This is a story about a boy that only recently learned how to go underwater without holding his nose who became a top-notch Scuba diver over the course of five days.
True story – only about two years ago did I finally learn how to go underwater without holding my nose. I still don’t know how to dive into water – perhaps I haven’t felt the need to attempt to master the coordination of breathing out of my nose at the same time my face hits the water. I hated swim lessons as a kid (from what I can remember) and to this day can’t perform an actual swimming stroke that involves putting my face in the water. Ultimately I blame my parents for this. (Hi mom!)
I mention all of those things to emphasize the point that I am not a prime candidate for someone who would willingly sink themselves 100 feet under water for fun…or at least I wouldn’t be anybody’s first choice. It turns out that because I’m such a fish out of water in…the water, that I made myself learn how to Scuba dive here on Koh Tao. Considered one of the Top 3 places in the world to learn to dive, it only made sense that I took advantage of that fact while I was here.
Also this – look at the map below. This is where I’m going to be for the next while…it’s a lot of water. It’s a lot of world-class Scuba sites. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of the underwater adventures available?
Scuba certification comes in multiple stages based on what you want to do in the water. The initial class is considered your “Open Water” certification and involves a day of practicing skills in a pool, reading through six chapters of a book, taking a 50 question multiple choice exam (I scored a 47 of 50 and had the highest score of our group), and four dives of increasing depth. During the four dives you also repeat many of the underwater skills you’ve learned in the pool. These range from buddy breathing, blowing the water out of your mask, to communication skills and setting up your equipment. There’s also quite a bit of terminology and theory that you need to learn. For instance, learning WHY you’re going up to the surface even though you’re not swimming…
Passing the open water course allows you to take an advanced diver course – five more dives that each have a specific theme. Navigation (using a compass under water and finding things), wreck diving (an old World War II boat), a night dive (waterproof flashlights …”torches” in British English), buoyancy, and two deep dives (30 meters).
Long story short – I did all of those things, swam circles around everyone else in my classes, and found myself looking for new and challenging ways to do all of the skills we had to perform. Why simply swim through the hoop on the bottom of the ocean when you can swim through it upside down? Why descend feet first on a free descent when you can go face first? So yeah, I ended up being a bit of a showoff/teachers pet for the week although I didn’t set out to be that way. It seemed strange to me that people would show up to class hungover and not actually read any of the material that was being discussed, so I found myself being the only person who knew most of the answers in class. Overall – it was a great experience.
Oh and fish right? There were tons of them. The highlight of the nine dives was watching a barracuda stalk and kill a small rabbit fish. Watching a fish be bit in half, the head floating in water trying to swim away, and then the attacking fish circle back around and gobble up the other half of its prey was probably the coolest thing that could have happened on that dive. We also saw a few turtles, huge shoals of hundreds of fish, stingrays (RIP Steve), and a host of other things. All in all, I picked up another expensive hobby.