Starting Over: Days #1 & #2 of Scuba Diving Certification
Alrighty, let's give this another shot!
On Tuesday, I woke up bright and early to attempt the confined diving portion of the Open Water Course. The day before, I had chosen not to continue with any skills after getting super frustrated with having to clear my mask of water. Essentially you have to fill the mask with water, then look down, lift the mask up a tiny bit, and blow through your nose so you can clear the mask of water and see again. I literally visualized the skill the night before, all alone in my room.
I was feeling good after my usual breakfast smoothie and decided to go for a stroll on the beach at 10am. No big deal. Except for when a dog started chasing me. I have never been chased by a dog. And here I was, on an island in Thailand, being chased by a dog on the beach. The dog had simply started following me before it started playfully nipping at my purse and heels. When it didn't let up, I panicked and started running, which got the dog excited. Had a Thai man not called the dog off of me, it definitely would have bitten me. It scratched me on the back of my knee. Better yet, I was too fearful to get my flip flops that I left on the beach, so I walked back to Roctopus Hotel barefoot.
Then I started fearing I had rabies, which is a pretty awful feeling. I had been around some pretty nasty, sick dogs in Guatemala and Peru, and while the dogs in Koh Tao looked healthy and vibrant, I couldn't be sure. After calling my mom, I walked back to Roctopus and explained to a few of the instructors what had happened. They assured me that none of the dogs have rabies on Koh Tao - they either all have owners and if not, they have been vaccinated and neutered by the local vet. Feeling a little better, I cleaned the scratch and decided to move forward with the dive session. Rabies averted!
Anyways, the dive portion. I joined Tyrone's class. He's 25 and from Australia. He's been diving since he was 13 and has been teaching for about 3 years. Eric, Danica, and Julia were also in my class - each Americans and each traveling solo. We loaded up the boat with our gear and set off. I was a little nervous going back in the water, but it helped that I had already been through much of the process (setting up the gear, checking your buddy's gear, entering the water, etc) the day before. Ty helped me think through each step of every skill. He also broke the skills down so we were only underwater for 3 skills or so. When it came to clearing the mask, he spent a little extra time with me. I was able to clear it on my second try. Everything else came easily after that and my confidence soared, which was a big problem the day before. We covered additional skills, like what it felt like to run out of air, how to share air with a buddy to safely ascend, how to take off the weight belt and put it back on, and how to purge the regulator (the piece you breathe through).
At that point, it had started raining. Instead of getting back on a cold, wet boat, Ty encouraged us to take a mini-dive by following the boat's anchor. We were all a little uncertain and I was definitely nervous, but taking that 10 minute dive helped so much with day #2. Just the sensation of breathing and moving underwater is totally surreal and strange - it definitely takes some getting used to. When we resurfaced, Ty took me to the side of the boat, just 2 feet underwater, and had me fill my mask with water and clear it 5 times. I forced myself not to panic when I could still feel water in the mask after clearing it, and instead repeated the skill to completely clear the water. Doing the skill repetitively helped me so much and I felt more confident that I could actually do it at a deeper depth if needed.
With all the skills out of the way, I was feeling pumped for Wednesday, which would be our first two open water dives.
On Wednesday, Ty's class met at 8am. We sat outside and learned how to plan dives using dive charts. Then we took a 50 question paper exam that was pretty straightforward. By 10am, the academic part of the open water course was over and we loaded up the boat to head out to a local dive site called Japanese Gardens. We went through all of our skills again then worked on our buoyancy by using the shallow ocean floor. We laid flat on the ground, and with each inhale, we rose up, and with each exhale, we sunk down. It was a little surreal to control your swimming position simply by your breathing...
Then Ty took us on our first dive by leading a slow descent back towards the boat. Ty led at the front and below, while the four of us swam slightly above him. Suddenly, coral was looming all around me - I was completely amazed and surprised by how stunning everything was underwater. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. For awhile, I was just focusing on my breathing and getting used to the feeling, but soon I was getting distracted by all the fish. Our max depth was 11.2 meters for 31 minutes before we ascended and got back on the boat.
After taking a break and eating some snacks, we switched our BC over to a new oxygen tank to get ready for our second dive. With each dive, I was getting more and more comfortable underwater. We headed back down and Ty pointed out all kinds of fish. He got really excited when he saw these two big, dark, brown fish that were staying close together: Black Spotted Pufferfish. He said later that that was only the fourth time he had ever seen that kind of fish in three years at Koh Tao. Our max depth was 12 meters and we dived for 42 minutes. As our instructor, Ty tracked all of our dives with his dive computer. It was crazy how fast time seemed to go by on our dives. I even set my little wristwatch's stopwatch before each dive and would occasionally glance at it while diving; I was always surprised to see that we had been diving for 20, 30, or 40 minutes.
With our second dive done, we were back on the boat to head to Koh Tao. Once back at Roctopus, we cleaned our gear in fresh water and put it away. After a 9 hour day of diving, we were done at 5pm.
For our last two dives, the class was pumped because we had the awesome opportunity to dive Sail Rock, which I think is an advantage of diving with Roctopus, as many of the bigger dive schools don't make trips out to the further sites (Sail Rock is the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand). My anxiety towards diving had completely passed, and instead I was just anxious to get back underwater!
Tomorrow: Day #3 of Diving
(I just want to rant for a second that spotty/non-existent wifi is totally ridiculous at this day in age for any hostel - I can barely connect and I've lost two blog posts already because the drafts aren't saving. Moving hostels tomorrow!)