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Learning to dive

31 January 2012
 

I had wanted to dive pretty much since I had first dunked my head under the water (note, I apparently cried when my first swim instructor tried to get me to put my head under the water, but after that I was hooked and at five I was more paranoid than I am now…). I swam lengths underwater, learned to hold my breath (note, this came from my mum who never learned to dive) snorkelled when I could (including one ten foot pool in France, I don’t know what I was thinking or what the French around the pool thought of this mad Englishman…) but I had never learned to dive.

Until 2009…

 

One of the first things I arranged after splitting up with my longterm girlfriend who could not dive, was a dive trip. I discussed it and ended up going with my friend Al who is an investment banker (but a really nice guy all the same…).

A lawyer and an investment banker should be able to pull together an impressive field of research, but we didn’t, and opted to go to Thailand (principally because I had already been to Egypt which would have been cheaper and, as it turned out, have better visibility) because it was listed as one of the places to dive and Koh Tao was listed as the place to learn.

As it was my sister’s birthday in late October we decided to push back the date to the end of October.

After some intense and thorough research (I googled and they responded to my email) Al and I decided to do the course with Crystal Dive (www.Crystaldive.com) a fivestar PADI centre in Koh Tao. Trying to preserve holiday we decided to spend four days in Bangkok and six days on the island which would just about give us enough time to do the Advanced Open Water course and take just over a week holiday (with weekends).Yes, I said the advanced course because obviously never having dived before I knew I would love it and Al was not the sort of person to let me get more “advanced” than him! The difference between the advanced openwater and the normal openwater is that you do an additional 5 dives, trying some advanced modules. Al and I are really suckers for ticking as many boxes as possible so this had to be the option for us, we also signed up to learn nitrox diving whilst out there, meaning an extra dvd and test, but also an extra qualification card! We also tried to squeeze in a night dive but the weather just wasn’t good enough.

The course involved accommodation for everyday spent diving or in the classroom, so we were sorted, although we did opt for the deluxe package which included a fan (in the

Two men on a man's holiday.

room), a mask, a snorkel and a drybag.

So, after four days in bangkok where we stayed in a boutique hotel, took a cookery class and a massage at the mandarin hotel (not sure that did our masculine streetcred any good), avoided Pat Pong (in my defence I had a new girlfriend and we had been led down an alley by a dwarf -not that I have anything against dwarves but he was keeping suggestively) and took a day trip to Ayuthaya we grabbed our backpacks and took a flight to Koh Samui, followed by a ferry to Koh Tao.

Koh Tao wasn’t the beautiful tropical island I had always dreamed of, and the huts provided by Crystal were very basic, apparently the deluxe package included a fan but no flush (which I understand has since been upgraded) but apparently the beauty was in the water and I was finally going to learn to dive so, after a couple of beers and a lovely sunset, I went to bed looking forward to my return to the classroom more than I had ever looked forward to school.

It was nice and sunny on day 1…

The next day it began raining, by which I mean the biblical torrential downpour that floated the Ark…

It rained through all of our classroom lessons, letting up miraculously for some of our pool sessions and dives but churning the water to mud. We were told that the visibility the week before had been up to 20m but for our first dive we were instructed to record 2 and for the second I just put awful. I sheepishly mentioned to Al that my sister had enjoyed her birthday…

Eager to get in the water

Still, diving is diving and I loved it. So there wasn’t much that could be seen (I even resorted to holding Al’s hand in an effort not to lose my buddy making me wonder if the cookery class had been such a good idea) but I loved floating, messing around with the buoyancy, the tranquility of hearing only my breath and the wonder that anyminute a shark, triggerfish or clownfish may appear from the murk inches from my face.

I have heard great things about the diving in Koh Tao, my brother went there on my recommendation and had great visibility and saw a whaleshark on his last dive. I was very impressed with the staff of Crystal, particularly our two instructors (Stiofan and Ben) who were enthusiastic about diving and made the rubbish conditions enjoyable.

However, I have heard that Koh Tao can get incredibly busy, eg after full moon parties on Koh Phangnang and that Crystal can become a bit of a conveyor belt. Whilst not my experience I can see how that would happen with the size of their dive boat and this may not suit someone a little nervous about learning (eg my girlfriend who I would prefer to learn at her own pace in a small group) but may provide a social impetus to anyone happy and travelling. Ironically whilst there were seven in my group, my brother who was travelling on his own only had one other person!

I would definitely also recommend going the whole way and doing the advanced dive. The openwater course contains two days of classroom and pool followed by four dives doing skills. Four of our seven wanted to rest after that but three of us pushed on and the dive adventure dives were awesome.

The sea had calmed a little so visibility was up to about 5m so we did navigation (useful in the conditions), fish recognition, buoyancy, deep (testing out feeling drunk at depth) and DPV (dive propulsion vehicles) where we pretended to be James Bond baddies!

With the toys…

 It can be hard commiting to the classroom on a break from work and diving is by no means a cheap holiday but it opens a whole new world of adventure and meaning! I have since dived across the world and would encourage (at length)anyone to give it a go.

One last word, about sharks… You start off diving worrying about seeing one, then, the more you dive you begin to hope to see one. The majority are absolutely harmless and the remainder will rarely attack divers unless provoked. They have been slaughtered mercilessly to the point of extinction but the thrill of seeing one on a dive beats a Lion on safari hands down!

From → Diving, Travel

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