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Getting my scuba diving certification

Last week I took a week long trip with my family to Sri Lanka. We stayed in several places (Colombo, Unawatuna beach, Ella, Kandy) but my main purpose was clear: completing a three-day diving course to get an open water diving certificate.

Why get an open water diving certificate?

I’ve been to many tropical tourist destinations in my life and enjoyed the sea/ocean by swimming and snorkeling but it never occurred to me to get a diving license. Why spend a bunch of time and money on skills training when you can just do fun dives instead? Why learn technical skills on a vacation?

After determining that I really love being under water and watch fish and other sea creatures I decided to take the plunge. Diving is the best way to see everything from up close and doing the training is a great way to ensure a handful of quality dives. It’s also cool to understand your gear and get comfortable with it.

For me, it was also just easier to commit to three days of diving instead of trying to squeeze in a bunch of fun dives while on holiday with my family. My husband gifted me this trip for my birthday and agreed to hang out with the kids elsewhere so I could take the class in peace. It was really fun to have this time to myself with an awesome instructor dude and a small group of diving enthusiasts.

Another reason to get serious about diving now was that I’m going to the Maldives soon, where the sea life is supposed to be truly amazing. To have a diving certificate would make it easier to do cool dives there instead of spending time on learning diving skills—because you always get basic skills training even for fun dives (“discovery dives”).

Where: picking the place

I chose to take the course in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka, where it’s really affordable and the sea life is pretty good. It made more sense to me to do it there than in the Maldives because that will be a shorter and much more expensive (and romantic) trip.

There are lots of countries with a good diving reputation: Indonesia, Thailand, Bonaire, Mexico, Egypt, Greece, and so on. Sri Lanka just made sense to me because it’s close to where I live (Mumbai). I could have done it cheaper in Goa, but I doubted I’d see as much sea life there. So Sri Lanka was the easiest, good-enough option. I saw some pretty good stuff under water: more on that later!

Quality: what matters?

I used a diving school with a good reputation (thirty years in business, decent reviews) and a really chill vibe called Into the Deeps. There were bigger, more pricey diving school options, but they were less flexible. Because it was a smaller company it was quieter and I got lots of personal attention. They tailored their classes to individual needs.

I’d read a book about diving and was looking for clues to determine the quality of the diving instruction, since I don’t have any other way to determine if they were “good.” Was it an official (PADI) licensed school? Yes. Did the instructor train us in all the required skills? Yes. Did the instructor rush through the skills training? Not really, though he was definitely no-nonsense. Did they have diving computers? Yes, though I only got one for the fourth and final dive (when I needed it for an exercise).

Difficulty: can anyone do it?

I’m not gonna lie: I was a little bit nervous beforehand. I’m not great at remembering technical names for things, or sequences of technical steps. When you deal with diving equipment this can be tricky. But I needn’t have worried because it’s like driving a car. In the beginning it’s tiring and adrenaline inducing, but everyone can do it and you don’t need to understand the inner workings of the whole car to get your license.

Then again, I wouldn’t enroll my 10-year old in an open water course just yet. The training is intensive, the gear is heavy, and some skills are tough—like changing masks underwater or putting on a heavily weighted belt. I think you need some measure of life experience, grit, and motivation to get through.

The process of learning how to dive

I can’t speak of other diving courses, but I suspect mine was pretty standard. It took three days and was fairly intensive—four days would have made it more chill. Or if I’d done all the theoretical learning in advance online, which is also possible.

The first day I was alone with the instructor and he made me watch over two hours of the PADI video course. Then he walked me through some of the basic skills: swimming with a tank on, clearing my mask under water, and getting familiar with my regulator (the thing you breathe through). We also went for a 40-minute dive, 5-8 meters deep, which was relaxing and fun.

The second day felt a lot more serious. A new student joined the class—a German police officer—and we familiarized ourselves with the most important diving equipment. There’s the BCD, air tank, regulators, weighted belt, gauge, release valves, mask, fins, and diving computer. They all require certain processes to check, prep, use, and clean. I also learned under water sign language, rescue skills, and a bunch of stuff about air pressure.

The third day was reserved for two deep water dives—up to 18 meters down. We learned how to use a compass, which was frustrating because I played with compasses as a kid but I didn’t know how to actually use it. Turns out there’s an easy ways to use it under water, even if you move a lot, and we both passed on our second try.

Is it fun?

Each day I really enjoyed the dives but as soon as I’d get out of the water I felt tired and seasick. It was like flipping a switch; one moment I was happily swimming around below sea level observing fish—the next minute I was bobbing in the rough salty sea surface trying to get my heavy gear off, clambering into a boat, and feeling sea sick on the way back to the shore.

All in all it was a lot of fun. It certainly helped that we saw some cool stuff! My highlights include seeing a sea turtle, an octopus, and the outline of a Napoleon fish. And a massive whale shark! We didn’t encounter the whale shark under water though. When we were still in the boat another boat waved us over and we all scrambled to get our fins and masks on and plunged into the water as quickly as possible. It was scary to jump towards a big shark—it would have felt more natural to get away!—but it’s apparently harmless. I only saw his impressive backside though before he disappeared into the depths of the Indian Ocean.



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