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Jan 7, 2015

Should You Become a Scuba Diver ?

Imagine the thrill of being weightless, breathing normally under the surface of the blue ocean, eye to eye with all manner of creatures. This is scuba diving and almost anyone can do it.
Discover Scuba
Before making the leap into a certification program, try a “discover scuba” experience. You’ll soon know if diving is for you. Minimum age is ten in most places, and there is a health waiver which is for your own safety. If you are unsure about elements of your health such as your heart, asthma or ear problems you should ask your doctor for advice. My little sister is a champion swimmer who runs long distances, but her asthma says ‘no’ to diving and so does her Doctor.
Discover Scuba introduces humans to breathing underwater with a mask, fins and a tank on. An instructor will go over some safety drills and teach you how to get water out of your mask by blowing air out your nose. In shallow water, the instructor will observe your reaction to the scuba equipment and make sure that you are comfortable. You’ll be instructed ‘never to hold your breath’ and to ‘breath normally’. Most people take to it immediately, but during this first immersion a small percentage of punters will feel panicky. If you feel this way, a good instructor should heal your distress and you could move on to be an avid diver. My advice is to stick with it. Find that special teacher who can nurture anyone through their certification.
Twenty years ago while on tour with an orchestra in Israel (I play the viola!) I did the ‘discover scuba’ thing with a couple of buddies and we had a ball. We even paid a videographer to film us and I still watch the video from time to time.
At the end of this experience, which usually happens while on vacation somewhere warm, you will likely have an irrepressible smile. Time to think about some commitment. At this stage, I had no money, no time and had a university degree to finish, so my next dive was another ‘discover scuba’ eight years later on the Great Barrier Reef.
Open Water Certification
A course spans several days and 4-5 dives depending on the organization. Diving becomes more serious at this point as you begin to learn some of the physics involved in breathing gas at depth, and the safety issues are covered. I was certified in Israel, and the instructor would lapse from English into Hebrew until my raised hand would bring him back, but because he was a bit scary I would often let him continue at length before meekly requesting English. I wonder what I missed….
Ask for advice before choosing where you’ll do your course. Basic training should be thorough, and some operations and instructors will push you through without really ‘teaching’ you which could put your life in danger, especially in the first 30 dives after certification. I’ve filmed classes for some excellent instructors who answered all manner of questions, showed up-to-date power point presentations and films and really ‘taught’ their students. Good instructors are out there.
The certification dives are fun and challenging to some. Confined water dives are usually in a pool. Mine were in the ocean which was wonderful, but you don’t really have time to smell the roses while your instructor demonstrates and has you repeat a series of skills. Here’s a video about one of the skills: ‘mask clearing‘.
Once you’ve successfully demonstrated each of the skills and completed the final theoretical exam, you’ll be certified to dive to sixty feet with a guide. Time to have some fun! Here’s a video I shot of a client diving with his recently certified son and a guide in Cozumel Mexico.
My unfortunate story is that after certification I went straight on to the Advanced Open Water Course, but this was rather unsafe, even for a natural diver. Read on…
Advanced Open Water Certification

There’s a lot of diving to do in water shallower than 60 feet. However, my instructor warned me that I’d soon find myself amongst advanced open water divers on dive sites requiring depths up to 130 feet. I jumped prematurely into the course and very soon after advanced certification, with 25 dives under my belt, I found myself running low on air while diving a New York shipwreck in cold water with all rented gear, no computer, a new buddy and a slightly different set of hand signals and gauges. I was not ready for advanced open water diving and should have notched many more shallow dives before progressing to deeper and colder dives. Here’s the page from my logbook. Note the tank pressure at the end…
So… before progressing to the next certification level, do some research and dive in several destinations with abundant shore diving at 60 feet or less, with guides. Places like Bonaire, Eilat, Cozumel and the Bahamas are destinations I amassed many more dives all the while becoming less of a danger to myself and those around me.
The Advanced course usually involves  five or six open water dives (depending on the certification agency), some of which are specialized dives. My electives were a boat dive, a navigation dive, a deep dive to 90 feet and some rescue exercises with some emergencies thrown in. The academic work will reinforce your knowledge and you’ll have a chance to ask all those questions which have come to mind during your new dive career.
After your tanned, good looking instructor shakes your hand and your pride swells, you must go on to make the most of that card that will arrive shortly in the mail.
Go Diving
It’s like an underwater driving license. This is when the adventures really begin. Find a dive club near you, meet some new people and go on some trips. You are a diver now!
Here’s a video I shot during a trip to Cozumel Mexico.

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