Becoming a PADI Open Water Diver: My Experience
The story of how I became a proud PADI qualified Open Water Diver is manifold. Two weeks ago I had no interest at all in diving. After my first experiences I could not understand the excitement. One fun dive later I have fallen head over fins in love with it. And now I am plotting my next adventure and making a bucket list of dream dives and underwater life I want to experience. Let's start at the beginning though!
During our Gran Canaria trip Adam reached out to Davy Jones diving, a local PADI Five Star dive centre run by Brian and his international team of instructors. Adam arranged for a refresher dive for himself and I took the opportunity to take a "Discover Scuba" dive to get an idea of the sport. I was excited to give it a go and my instructor Brett did a great job at covering all of the theoretical basics in a fun and informative way. We went through basic procedures and learned about the fish we expected to come across during our dive. At the end of the introduction, Brett explained how to set up the equipment properly and how to perform any safety checks.
Together with another group of divers from the school we loaded up the car and got ready to drive the very bumpy road to the Playa del Cabron. The tide was out as we went through our buddy checks and practiced how to clear our masks under water. Then it was ready to start breathing air through the regulator, put our heads in the water and blow bubbles. All in all a very calm experience. Brett took me on a dive around the reef for 44 minutes and we went down to 10 meters. Not a bad start for a first dive! I managed to stay calm throughout but found the fact that I could not orientate myself and did not know how much time had passed frustrating. We saw some fish but all in all I felt underwhelmed.
Having finished my taster dive I had the choice to either call it a day or continue and sign up for the Scuba qualification or Open Water Diver qualification. Because I had not gotten the kick I had expected the decision was a difficult one. Obviously, I had not hated the dive, but I also did not enjoy it. I knew I could do it again and I also knew that I would probably have a better time diving with a buddy I knew better. Not qualifying would have meant that every subsequent dive would have been another discovery one which would include theory and skills practices. Qualifying, on the other hand, would mean that longer term I might be able to go to more beautiful dive sites, share the experience with an experienced buddy and save time and money on things I already know.
Becoming an Open Water Diver
The choice was not straightforward for me but I had a feeling that another dive in a different place might bring with it the excitement that I was craving for. So, I made the decision to enroll in the Open Water Diver course. Worst case it would have been a qualification that I could proudly take home with me and another experience in life.
The PADI Open Water Diver course consists of a few elements. There is the aspect of theory which you study from a book or can do as an eLearning course ahead of your trip (do consider this to save some time during your holidays!). Then, you have to practice a number of skills in confined water and in open water. At the Davy Jones centre there was no pool so I learned everything in a little, fairly shallow bay. Some of the tasks include taking off parts of your equipment such as your mask, weight system or buoyancy control device (the "BCD") and putting them back on in the water. Then, there are a series of emergency procedures such as signaling low air, experiencing what running out of air might feel like and safely ascending to the surface. It can be frustrating to be unable to talk under water so you learn a number of symbols to indicate difficulties you may be having, different kind of fish or stages of a dive.
Some of my dives consisted almost only of practicing tasks. During one dive my fin strap broke so I had to awkwardly paddle back to the shore while Brett helped me by half dragging me along. The least enjoyable experience for me was actually waiting at the surface. That is, because at the surface you feel the waves much more. Also, the air in the tank feels dry but without it you can only rely on your snorkel, which I found less comfortable - especially when there were waves. One thing that does help is ensuring you drink enough water before going out as your mouth will likely dry out less.
After a couple of dives I had reached the scuba diver level of my course. Now it was on to the more fun part of the course. Having ticked off all of the must dos that are part of the confined water practice I got to practice some broader skills. Brett provided me with a compass to learn basic navigation skills and we went for a deeper dive down to 18 meters during which I got to have a play with a dive computer. This was the stage where I finally started enjoying myself. Diving is, in my experience, not difficult. Once I had all of the abilities that allowed me to simply enjoy the experience it was absolutely fascinating. All of those skills started to make sense and fall into place, I developed my fish knowledge and actually had a chance to identify some beautiful creatures.
During my fun dives we saw a Nudibranch, an Octopus, Cuttlefish, Trumpet Fish, Hairy Blennies and more. My final fun dive also coincided with Adam's last dive towards his Advanced Open Water course. As we came out of the water I had caught the bug and was actually looking forward to passing the final exam and being able to show off my qualification paper! Now don't worry as the exam is simply a multiple choice test. It is almost impossible to fail. Anything that you get wrong or are unsure about you can review with your instructor. It is actually better to ask questions now and go away confident than remain unsure about something. Anyway, the good news; I passed with ease. And I am sure that you can as well.
Next Steps After Qualifying
To celebrate, Adam and I joined our instructors for a fun exploration of the so called "Disco Bottom". There was, unfortunately not very much to see on this day but I was absolutely delighted to be able to share the experience with my new official dive buddy. Now I never have to worry about finding someone to dive with anymore and I can focus on future adventures. I have started a mental bucket list like seeing clownfish or diving with turtles, getting my Advanced Open Water qualification and experiencing more adventure dives. I want to master underwater photography and try myself at some other disciplines.
All in all, I am extremely grateful to have stuck with it because scuba diving has (once it finally convinced me) become a truly enjoyable experience that I would not want to miss again. If you are in a similar situation I can only advise you to keep trying if you think you might be able to enjoy it better after some additional practice. Getting qualified is a great experience in itself and being able to expand your future travels and exploring even more of the world is wonderful!