Scuba diving for new divers can be quite overwhelming. During the Open Water Certification process, you learn theory, do a skills session in the pool and go on four ocean dives. You are then qualified to go out diving with a buddy to a maximum depth of 18m.
For some lucky people (like my husband Dean), it seems to come naturally. While for others (like me), it is something completely foreign and a little bit scary. For any nervous new divers out there, I am sharing the difficulties I had with scuba diving and the top 5 tips I used to overcome them.
My bad Open Water experience
It was 2009 and my husband Dean had recently learned to dive. He was bragging about all the dive sites he was going to visit on our pending world trip. My “Fear Of Missing Out” (FOMO) was enough to motivate me to sign up for my Open Water Certification, despite the fact that I had only just gotten comfortable using a mask and snorkel.
Not one to waste time, I started my Open Water course that next week. In the class we flew through theory as we were eager to get into the pool and the ocean. The theory made sense, but the difficulty for me lay in putting into practice what I had just learned. No matter how many times I tried, I just couldn’t get the hang of removing and clearing my mask. I was out of breath, kept surfacing and felt very flustered and frustrated.
The equipment also felt clunky. The mask felt too big for my face so I kept fiddling with the straps and the regulator felt too big for my mouth so I kept chomping down on it. It also didn’t help when everyone in the class (besides me) seemed to be a natural at the skills, which meant that the instructor raced through the course. Unfortunately for me, my day at the pool ended in many tears and resulted in me quitting my Open Water Certification course.
My scuba diving difficulties
I wasn’t going to let anything get the better of me, so I enlisted the help of my husband to see where I was going wrong and how I could fix it. We identified 5 main problems:
1) I couldn’t quite get my skills down because of the way I was breathing. For example, in the mask removal skill, in one breath I would try to: remove the mask, put the mask back on and clear the mask, which was near impossible to do.
2) I was rushing through the course and not learning properly because I felt if I didn’t get it I would hold up others in the class.
3) My instructor and I were not communicating properly. I wasn’t clear about what problems I was having and the instructor wasn’t explaining what to do in a way I understood.
4) I kept fiddling with the equipment because I felt it didn’t fit me properly.
5) I didn’t feel safe because of all of the above.
Tips for new divers
The tips I am sharing are things you learn in the Open Water Certification and are really just common sense. But they helped me, and for any struggling divers out there, I hope they help you too:
Tip #1: Just breathe & practice
When doing your skills, remember don’t hold your breath and breathe consistently and naturally. For example, with the mask removal issue, I learnt it was ok to have several breaths while my mask was off, and then have several breaths when my mask was back on and filled with water. This allowed me enough air to use a single exhale through my nose to clear the whole mask and complete the skill.
Note, it is ok if it takes 2 or 3 breaths to clear your mask, just take it slow and steady. As this skill didn’t come naturally to me, the key was practice, practice, practice and perseverance! Like anything, the more you practice the better and more comfortable you will be. I practiced the skills in the pool in the middle of winter (my lips literally turned blue from the cold) until I felt comfortable enough to go back and redo the Open Water course.
Tip #2: Take your time
Being comfortable and safe are the most important things when scuba diving, so take your time. Whether you need extra time to setup and check your equipment, or like me, to learn a skill, there is no use rushing. It can be dangerous for you and others. Not to mention, rushing and doing things incorrectly can result in shortening a dive for others and no one wants that.
Tip #3: Speak Up
If you have a problem, don’t be embarrassed! It is important to share any problems with your dive instructor, whether it is before, during or after your dive.
I was better at communicating with my instructor during my second time in the Open Water course. While I didn’t have problems performing the skills, I did have some issues equalizing, so I let the dive instructor know during the dive. If issues like this happen during a dive, it is important for you to remember your basic hand signals so you can communicate effectively.
Tip #4: Check your equipment
If you don’t own your own gear, make sure you go to the dive shop and try it on before your dive. Remember the mask should feel comfortable and firm on your face, but should not be too tight. I made the mistake of tightening the strap on my mask so much that the strap broke, so make sure you avoid doing that!
Also the regulator should fit comfortably within your mouth without you having to bite down on it. Putting together your own equipment, checking its last service date and doing buddy checks, can all help you be more comfortable with the equipment you are using.
Tip #5: Be safe
While I was disappointed that I quit the Open Water Certification the first time around, I knew it was not safe for me to progress to the ocean. The second time around, I was much more comfortable because I addressed the problems above and felt safe.
And with that, I successfully gained my Open Water certification.
Gaining my diving certification was one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but it has also been one of the most rewarding. To get a sense of a new place when traveling the world, you need to explore what’s under the ocean as much as what is above. Seeing bump head parrot fish in Malaysia, Thresher Sharks in the Philippines or giant Manta Rays in Costa Rica would not have been possible without gaining my diving certification. It really has made our travels more fulfilling. So new divers, if you are struggling please persevere – there is an amazing world down below to explore.
About the Author
Amanda Bolzan and her husband Dean Samuels have been certified divers since 2009. Amanda has her advanced open water and Dean is a dive master. They have travelled the world and dived many sites in Australia, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.
Amanda and Dean have a travel blog called Scatabout which details the fun and unique experiences they have had on their world travels. You can find them doing something adventurous like scuba diving, hiking or something strange like running down the side of a building.
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