Learning how to scuba dive has always been on my bucket list, and the place I’ve always wanted to learn how to dive is Thailand. So on January 3, 2016, I find myself on the island of Koh Tao, which also happens to be the number one diving location in the world. Enrolled onto the PADI Open Water Diving course with Master Divers, here’s how my course unfolded.
Quality not quantity
There are many dive schools to choose from on Koh Tao, including the biggest dive school in the world that certifies 14,000 open water divers a year. That’s approximately 200 per day! After reading some reviews of different schools on TripAdvisor, I chose Master Divers. The selling point was the small group size of one instructor to four students, with the additional option of one to one course instruction. Diving has many hazards and I wanted a learning environment where enough individual attention to developing scuba skills was maximised. It was the best decision I made. I learned how to dive with David and two others. With a ratio of one instructor to three students, David could attend to each of us with enough individual time to ensure we mastered all the skills. He never rushed us, was very patient, and when we took longer to master some skills, putting us behind schedule, he extended our course by a day. Our safety and competency was always his first priority.
Do your homework.
I had an electronic copy of the manual two weeks before my course started, and read through the first two sections before arriving on Koh Tao. A physical copy is also available which you can get from your dive school when you arrive. It is recommended you read through the first three sections before your course begins. I can’t stress the value of not only advanced reading if possible, but to complete the knowledge reviews as well. There is a lot of important information to understand. Once my course started, the videos consolidated my understanding, and the in-class face to face teaching allowed me to ask questions and clarify information from David. There were some on my course who only accessed the manual when they arrived and they still passed the theory.
All the equipment at Master Divers is in great condition, but I still wanted to invest in my own. The most common thing to first buy as a scuba diver is a snorkel and mask. With some guidance from my instructor David, I chose a saekodive dive mask and a Tulsa plating snorkel with a splash guard.
Dive masks, like most snorkelling masks are tempered which means the mask lens won’t shatter under water due to the pressure.
To prevent a new mask from fogging up, apply a layer of toothpaste to the inside of the mask lens and leave it overnight. New masks have a chemical layer from the manufacturer which causes fogging. The toothpaste, as well as baby shampoo stops fogging from occuring. A snorkel with a splash guard prevents water from entering the snorkel when on the surface if there are large waves or rough swell.
The best two additional equipment items I purchased included a mask strap and a bandana. The velcro banded mask strap replaced the rubber straps that come with all masks. The thicker mask strap along with the velcro made life so much easier to pull the mask on and off, plus adjust it.
As I have long hair that gets in the way at the best of times, during diving, it became a nightmare, especially my fringe. So I bought a bandana to tie around my head to keep my hair out of the way. My mask then easily slipped over the bandana.
During a normal dive, you can burn anywhere between 600 to 800 calories. That’s nearly half the recommended calorie intake for someone my size! Seriously, dive training itself is hard work. I was feeling muscle soreness and fatigue in my legs, back and shoulders, not only from moving and carrying equipment, but just being in the water. By the time I finished my two open water dives, I was so physically tired, I was in bed by 8pm. So adequate rest, healthy eating, early nights, minimal to no alcohol consumption and some stretching, all helped me during my dive training.
After two confined dives in the shallow waters of Mae Head Bay, and the coral reefs of the Japanese Gardens, I was ready for my first two open water dives. Taking the boat to Tanote Bay, and then to Laen Thien, we dived down to 12 metres. It was amazing! I managed to establish neutral buoyancy and glided over coral reefs, sea cucumbers, past parrot and angel fish. It felt like flying underwater. I was now part of the marine world.
It’s a great way to see the local sights.
As part of my training, I was taken out on the boat to some great diving sights around Koh Tao. Seeing the island from the sea was fab as we passed remote beach huts nestled into mountains or on the beach. We journeyed around the island to Tanote Bay, the Japanese Gardens, Nangyan Island, past Sairee Beach and Leam Thiam.
My final two open water dives took place at White Rock and Pottery. With all my skills tested and completed at White Rock, this meant I could completely relax on my final dive at Pottery. This last dive was definitely the best. I was completely relaxed as we explored the underwater world, seeing hexagon grouper fish, a blue spotted ribbon tail ray, Titan trigger fish and a white eyed moray eel. It felt awesome to feel so close to these marine animals, to follow fish, and peek into wreckage to see thousands of eyes looking back at you. I’m now a sea lion!
Massive thanks to Heather and Linzi at Master Divers for their promptness in replying to, and answering all my emails. And a huge thank you to my instructor David for his professionalism, patience, skill and expertise during my PADI Open Water Diving course. I can’t wait to start the the Advanced course in a few days time!
Safety Note: Diving is not for everyone. The PADI pre-screening questionnaire along with the dive school’s should be answered truthfully and fully. A history of certain medical conditions including heart, blood pressure, anxiety, panic attack, sinus and ear problems, certain medications, plus more, require medical clearance by your local GP, with a recommendation to get clearance from a dive medic for more serious medical conditions. Failure to mention certain medical conditions can invalidate your travel insurance if something goes wrong. Diving is a fun and safe sport as long as you follow all safety guidelines during your dive and in training.