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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Learning to Scuba Dive (Part 2)

This is Part Two of the three articles I wrote each night after returning home during the process of learning to dive during 2012. Click here for Part One and here for Part Three. Everybody says you should learn to scuba dive, but nobody else actually writes about the process - what you have to do, what you learn and how you get tested. Read on to find out!

It was an 8am start for Day Two of my PADI Open Water Course in the Maldives – time to leave the textbooks behind and finally get into the water! I arrived at the dive centre in Hulhumale for a briefing from my diving instructor, Thomas Badstubner, and then we slung our equipment into the back of a truck and hopped in. The truck drove us to a sheltered beach near the Ferry Terminal, because the tide was too low on the other side of the island. It was here that we put the theory into practice.

We waddled into the sea laden with our equipment, I’d forgotten just how heavy it all feels until you get into the water! Then we started things very slowly, standing chest-deep in the warm water to start with. It was a hazy day but the water was still turquoise blue and pretty clear. Thomas wanted to see how comfortable I was breathing underwater with the regulator. Satisfied that I was relaxed enough, we then went on to run through some of the techniques I had watched yesterday in the PADI video.

The shape of water

This is the amazing house reef I've dived at Baros (house reef is the reef connected to the resort island). Photo: Baros

I’ve been on two dives before in my life. Both of them were official PADI Discover Scuba courses, one was in the French Riviera the other was at Bandos Island Resort here in the Maldives. I’ve snorkelled a lot in the Maldives and in various other beautiful locations around the world, so basically you could say that I’m confident in the water. Thomas said that gives me and anyone with similar experience to me a good grounding for starting diving, although if you’ve never dived or snorkeled before he can take you at your own pace and make sure you’re completely confident (and competent) in the water.   

So, today we started by doing exercises in very shallow water which included things like taking my regulator out of my mouth and letting go of it, then stretching my right arm behind me to swoop it up again and replacing it in my mouth. We also ran through the hand signals for being out of air and then I took the regulator out of my mouth and reached over to use Thomas’ alternate air source, he did the same with me.

The ouchy bit

This is how you clear your mask of water when underwater
The part which Thomas said I was going to hate him for making me do (filling up my mask with water while underwater, taking it off completely and then putting it on again and clearing it) was actually alright. If it’s OK to go a bit girly for a moment I’d like to say this: Ladies, if you’ve ever got mascara in your eye you’ll know exactly what eye pain is, and I’m happy to say that seawater is absolutely nothing compared to mascara-in-eye-agony. So don’t worry about it. Things look a bit blurry, your eyes are a bit stingy, but it’s nothing too horrendous. You also need to take your mask off underwater for a few others tests including breathing underwater for a minute while not wearing a mask.

As well as this, I practised taking the weights, scuba unit and fins off and putting it back on again while in water too deep to stand in, amongst other things. With Thomas satisfied that I’d checked all the boxes and was comfortable enough in the confined water dive, we headed back for lunch. In the afternoon it was time to hop on a boat to Small Maa Giri – an excellent dive spot for rays but also according to Thomas, one of the most perfect natural underwater classrooms he’s ever seen. I had a one-on-one session with Thomas while some fun PADI-qualified American pilots who had signed up with Into Scuba for an afternoon diving trip had some fun checking out the area with the dive masters and other staff.

Maa Giri reef is amazing, check out these oriental sweetlips with a friendly batfish! Photo: ProDivers Maldives

The site consists of a sandy area just three or four metres below the surface which gently slopes away into a channel. The shallower sandy area was ideal for going through some more of the techniques I need to know, including making a simulation of a controlled emergency swimming ascent for nine metres while continuously exhaling and making an “ahhh” sound. We then had a chance to float down the slope to take a look around us and see some pretty reef fish at a depth of about 12 metres before our 46 minutes was up.

I had some minor problems with my mask. It seems that I was doing it the proper way but the shape must have been wrong for my face because no matter how hard I blew through my nose to push the water out, a small well of water stayed on either side of my face. I must have a weird-shaped face. Or a kid-size face. Or both. 

Thomas swapped my mask for his, but I still had the same problem. However, I stayed calm as I knew that nothing bad was going to happen even if I felt like my nose was full of salty water all the time. Thomas later reassured me that you can’t make a mask for everybody’s face shape, so I’ll probably bring my own snorkel mask for the final day of my PADI course.

We saw bottlenose dolphins en route! They're very common in the Maldives and love chasing boat wakes

We all hopped back onto the boat and headed off directly for Back Faru, a very pretty reef close to Sheraton Full Moon Maldives and Hulhumale. On the way we were treated to a spectacular appearance from a large pod of dolphins leaping out of the water. The boat changed its course and slowly followed the dolphins. They seemed to take a fancy to us because they came within just a couple of metres of the boat, surfing the waves made from the prow. Everyone on board cheered and peered over the side, wishing our arms were just another metre longer so we could touch them! We couldn’t have asked for a more uplifting experience (or excellent photo opportunity) before our final dive of the day. A storm was on the horizon so we had to crack on…

 There was a strong current and so our last dive today was also a drift dive. Luckily there were no more drills for the rest of the day, just fun! “You have to remember to make it fun because that’s why people want to learn to dive”, said Thomas. And we weren’t disappointed. Right at the start of the 12 metre dive, we saw a white tip reef shark and then as we floated along in the current we saw some fantastic creatures amongst the beautiful table corals. There were two large hawksbill turtles and at least five large green turtles, none of which seemed in any particular hurry to get away from us. In fact, one of them let me get within a metre of him, he barely seemed to notice that I was captivated by the sight!
We saw a white tip reef shark too. They look a little more 'sharky' than black tips, but don't get them confused with oceanic white tips, these ones are pretty small!

As well as this, there were honeycomb moray eels and giant black moray eels peering out of holes in the reef, a large pufferfish, pretty anemone fish and many other brightly coloured reef fish.
Just under an hour later we emerged smiling from the incredible experience of seeing so much marine life to discover half a rainbow hanging in the sky and some dramatic-looking storm clouds. It was a beautiful end to an amazing day. I floated on the surface for a few moments with a smile on my face. Yes, diving sure is fun!

Well, I now have one more day left of my PADI Open Water Course. I have the day off tomorrow but the day after that we’ll be running through some more techniques and enjoying the incredible underwater world, after which time I’ll hopefully be a certified diver! Read all about my final day of learning to dive in the Maldive here!

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