So you´re travelling around the world find yourself on a beautiful tropical beach and in a whim decide that you want to go scuba diving (and you totally should!). Or after hearing stories from your friends that just came back from their diving holiday, you decide that you want to take your classes locally.
That´s great, we love people who make spontaneous decisions. But hang on a second; there are a few things you might want to know before you take the plunge.
1. You need to be healthy
Before you start the course, your instructor will have you fill in a medical questionnaire. Not because they are interested in all your personal medical details, but because some medical conditions don’t go so well with diving and you might want to have them checked out by a professional physician (someone that knows about diving, too!). For PADI courses, you can find the questionnaire here. If you want to get certified on holiday it might be a good idea to get a medical statement from home, because doctors abroad don’t always have the same standards and they are not familiar with your medical history.
No worries though, if you have a medical issue or a disability, you are not necessarily excluded from diving. While it is still necessary to meet the course requirements, a good instructor can adapt to your specific needs, or you can find an instructor that’s specialized in working with disabilities.
2. You also need to be reasonably fit and able to swim.
No need to be a bodybuilder or a long-distance open ocean swimmer but divers are sometimes expected to carry your own equipment to the water (depending on location, that’s around 17kg for a full set) and not be completely out of breath from a 50m surface swim. It´s not a competition, so setting speed-records is not necessary. It is also essential for your and your buddies’ safety to be in reasonably good shape, in case of an unexpected current of if you surface away from the boat or beach and need to swim a little.
Don’t be offended if your instructor asks you if you can swim. You’d be surprised how many people sign up for a course without feeling confident in the water, or without being able to swim at all! This doesn’t have to be a big problem, but if this is you, do yourself a favor and take swimming lessons before you sign up for the course. It will make you much more comfortable in the water and do wonders for your general safety in/on/around it. You’re gonna spend time on the beach and on boats.
3. It might not always be fun
Of course you want to dive for fun, to enjoy all the beauty that the underwater world has to offer, but especially in the beginning you might feel uncomfortable. You might get water in your nose, you might get water in your eyes, maybe you really, really, REALLY have to pee but you don’t want to pee in your wetsuit, maybe you will get seasick, maybe you will get stung by a jellyfish. Or maybe it just feels plain weird to breathe underwater.
That’s perfectly normal. We’re land-based beings and underwater is not necessarily a natural environment for us, nor one that we’re well-adapted to. That’s why we have to rely on our equipment (or go freediving) and why you’ll spend most of your first dive just overcoming the weirdness of it all. Take your time and it will be ok.
4. Be open to your instructor
Every student has different needs, challenges and goals. A good instructor will ask you WHY you want to go diving. Some (most) people just want to swim around and look at all the pretty fish, but for others it is more of a personal challenge. If you want to learn diving to overcome your intense fear of sharks in an area where you might actually encounter one, your instructor should know.
Although you can expect your instructor to be better-than-average at interpreting facial expressions that are partially obscured by a mask and regulator, they can’t read your mind. Nor can they talk underwater (just like you), so before and after the dive you need to tell your instructor what’s on your mind. If you need more time, tell your instructor. If you would like to work on a particular skill a bit more, tell. If you would really like to see a shark, tell. If you get seasick easily, tell. Nothing is worse than someone not enjoying a dive because of a small issue that could easily have been addressed.
If there is something you don’t quite understand, if the purpose of a skill is not clear, or if you forgot how to do something, ask your instuctor!
5. You’ll have a new, very addictive hobby
Diving is awesome, although I’m biased. Most people that dive for the first time are very positive and sometimes even describe it as a life-changing or spiritual experience. Not necessarily for everyone, but realize that it might become very addictive! Before you know it you’ll opt for a career change and become a dive master or instructor. Trust me, we have been there.
Is there anything you wish you knew before you started your course? Please share in the comments!
The original version of this article first appeared on www.minimaliste.nl