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Maybe like me you have friends that are already scuba divers and you have had the opportunity to hear some of the awesome stories they tell of their scuba dive adventures. Things like diving with seals and exploring the wonderful oceans we have here in Cape Town.
With these stories stuck in my head, I recently plucked up the courage to do my Open Water Scuba Diving course through Into The Blue Scuba Dive Centre here in Cape Town and I must say Theo and his team did not disappoint.
Doing your Open Water Scuba Dive Course is a great deal of fun. Yes, it is true that there is some homework that you have to do, but I must admit I was really impressed with the standard of the course material that PADI produces and how quickly I learned the material.
The work book is well designed with lots of photos and easy to use diagrams that explain what you will be doing in plain English. There is also a handy DVD that runs through most of what you will cover in the book. The great thing about using both the book and the DVD is that they reinforce each other making learning easy.
I enjoyed the frank way in which PADI explains the risks and rewards of scuba diving. Let’s face it, like many worthwhile sports out there, there is an element of risk when it comes to doing scuba diving, but with such a professional and meticulous approach to dealing with these risks I felt that I was well prepared to try on the scuba equipment and test it out.
After working through the first three chapters of the Open Water Course Manual, I had to do the first set of practical pool dives. For those of you that have never worn a full wet suit… let me just say that being thin has a distinct advantage! I felt a bit like the Michelin Man out of water, but that was soon to change as we entered the pool.
The first time I entered the water I felt very awkward. I am pretty sure that most students do, but don’t worry, the longer you are in the water, the more you become accustomed to the gear and how it all works.
If I can offer you some advice, don’t try and breathe through your snorkel if you are floating on your back with your head tilted backwards. Instead of air, you’ll just be sucking lots of water down the pipe! I know…I had about half the swimming pool in me by the time we were done.
All jokes aside. Theo did a great job of calming me down and helping me become more confident in this foreign environment. I say foreign environment, because the scuba gear adds a totally new dimension to being in a swimming pool.
In the pool you start learning the practical skills that you will need to become an Open Water Scuba Diver. This includes things like how to clear your mask if it becomes full of water, how to clear your regulator (that’s the thing that goes in your mouth and helps you breathe underwater) as well as a whole range of other important skills.
It might seem daunting at first, but the staff at Into The Blue Scuba Dive Centre have been trained really well to deal patiently with you and help you master those skills.
I recall one exercise that we did that taught me an invaluable lesson. One of the skills that you learn is how to recover your regulator in the event of it being dislodged from your mouth while diving. As you can imagine, this is a pretty big deal if you are 20 meters under the water.
Theo started off by demonstrating the recovery procedure and then motioned me to do the same. We had talked about the various emergency options that you have at your disposal when you lose your regulator.
Like most things in the PADI Open Water Course, there are numerous checks and balances to ensure your safety. One of these checks and balances involves you scuba diving with a buddy, so that in the event of an emergency you can signal him for air, and he will then provide you with his alternate air source.
With that knowledge in hand I took a deep breath and removed my regulator from my mouth and discarded it. I started with the recovery procedure and searched for the regulator like he had taught me, or so I thought, but I was doing something wrong and could not locate it.
All of a sudden it dawned on me that I might not be able to find my regulator, so desperately started reaching behind me to grab it. In my panic state I hardly noticed that Theo was gesturing to me to use his regulator…air was literally a half a meter away from me, but my brain was telling me that I was running out of air. So what did it do? I swam the short distance to the surface of the pool and gasped for air.
As I drank in the life giving air I started to realise that what I had done was wrong. If that had been 20 meters under the water I could have been in really deep trouble. It then dawned on me how important it was that we first did the pool sessions in a controlled environment. I had just discovered every scuba divers worst enemy, panic. When you panic you rely on instinct to save you, the problem however is that you are in a completely foreign environment, instinct actually becomes your worst enemy.
But that is the wonderful thing about the Open Water Course. You learn to deal with your fears, like taking your mask off under water, recovering your lost regulator, or what to do if you run low on air, so that if you ever face that situation, you know exactly what to do.
That’s all for now, in my next blog I will take you through my adventures scuba diving in Cape Town’s Oceans on my quest to become a Open Water Scuba Diver.