After our first day of confined water dives and open water dive one, this is what I wrote about my experience with earning my PADI Open Water Diver Certification through Scuba Monkey Dive Center in Alachua, FL.
For three nights in a row, I spent hours in a classroom learning safety skills for Scuba diving. On the fourth day, the other students I shared that classroom with met our instructor out at Devil’s Den in Williston, FL to put those skills into practice.
Before we did anything else, we swam 20 laps in the pool. This was probably the most difficult skill next to mask clearing for me. (More on that later.) Once everyone finished up their laps in the pool, we went over to the deep end where we treaded water for 10 minutes. Our lovely instructor kept sharing how easy this skill was for him…as he stood on land watching his stopwatch. Mhm. To be fair, he did also share that he had to do this skill with his arms up the entire time when he first got open water certified. We didn’t have to do it like that, thankfully. It was nice to have an instructor we could joke around with and it made for a pleasant day of learning and fellowship.
Once we finished with the swimming and treading water, we got our BCD kits together. We were able to practice putting a BCD kit together in the classroom on our second night of class, so this wasn’t too difficult. The hardest part for me was lifting the thing – that sucker is heavy! It’s incredible that there is so much weight to put on, much of which is simply air. And that it doesn’t feel quite so heavy when you’re underwater. After we each managed to finished putting on our BCD kits, we went into the pool for some confined water diving skills.
Once of the first skills we learned was how to clear our masks when partially filled with water. I had a hell of a time with this. I finally figured out the problem when we went over to the spring for our open water dives, but I struggled a ton in the pool. We also learned how to clear our masks if they flooded and filled completely with water. This was a bit more difficult for me than clearing the mask if it was only partially flooded – but I was already having a hard time with that, so what else would you expect?
The next thing we learned was what to do if our regulator got knocked out of our mouths for whatever reason. (The regulator is what provides air from the tank on our backs for us to breathe underwater.) We did this skill twice, once finding our regulator after it’d been ‘knocked out’ of our mouths, and once without finding it which meant needing our secondary. (We simulated getting them knocked out by simply removing it – no one actually knocked it out.) We also simulated running out of air, or our buddy running out air and offering our secondary to them so that they could share our air by taking turns as the one in need of air and the one providing air.
We took a ten minute break after these couple of skills, and used the restroom if needed. After our short break, we went back into the pool and got on our fins. We practiced our buoyancy along the bottom of the shallow end of the pool, and swimming across the pool with our fins on. Swimming is a lot less strenuous when you’ve got some powerful fins on to help your move through the water! Once we’d done this, we swam across the bottom from one end of the pool to the other without our masks on. When we got to the opposite end of the pool from which we started, we cleared our masks as we learned to do earlier. Then we got out of the water for our next skill test.
We took our fins off and walked over to the deep end of the pool where we each entered the water one by one. We did this by putting our fins on while leaning on our buddy, then stepping straight into the water. Once in the water, we inflated our BCD’s and signaled okay to our instructor. Here we simply floated for a few minutes, controlling our buoyancy with the BCD inflated.
After this skill, we practiced taking our BCD kits off (while still in the water, in the deep end of the pool) and then putting it back on. We also practiced dropping our weights. After dropping our weights, we free dove down to retrieve them using our snorkel instead of our regulator. Once we’d finished retrieving our weights, we took apart and off our BCD kits, laid the air tanks on their sides and took a break for lunch.
Once everyone was finished with lunch, and our instructor switched out our tanks to new(ish) ones with more air we got with our buddies to put together our BCD kits, put them on, and walked over to the spring while carrying our mask, fins and snorkels. At the spring, we entered one by one since the only entry way is a single staircase that only allows one individual on it at a time (at least the wooden portion). Once we got to the platform at the end of the staircase, we put on our mask, fins and snorkel and entered the water. For the first couple of minutes, as we waited for everyone in our group to descend the staircase and enter the water we simply floated by filling our BCD up with air. Once everyone was in the water, we practiced two tired diver tows. This was simply towing our buddy by grabbing their tank as they laid on their back after checking they had sufficient air, and then resting their fins on our shoulders to push them through the water (as they were, again, laying on their backs.) Just like when we practiced sharing our air with our buddy in the pool, we took turns being the tired diver and the diver who was towing.
We then descended about five feet and practiced our buoyancy. This simply meant hovering in a particular area. After a few minutes of this, we descended a bit more and swam over to an underwater platform where we again practiced the regulator coming out of our mouth and clearing our masks (partially filled with water). At this point, I realized I was breathing out of my nose instead of my mouth, which kept causing my mask to partially fill with water every time I exhaled. So that’s why I kept having to clear my mask more than everyone else! I managed to solve the problem (for now) my plugging my nose as we swam through the water. We swam a little further and then practiced our buoyancy for another couple of minutes before finally ascending to the surface where our instructor decided to finally call it a day. We swam over to the platform we’d got on when we first descended the staircase and removed our mask, fins and snorkel before each ascending the staircase one by one.
The sun felt really good on our way back over to the picnic tables where we recorded the information from our first open water dive – the depth (24 ft), the time (25 minutes), our pressure group after finishing the dive (C), and other little notes such as the visibility, the temperature of both the air on land and the water we dived in. I also included the amount of weight I had on and the size/thickness of the wetsuit I had on. Our instructor said he was going to bring some hoods for a few of us the next day since we got a bit cold in the spring – guess who started shivering and was most noticeably cold towards the end of our dive? Sigh.
The original plan was to be doing much of these same skills again at Troy Springs the following day. The rest of my classmates were able to do that, but I’ll be making up the day sometime in July. My ears wouldn’t clear properly for me to do anything at Troy Springs and I’m not about to pop an eardrum simply because I rushed to get my certification. After July 3, however, I’ll be fully certified open water certified. I am so looking forward to new adventures that await me upon certification of this skill set (particularly this trip to Africa.) I am so, so glad I decided to do this, and super thankful that my instructor as well as the rest of this group was full of very patient, helpful, and encouraging new friends.