So you’ve always wanted to go scuba diving but haven’t taken the plunge into such an unknown and involved sport? Like many activities once it is broken into its components and explained it doesn’t seem as daunting as it once did. Is it easy, safe, fun and cheap? Hmmm…yes, yes, yes and no. There are entry level costs and then the high level “I must own the best of everything” price. I tell people it is a similar equipment commitment as downhill skiing with more initial training involved but a faster learning curve.
Who am I to be writing on this topic? I have been an active diver since 1995 and part of the instructor staff, since 1999, at a dominate dive center in the metro Denver area. Even though Colorado doesn’t have an ocean we do have a large number of certified divers. As the fittest state in the USA Coloradans also travel a lot to the Caribbean, Keys, SoCal and farther flung destinations to dive. While many of the scuba certification agencies are international there are agencies that are more country specific. And some are more for advanced training pursuits such as cave diving or other technical diving. For purposes of this article I will be referencing the better known international agencies such as PADI, SSI, NAUI, SID, etc.
Where to Train
There are two ways to get trained, on vacation or near your home. Both have their pros and cons. Major issues to think about are time, safety, cost and overall quality.
Time: Vacation time for me and many others is sacrosanct. It is very limited and usually breaks the budget. Would you really want to spend several vacation days studying, practicing and then getting your certification dives when you could be relaxing and otherwise enjoying the fact that you aren’t in your office? Why not spend several weeknights or a couple of weekends before the vacation doing all that then fully enjoying your time in a tropical paradise?
Safety: Getting trained in a first class destination is no different than at home when it comes to safety. I’ve seen many dive shops in remote 3rd world locations that clearly have well used equipment that we wouldn’t even sell as used in our shop. You are learning to breath underwater….yes underwater. I would want quality equipment to learn on and not patched up set of mismatched gear.
Cost: Scuba isn’t cheap as you may imagine. We get calls from people looking for the cheapest place to get certified. The old adage you get what you pay for applies here. If the class is so cheap that the instructors and store owners don’t make anything for their time do you think they will be in business long? What quality of instruction are you getting? Additionally dive destinations charge more since you will often have no choice but to use the store affiliated with your resort. Since you are on vacation just put it on your credit card to worry about next month, right?
Having a local dive store where you can get additional training, get your equipment repaired and join their exotic dive trips works best for most people since diving is a social activity. If you do get certified at a resort on vacation do yourself and your diving career a favor and go find a local shop near your home that you can adopt as a learning center. The amount of information you can pick up just at a monthly dive club slide show is worth the time to find a shop and staff you like.
What’s involved to get a C-Card?
Your C-card, dive lingo for certification card, is your entry permit to wonderful world of diving.
Class: Depending on the agency your class time will be 8-12 hours of instruction and lecture covering the equipment, the science of diving and paperwork. All of which will require a passing score on a multiple choice exam. The best way I have found students learn and understand the material is to before the class read the manual, watch the video/DVD and do any assigned homework. Inevitably students who cram to get the homework done the first morning of class seem to be behind the understanding and comprehension curve.
Pool work: The amount of pool work required is consistent between agencies so expect to spend 10-12 hours learning the various skills needed to become a diver. As an instructor I look for comfort in the water and confidence in doing the skills as they were instructed. Just because a student did a skill once it won’t mean they aren’t going to be asked to perform it again several times.
This is the point where students who really don’t want to be taking the class are easy to pick out. Peer pressure to get certified when one doesn’t really want to is common. Plenty of spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends or coworkers have tried to convince someone to undertake certification. This pressure increases fear and apprehension often times leading to failure.
The skills learned start with the basics of mask clearing and regulator retrieval management before proceeding to the advanced skills of air sharing and the emergency swimming ascent. Once again the key is to be comfortable in the water and relaxed in your ability to comprehend and complete the skills as taught. This is important since a student is required to demonstrate all the skills during the open waters phase of their training.
Open Waters: By definition, open waters are any natural outdoor water body where you can dive and perform the required skills; lakes, ponds, quarries, reservoirs and the ocean all qualify. As a student the dives have depth and time restrictions are only for the validation of the skills taught previously in the pool. Four dives, over two days, are required to earn a C-card. The main difference between the pool and open waters is instruction. In the pool students were taught and asked to demonstrate a skill in a controlled environment. In open waters the time for instruction is past; students are asked to demonstrate the skills previously learned in natural dive setting.
This sport is gear intensive. Consider it life support equipment for an environment that humans are only brief visitors. The primary goal is to buy quality gear that fits your budget which you then learn to use. Often a diver asks me how certain gear, for example a dive computer, works as the dive boat is leaving the dock. The knowledge and information exchange should start at the dive store but many times the equipment was bought on EBay or loaned from a friend. Without familiarity with your gear a certain confidence level is missing which can at best introduce anxiety and at worst a life threatening problem. Buying equipment from a dive store allows for expert selection, fit and instruction before you even leave the store. Stores that have an indoor pool will let you try your newly purchased BCD, regulator or computer before going on a trip. Whether you buy your dive gear one item at a time or all at once understand how it works for you and your dive buddy’s safety.
Hopefully once you have your C-card you want to go diving! Being new to the sport or not having a dive buddy won’t be a problem. Go visit the local dive operations in your area and find one that feels right to you. More than likely they have a dive club where you can find a dive buddy. They will also have numerous trips to exotic dive destinations to fit your time and budget. As your diving progresses you would benefit from advanced training in specialties that match the type of diving you like to do. Some popular choices are night, deep, boat, wreck and navigation. Learning to dive opens up a wonderful new realm of exploration with the added benefit of giving you an excuse to dust off your passport and go travel!
Get out and Explore the World!