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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Diver Dan's Beginning Open Water

I just recently finished my first beginning open water class this past weekend. I decided to get certified to dive the moment I was notified that I was going to Australia for business (and thus could take 2 weeks off to explore the great down under and dive the Great Barrier Reef...).

Due to short notice, I had very few choices of classes, but decided to pick one that was certified by PADI and had the 5 star rating.

So I picked Diver Dan's dive shop to go get certified. I also decided to pick the weeknight format as it meant giving up less weekends (ski season beckons!). So instead of two weekends in a row, I got to go to 3 weeks of 2 weeknights each (3 class room sessions, 3 pool sessions, each 3 hours long), and the standard 2 weekend dives (2 dives a day).

It was probably great luck that we ended up with an absolutely great instructor. In our very first class, Todd basically told us that he runs his scuba class very different from other instructors. True to his word, he doesn't.

His methods of classroom instruction is probably one of the best I've seen for subjects involving mostly hands-on learning. Instead of going over the book during the class, he would just give us a ton of anecdotes (he has over 3000 dives under his belt), and each of his anecdotes would relate to the topic that we were supposed to cover in class. As an example, the first class we were in supposedly talks about equipment. Masks, fins, Buoyancy Control Devices (BCDs), etc. He went through most of the non-important equipment...masks, gloves, wetsuits....and then when he got to the BCD, would go off on stories about why most BCDs suck, and why we should get backplates with bladders if we decided to get serious into diving. It was both funny and informative as he would go into quite a number of details about the failures of BCDs and that their one advantage is that they're cheap. And how all divers pay for that cheapness.

His pool sessions were equally as informative as he told us very early on the basics of diving and that he would spend most of our time in the pool teaching us the basics, and making sure we were as fundamentally sound as he could make us in the very short time he had with us. Basically in diving, there's only 3 things that matter, buoyancy control, trim, and kick. He informed us that the only thing we really had time for, and probably the most important to us, was buoyancy. Instead of overweighting us in the pool (and thus making our decents easier, but making us pay to stay buoyant by kicking to maintain some semblance of neutral buoyancy. kicking to stay buoyant is bad, wastes air), he would make sure we were properly weighted and thus have to learn to stay buoyant using breath control. We must have spent about 4 of the 9 hours in the pool doing nothing but breath control to gain control of our buoyancy. The other times were spent doing proper ascent and descents.

Oh we spent some time blazing through the other skills as well, partial flood clear, full mask clear, manual inflation, but as we did each skill, he would tell us the practicality of each (buddy sharing a regulator usually ends up with two dead buddies is one of his favourite stories), and go over them very very quickly, occasionally stopping to tell us why we were blazing through some of the lessons.

His ocean dives was also quite excellent...instead of starting us off at an easy dive spot, he gave us a pretty brutal location....having to haul 40 extra lbs of gear down 20 or so steps of stairs into rocky terrain and then into heavy surf is probably not most people's idea of an easy dive spot.

I've heard many times that learning to dive in Monterey is one of the best places to learn to dive, not only because Monterey is a fairly decent dive spot, but because the cold water trains you to be a better diver (less margin of error, the cold makes your brain work slower, forcing you to think faster), and I can say its pretty true. Even though my first few dives were quite good (water was 52 degrees, quite warm for Monterey!), the last two dives were absolutely frigid (water was probably 42 to 48 degrees), even with 8 millimeter wetsuits, you were never really warm, and having to do the same skills in frigid water is kind of the ultimate final exam. =)

In the end, when Todd handed us our PADI certifications, I really did feel a sense of accomplishment and felt that I could dive confidently AND enjoy my dives (less fear, less brain-dead moments like "uh what do i do now.."). I have to say that Todd has a lot to do with it as SCUBA is pretty much a hands-on skill, and his ability to relate his stories with the class room material was incredibly useful in showing the class how the class room material isn't just mostly fluff.

One thing I have to recommend to people is that if you're not in a huge rush, take the weeknight classes. You have less people (I had 5 in the class, typical weekend class is 8), which means once you're out in the ocean, you get a lot more instructor time...and try to get into a class with Todd. I guarantee you won't regret it. =)

Next up for me! Great Barrier Reef Diving!

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