it we were in a”blue-out”. No visibility, no reference points. I was shitting it a bit. Luckily we stuck together holding hands. We surfaced and inflated our BCDs. NO BOAT! FUCK! Panic set in. We looked around and over the swell we could see the boat, maybe 400m away. The only problem was that the dive site was in the other direction and no-one was looking our way. Now I was getting edgy. Open water, big sharks and here we were on surface current going the wrong way. I inflated my surface “sausage” and we each took a fin off and started waving them.
    The engineer on board saw us and came roaring out in the RHIB. He leaned over, pulled us in and said “You owe me a shitload of drinks when we get back to shore.”
    We got him drunk as hell and bought him a steak dinner.

  • I did it when I was younger and loved it. Keep it up Spandas!

    Always something I wanted to get back into, I saw one of those courses for sale online, but I got married this year, and couldn’t really justify the time to do it this year. Maybe next year…

  • once you get your certification, do you have to do anything every year to keep your certification?
    I suspect yes if your life and others depend on you to keep knowledgable.

    • Haha….no you don’t have to….but you will want to!

      Diving has a way of getting under your skin.

      People usually either try it once, tick their bucket list and move on…..or become addicted. I am one of the latter group.

    • With PADI you don’t. Although when you turn up to dive shop wanting to book some dives you will be asked when your last dive was and they may want to see your logbook. If it’s been over a year, the shop may suggest a quick refresher in water going over the basic skills.

  • I just went on my 4th ever dive this weekend (since I got my open water cert). It was a shore dive and I had a panic attack yesterday because I couldn’t swim against the tide, couldn’t decend, couldn’t catch up to my buddy. I did everything wrong, including taking off my mask and swallowing a stack of water. It was horrible. Tried the same spot again today and it was marginally better (I managed to decend at least), had another panic attack but managed to control myself.
    I’m not prone to this sort of thing, so it has been really confronting…and I think that’s part of the diving experience. I’m going back for more ASAP so I can overcome this terror. Best part? The maximum depth was 3 metres.
    It’s almost cute 😉

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