A beginner’s guide to scuba diving
I’ve been hooked on learning more about the ocean ever since I was a little kid. The only channel I watched religiously after school was Animal Planet and when I finally learned about Discover Channel’s Shark Week, my life totally changed.
Since I’ve been sharing a lot of stuff about scuba diving, I thought I’d share how I got into the hobby just in case others might want to give it a shot! I’ve still got a ton to learn about underwater photography and videography, but hopefully the little snippets of content I share can inspire others to explore this vast blue world and understand more of our impact on earth’s most precious resource.
My first experience diving
When I finally had the chance to dive for the first time, I was petrified. I remember my heart pounding as we watched the 30 minute PADI “exploratory dive” video at the dive shop which gave you an abridged run down of the basic concept behind diving.
You actually don’t need to have a certification to try out scuba diving. Our first experience diving was in Hawaii with Reef Pirates. An instructor basically teaches you the few basic skills you need — putting a regulator in your mouth, taking a giant step off the boat, how to equalize your ears, the basics of buoyancy — and you can go diving within the first hour or two. They do everything for you, including setting up your equipment and guiding you underwater to the best dive spots.
A lot of people feel like they will get claustrophobic underwater, which is a valid concern. In your mask, you can’t see your peripherals and it’s very easy to get disorientated. Alternately, some people are scared of the vast unknown that the ocean holds. As a brand new experience, it’s definitely nerve-wracking to enter the underwater world. But if you can put mind over matter, it’ll be an experience you won’t regret!
Your very first breath under water will feel VERY weird. Your lungs will thank you and your brain will go, “What the?!” But, I quickly learned to love breathing through the regulator. It gives you this feeling of total awe.
The thing that struck me the most though was how empty the ocean was. In the documentaries, you see tons of colorful reefs and sea life all over the sea bed. When I stuck my face under the water for the first time and looked 15 meters down, all I saw was a blanket of white sand. Not a single fish or living creature in my line of vision. It really intrigued me to learn more about this world that I had so little understanding for, and since then I’ve gained so much more of an appreciation for our seas.
Is it super dangerous?
Of course, diving comes with its risks. But, if you take the training and education seriously and always prioritize safety, it’s really not scary and doesn’t feel dangerous at all. You must always dive with a guide who has hundreds of dives under their belt and knows the dive sites like the back of their hand. When you get certified, you will learn all of the safety precautions to take to ensure a safe and fun dive every time.
I get so many questions about whether I’m scared of the sharks or rays we’ve dived with. No! Most of these animals want nothing to do with you and, try as hard as we may, are extremely hard to come across. Sharks really hate the sound of us breathing through the regulators underwater and typically swim away when they hear it. I’m always crossing my fingers and toes that we can get close to any big animal that we come across while diving and treasure every second spent with them. Because it could very well be only 10 seconds of hanging out with a manta ray throughout an entire week of diving…!
Getting Open Water certified
I’d had my first scuba diving experience and absolutely loved it. Next up was finding a dive center to get certified with. Getting Open Water Certified is the first step towards becoming a recreational scuba diver. This is essentially a one or two day course comprised of reading some instructional material, taking a few quizzes, practicing essential skills in the pool, and then finally skills tests in the ocean.
Once you get certified, it means you can go diving anywhere in the world up to 18 meters deep. Of course, you’d need to find a local guide to take you wherever you decide to dive. There are quite a few certifying agencies out there but we went with one of the biggest and most well known, PADI.
There are a ton of ways to get the Open Water certification done. Depending on where you get certified, this could either be relatively cheap or pretty expensive. We did our certification with Eco Dive Center in Los Angeles at a discounted rate of about $500 during February (a cold, winter month). You can also get certified in warm, tropical places like Thailand. I’d highly recommend this if you already know you’re going to be enjoy the experience as it’s usually significantly cheaper than getting certified in the states. Plus, you won’t have to wear a thick 9mm wetsuit and tight hood/vest to keep warm in freezing cold waters.
Beginning to dive around the world
We went on a dive trip to the Cancun area after we were open water certified. We booked a day trip to Cozumel and saw beautiful reefs and just one shark on our dive.
We also tried out freshwater cave diving in the famous cenotes in the area. It definitely takes time to master your buoyancy and feel totally comfortable underwater, so doing day trips is a good way to kick that off.
If your’e really into diving, the best bang for your buck typically is going on a liveaboard trip. This means you live on a dive boat for the duration of the trip, usually diving anywhere from 2-4 times a day.
All you do is eat, sleep, dive, and repeat!
Our first liveaboard was in the Similan Islands in Thailand, probably the cheapest place in the world to dive. It’s a great place to gain tons of experience, get cheap certifications, and enjoy diving in warm waters!
Advanced Open Water certification
If you want to dive in the most beautiful places in the world, having an AOW (Advanced Open Water) certification is usually necessary. This consists of more studying, tests, and completing 5 specialties of dives (i.e. night dive, drift/current dive, deep dive). Having an AOW certification allows you to dive up to 30 meters deep. This is important because a lot of the best dive spots are deeper than the 18 meters you’re allowed as an Open Water Diver. And you gain even more in-depth knowledge of the science behind scuba diving, how deep you can stay for how long, and overall how to keep yourself safer. We did our AOW certification as part of our liveaboard in Thailand and it was mounds cheaper than our Open Water Certification!
If you’re going to get certified, it’s probably a good idea to get some personal equipment. You can usually rent dive equipment from any shop you dive with, but having items that are personal to your body shape / size and that you’re 100% comfortable in is crucial. Rental costs can add up, so at this point we only rent the things that are hard to travel with: BCD, octo (regulator), and of course, tanks.
In my opinion, a well-fitted mask should be your #1 purchase. Having any issues with masks underwater is just a pain, so if you’re going to purchase anything, go for this one first.
We also purchased our own fins (catered to how strong of swimmers we are), boots for the fins, and I have my own wetsuit since rentals never fit me right. If you’re an AOW diver, a computer is probably the next best purchase to have!
Our most recent dive trip to Indonesia brought us to a total of 45 dives completed, and I’m just now starting to get really comfortable with all my gear and controlling my buoyancy underwater. Practice really makes perfect, and each dive brings an exciting new experience.
Whether it’s a new marine animal to encounter, a new type of underwater topography to check out, or gaining confidence in different types of currents, scuba diving has opened up another world of experiences that are just so different from life on land.