Diving is never something I really thought about doing. I like the water and fish, sure, but did I particularly have any interest in fully submerging myself under metres of salt water without the ability to breathe through my nose? No.
By nature I’m a land type of girl. Give me mountains and forest and I’m happy. However, after my 4 day open water dive course on Koh Tao, Thailand, this has changed.
Now, before everyone gets all crazy. Yes, Koh Tao is where a tourist couple were murdered recently. Yes, that was awful. But, that’s no reason not to visit the island.
The only problem I had in Koh Tao was with the local insect population! Those bastards went to town on my blood. I was like a walking buffet to them. Now I look like a connect the dots puzzle! Anyway, that was just a slight word to reassure anyone that was worried. Moving on….
I arrived on Koh Tao after an extremely unpleasant hung over night bus/ ferry journey. Approximately 12hrs of wrestling with sleep and trying not to vomit had made me grumpy. Self inflicted of course, one too many buckets. … but that’s another story. By the time we got to Big Blue all I wanted to do was check in and get myself into a bed. I was informed during check in that the first part of the course started at 5pm that evening if I wanted to get started. Needless to say, given the state that I was in, I was dubious about doing anything.
After a quick nap to make myself feel more human I decided it probably was a good idea to get started on the course. I had no other plans. Why not? The quicker I get it over and done with the better, right?!
The first day was basically just meeting everyone in the evening and deciding whether you want to be PADI or SSI trained.
Now, I’m no dive expert, in fact I refer to myself as a baby diver, but SSI was cheaper and apparently is recognised everywhere in the world just like PADI. Soooo I went for that one. In fact, my entire group did. SORRY ALLY! Our instructor reassured us that if we wanted we could switch to PADI for any of our future dive courses. Just because we chose SSI in the beginning did not mean we could never do a PADI course in the future.
After that we watched a few videos, filled in some blanks as homework and called it a night.
The second day was an early morning start at 8.30 am. We were split into two groups of six. I had an instructor called Tim. He turned out to be the perfect mix of patience and telling people when they needed to man up. If any of us had a problem, and a lot of us did, he made sure we worked through them as calmly as possible.
Once we’d met our instructors it was time for more theory. After that was done we headed off to the pool to get used to the equipment and practise skills. That was the part I was dreading, which was unfortunate considering it is also the most important part of diving.
Now, I’ll level with you…. I hated it. Ten minutes into the pool session I was searching for nearest exit and trying to think of any excuse to leave that wouldn’t make me sound completely lame.
Basically, it took me a while to figure out the whole breathing completely through my mouth thing. It didn’t help that the visibility in the pool was shocking on that particular day either. However, I will say that the skills are not nearly as daunting as they seem, especially if you keep in mind that your instructor is there to take care of you.
At one point he said, “next skill, I’m going to turn off your air supply“. At that stage people started to look very concerned. Honestly though, a little faith goes a long way. Your instructor is never going to let anything happen to you. The sooner you remember that the calmer you’ll be.
After the pool session I was more sure than ever that diving wasn’t for me. Alas, I still had to sit through some more videos.
I then returned to my merman of a boyfriend, he was basically born in the ocean, and I told him that I didn’t love it. I’ve never seen him look so concerned. I could see him mentally calculating how our relationship was going to work if I didn’t love diving. I think his exact words were “well, there’s still surfing”.
I think my main problem was that I expected to love diving straight away. Everyone always says it’s amazing. However, after quizzing my family and friend the general consensus seemed to be that it was much better once you got into the sea and had something to look at.
One thing that made me feel better was the fact that my sister is terrified of fish and dislikes the sea in general. She did her dive course in Egypt and loved it. Given that I am neither terrified of fish nor the ocean I was fairly convinced that it must be possible for me to enjoy diving at least a little! Still, I went to bed that night anxious and very conscious of my breathing.
On day three I turned up determined to get through, if not enjoy, the two dives scheduled for the afternoon. This was the morning we had our test. I’m a book/study nerd, I was looking forward to this part. It was the easiest test I have ever done in my life. Multiple choice with so many ridiculous options that the right answer was completely obvious. I’m pretty sure everyone in our group got 96% . So if you got a bit worried when I mentioned test, dont be, no one fails that test.
Afterwards we broke up for lunch and got our equipment ready for the boat. I never realised there was so much equipment involved. You’ve got fins, a rig, air canisters, BC unit, mask and snorkel, wetsuit if you need it, weight belt and gosh knows what else. I can’t decide whether wriggling into my wetsuit or waddling along in my fins was the funniest part. Either way, the boat was so busy I barely had time to remember the fact that I was dreading this.
As I took my giant stride off the side of the boat I prayed silently that I wouldn’t face plant. Luckily I hit the water just as I should without losing my mask or any of my equipment. Small victory dance. Once the whole group was in the water and ready to go Tim took us under water.
That was it. The minute I realised why everyone loved it. I could see everything. It was so clear. The fish were everywhere. It was amazing. All my anxiety was gone. I was a little bit in love.
Now, I might have decided I was ok with diving…. but that didn’t mean everyone else in my group was. One unfortunate man got seriously seasick and vomitted. … a lot, which apparently the fish love but he didn’t seem to enjoy it too much. He ended up having to sit it out in the boat bathroom. Another gentleman couldn’t get over the mental side of it when we had to flood our masks. Despite Tim’s numerous attempts to calm him down he ended up back on the boat too.
By day four our six had become four.
Day four consisted of two dives. One of which had to include two skills. It was basically the same deal as day three except we had to be up and ready to leave at 6.30am. This was good in a way as it meant we’d be finished by about 11.30am. However, that was not what I was feeling when I had to drag myself out of bed that morning.
I’d say I yawned at least twenty times during the pre dive talk. The only upside to this early morning was that the boat we were on had a kitten living on it, and she was gorgeous. I know, I am easily pleased.
The two dives on day four are filmed by an underwater videographer. This made me somewhat self conscious. It’s hard to look hot when you’re super pale, covered in bug bites and wearing a skin tight wetsuit. It’s even harder to look super psyched for the camera when you’re half asleep.
Honestly though, day four was super fun. There was already a sense of excitement because we’d basically passed unless we did something insanely stupid during the dives. Which no one did, thankfully! People were jumping off the boat between dives. Everyone was feasting on biscuits and pineapple slices and lounging in the morning sun. Bliss. I loved it.
The two final dives went perfectly. Then it was back to land to celebrate.
That night we all gathered in the Big Blue bar to have a drink, celebrate and watch our underwater movie. Afterwards we had the opportunity to buy it if we wanted. I was the only person in my group to purchase it. To be honest, it was very expensive, but I could just hear my mother’s voice in my head telling me that I don’t have to save ALL of my money. It can always be her Christmas present or something 😛
WHAT DID I SEE?
With regards to wildlife, I didn’t see TOO much on my dives. Nothing big. I saw an eel, some giant grouper, a great barracuda, some angel fish, parrot fish and plenty of smaller ones that I have no idea what they’re called. Oh and I saw a potato grouper, which of course led to many Irish jokes.
Anyway, I’ll wrap it up! I nearly on 2000 words here!
What I would say to anyone considering doing an open water dive course is to go for it. I was completely dubious in the beginning, and even in the middle of mine but once I got into the sea I was in love. It’s an amazing experience and completely worth doing. I’m no water baby, but it turns out you don’t have to be to enjoy diving.
Already done your Open water course and thinking of doing your Advanced Open Water course?? Then take at look at my guide to the Advanced Open Water course – here.