Many people are naturally attracted to oceans, but few venture below the surface to see the magical world that is hidden beneath.
Most of us love spending their vacations on a pretty beach with nice water to look at or swim in. We plunge in, some dare swimming out into the unknown, and if they’re a little more adventurous they might do some snorkeling. Only very few go further than that.
I’m personally not a big fan of swimming in the ocean, because I can’t see what’s happening underneath me (especially if it’s not as clear as the lagoons in Tahiti and its islands).
So one day I decided to put on a snorkel and mask to see what I was missing. Since that day I was hooked. The former scary, moving shadows became beautiful fish in all shapes and sizes, and the dark patches turned into colorful coral. I couldn’t get enough of it, and ever since I pretty much never go near water without my snorkel gear.
Unfortunately I can’t hold my breath for longer than a few seconds, and 3 m/9 ft is probably as deep as I can get without running out of air and gasping like a drowning cat once back on the surface. But as I wanted to go deeper and stay longer, I decided to become a certified diver.
Where and with whom should you learn to dive?
I happened to spend a year traveling around Australia, and as the Great Barrier Reef is world-known for its amazing coral, size, and great visibility, I decided to give it a go there. I looked around for a dive operator that is reliable, trustworthy, has a good reputation, and well maintained gear. Remember, never go for the cheapest! This might result in a bad or even dangerous experience.
My choice back then was ProDive Cairns, a company that is well known, has a great fleet of boats and gear, and made learning to dive really special for me. I decided to spend a little more money and sign up for their 3-day live-aboard trip that gets you out to the more distant and beautiful parts of the Great Barrier Reef.
In general, I would recommend getting certified in clear, tropical waters, with great marine life. This way it’s easier to overcome your (often irrational) fears, and have a pleasant experience that will make you want to explore dive sites all over the world.
How do you learn to dive and become a certified diver?
As is true with most beginner dive courses, I did some theory classes with a bunch of likeminded people, and then some training in the pool. This teaches you all the scientific basics you need to understand what’s going on in your body when you dive; how to avoid dangerous situations; and essentials like finding your buoyancy, clearing your mask, retrieving a lost regulator, etc.
After two days playing around, it got serious: we had to pass a theory exam. If you paid attention in class and read the book, it was actually really not complicated. A lot of the answers were common sense, and multiple-choice made things even easier.
After a short, but tense wait, we all got the confirmation that we passed, and went to the doctor to have our health checked. There are a couple of things that can prevent you from diving, such as asthma, chronic vertigo, a previous stroke, or heart issues. Luckily for our group, we were all healthy and were sent home to pack our bags for our departure to the “real” ocean the next day.
After a nervous night tossing and turning in my bed, I boarded a well-appointed ship with about 20 other people and settled into my cabin. After a couple of hours driving, we reached the Great Barrier Reef; and it was time for me to jump with my gear and newly-learned skills into “real” water for the first time.
After four more dives, during which we practiced some emergency routines, always trying not to get too distracted by all the beautiful marine life around us, we were officially certified “open water divers”. As easy as that! And though this sounds exciting, this was when the just adventure started …
Experiences you can only have underwater
Suddenly the sky was the limit … or let’s say the ocean floor. (Well, not really, as you are not allowed to go deeper than 30 m/90 ft when you’re an open water diver.)
What still amazes me most when diving is the weightlessness you feel underwater. It must be similar to being an astronaut, and who didn’t want to become one when he or she was a kid!
Also, I love the quietness you find when diving. It’s almost like a kind of meditation. The only sounds you hear are your own air bubbles, and maybe some parrot fish nibbling on some corals if you are close to a reef.
Diving is also the only time I enjoy having a guide with me. On land, guides usually talk too much, which drives me nuts when I’m stuck with them for hours and all I want to do is listen to the birds, the rushing water, and enjoy nature around me.
But dive guides are great, because they help you find marine animal that are often hidden or hard to see; they help with your orientation underwater, which can be pretty challenging; and they know the local conditions, which can be dangerous (e.g. currents, or aggressive, wildlife—and I’m not talking sharks, but small “giant triggerfish” that will defend their territory during mating time and might take a bite of you).
Dive sites for every taste
Whether you love soft coral that swings in the current, colorful hard coral, small ocean critters like nudibranchs, famous ones like clown fish, or big ones like sharks, there is a dive site for every taste.
I personally don’t have any preferences (as long as the water isn’t too cold). I remember an awesome dive where I spent an hour happy as a clam just diving in circles around a pinnacle full of coral. Or a deep dive where I saw a big manta ray coming from the deep blue like a spaceship. Or one where reef sharks circled me like if they hadn’t read that book that says they are harmless to humans. Or that one where I lay on the sandy bottom of an underwater canyon and watched the enchanting ballet of spotted eagle rays above me.
No matter how many dives you have, there is always something in this underwater world to mesmerize you!
Diving lets you interact with marine life and learn about the ocean
The great thing about diving is that it allows you to interact closer with marine life. I’m not saying you should touch any fish or coral (not doing this is actually a code of honor among divers), but fish are just less frightened and treat you differently when you come to them at an eye-to-eye level in “their” environment.
Besides getting to enjoy this magical world under water, I also learned a lot about the ocean, how it’s connected to the big circle of life, and what impact some of our decisions on land have on it. A lost fishing line might endanger a marine creature or a diver, and a carelessly thrown-away plastic bag might be mistaken for an edible jelly fish by a turtle and eventually kill it. Diving taught me respect for the sea and let me understand why we need to protect it.
Learn to dive and explore the magical underwater world!
It doesn’t matter if you go for a PADI or SSI certificate—they both teach you the skills and knowledge to safely dive all over the world. And once you’re certified, try all different kinds of dives, like tropical and freshwater dives, day and night dives, wreck and reef dives, etc. You’ll discover a world unknown to you alongside turtles, dolphins, or (whale) sharks.
More than 2/3 of our blue planet is covered with water. By learning to dive, you experience more of our beautiful world! But always remember: no matter how many dive sites you visit all over the world, the areas we can access while diving only make up a mere fraction of our total oceans. So there is much more out there that we’ll never get to see, and probably also that we’ll never understand. But that’s the magic of the ocean. It’s one of the only places left on earth that man hasn’t totally discovered and exploited yet.