I grew up in the ocean, body boarding at every opportunity - from popular urban beaches in Perth, Australia to the famous big waves of Margaret River.
I’ve always felt at home in the ocean – swimming, surfing and snorkelling.
But there was one thing that intimidated me: scuba diving.
It seemed so complex, requiring a lot of time, energy and money to learn. But there was a certain lure about it… breathing underwater, discovering colourful sea life and exploring a new world.
As our 1-year #motherofallroadtrips around the US and Canada wrapped up and we stopped on Mexico’s Caribbean coast for a couple months, I found the available time I was looking for. And I was determined to nail this elusive bucket list item – learn how to scuba dive.
Online research lead me to PADI’s Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) 1-day program. A quick, easy-to-learn introduction to scuba diving, with no experience or commitment required. So before I had a chance to chicken out, I booked the program at Scuba Playa in Playa Del Carmen.
When it comes to an activity like scuba diving, you want to ensure the instructor knows what they’re doing – your life is in their hands. So I recommend choosing a PADI-certified instructor. PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) is the world’s leading scuba diver training organisation with over 6300 dive centres and resorts around the world. So there’s a very good chance you’ll find one nearby or in an exotic location you’re travelling to.
What You Need
The requirements for the Discover Scuba Diving program are pretty easy. Be in good physical health, be an adequate swimmer, at least 10 years old, and have a sense of adventure. I just brought along a towel, swimwear, sunscreen, and a waterproof camera – the dive shop provided the rest.
What Happens On The Day
When I arrived at the dive shop for an early start at 8am, I met the friendly staff and got started with the required paperwork. There were a few liability waivers and checklists to fill in. Sitting around a table, my instructor, Vicky, and 3 others in our group ran through basic concepts like safety guidelines, how to breathe, how and when to equalise ear pressure, how to use the buoyancy control device (BCD), various hand signals, and how to read the air gauge.
In the meantime, I was sized up and a wetsuit was picked out for me along with an appropriate weight belt. After donning the very sexy wetsuit, we carried our gear (flippers, mask, snorkel, BCD) to a swimming pool about 40 metres away (the air tanks were already there, don’t worry!). Here I got my first taste of breathing underwater. The pool wasn’t particularly deep and Vicky guided me every step of the way so I knew what to expect. By this point I realised scuba diving wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.
After what felt like half an hour in the pool I had all the basics down pat. There was just enough time to grab a bite to eat at a nearby café, before we regrouped at the dive shop for further instructions. Together we walked to the beach (less than 1 block away) where a boat was waiting for us.
This is where it started to feel a lot more real. The conditions were perfect that day – warm weather, clear water, light winds and no waves. Excitement was growing.
The first dive location was only about 5 minutes away. Here, one of the boat staff helped me get the BCD on and attach the air tank. Once the equipment was carefully checked each member of our grouped edged onto the side of the boat and flipped back into the refreshing water.
A buoy marked a rope that descended into the transparent turquoise water about 10 metres below. One by one, with Vicky's help, we edged under the water descending slowly, holding onto the rope. At this point I felt it hard to believe that I was already in the open ocean, breathing underwater – literally just a couple hours prior I was walking through the dive shop doors for the first time, a complete scuba newbie. And now I was floating weightlessly, looking up from the ocean floor, watching sun beams dance through the water – simply surreal.
The first reef was beautiful. The dive instructor was attentive the whole time ensuring each participant was comfortable, relaxed and having a great time. I couldn’t fault the experience. We swam through colourful fish, hovered above coral of all shapes and sizes, and just soaked up the relaxing underwater ambiance. It’s one of those experiences that is hard to fully explain unless you’ve done it yourself.
Before ascending, Vicky inflated a portable mini orange buoy so we could move upwards at a slow pace, careful to equalise air pressure along the way. The boat was waiting on the surface, and helped me to pull the scuba gear aboard while I climbed the ladder. With everyone back on board, and broad smiles all round, the boat roared to life and carried us to another nearby reef.
We repeated the process, and this second dive felt even easier – I was getting the hang of it! With a newfound confidence I was able to enjoy the magical scenery all the more. This reef was even more stunning than the first and we swam past a large school of golden, glittering fish and a friendly stingray. 40 minutes flew by and before I knew it we were back on the surface, climbing into the boat.
I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment as we returned to shore. But I was also a little miffed at myself for putting this experience off for so long. Back at the dive shop, I returned the scuba gear and got dressed, and gave a sincere thanks to the Scuba Playa team. They made the whole experience seamless and thoroughly enjoyable.
Now I’m Hooked
The scuba bug has firmly bitten. I’m already planning my next scuba dive – going for an Open Water Diver certification (OWD). And once my daughter turns 8, I’ll give her a taste of scuba diving with the Bubblemaker course.
Need More Inspiration?
I’ve followed Justin from truenomads.com for a while and admired his goal of diving at the top 100 sites around the world. Now that I know how addictive scuba diving is, I’m eyeballing some of the gorgeous locations he’s been to and adding those to my growing bucket list of destinations around the world.
The Bottom Line
I’m so glad I finally took the plunge and tried scuba diving (pun intended). It wasn’t as hard as I expected and the Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) program was the perfect introduction.
Keep in mind, DSD is not a scuba certification course – it’s a taster. But next on the menu, becoming fully certified with the 2-day Open Water Diver course so I can continue to scuba dive anywhere in the world.
Have you been scuba diving? Share your experiences in the comments below.
UPDATE August 2016: Erin and I completed our Open Water certification! The theory portion took a while to complete, but overall it was a easier than we anticipated. Now we're equipped to take our newfound scuba skills anywhere in the world.