In late August I received a call from a young man who was quite interested in becoming certified as an Open Water diver. He explained that his work was going to take him to Thailand and since he was there, why not scuba dive! What followed was an experience that I live for in teaching this sport. Not just because a Hurricane was approaching the Atlantic seaboard and projected to come ashore in northern North Carolina roughly 100 miles from the quarry, but working with a person who was extremely enthusiastic and ready to seek adventure. Needless-to-say, a great time was had by all!
Maybe you landed on this page because you are curious about what others have to say about their experiences. Maybe you’re on the fence. The only way to be sure if you will love Scuba is to dive in, if you’ll pardon the pun. So why undertake this rare quest? Simply put, you will develop a pretty unique set of skills in short order. It will sharpen the mind, nurture your intellectual curiosity, and develop your ability to decipher the codes of the environment. Diving is one of the most euphoric feelings you can experience.
So how did I get started? As with many people, I love the ocean. I’ve grown up swimming in the Atlantic, playing in pools and lakes, enjoying rivers and streams; I have swum with dolphins, kayaked near alligators, and tasted the salt of three of our world’s oceans. We can look at the same stretch of water every day and not see the same thing twice. Water is so elemental in our universe; it has impacted us philosophically, psychologically, and spiritually. We are drawn to it. It was only natural for me to want to shift my exploration of our oceans from the surface to the depths. And so, I began exploring the possibility of diving.
I had been planning on starting the process for quite a while. I have a couple family friends who earned their certifications a few decades ago, and their stories and experiences encouraged me to seriously start the process. I began the eLearner, but was under no time constraint. Until work decided to send me to Thailand. I had one month to figure out the whole rest of the process because I wanted to certify on my own gear before I left as I would not have the needed time in country to certify.
I tried to sign up with several places, but Compass Dive and Sail came through with my short turnaround requirement to become Open Water Diving certified. Doug and Meg were simply excellent. They quickly responded and patiently answered my many questions, offered sound guidance and advice throughout the process, and are genuinely great teachers and people. We traveled to the Lake Phoenix Quarry and mostly had it to ourselves (there was an impending hurricane to add a twist to the story). The Lake was pleasant and a great confined water location with the optional “open water” sections.
The training process was smooth for me, aided by the fact that I had two instructors to myself. Doug and Meg inform me they prefer the small group setting as it allows for students to move at their own pace and comfort more easily. At night, we were able to share a cabin, discuss the diving we’d done, but also bond as people. At first this didn’t strike me as particularly important, but later upon reflection, I realized how crucial it was to get to know the people you dive with, even if you are only going to spend a half hour underwater with them. That dive buddy may be your literal lifeline at a moments notice, or you theirs. With Doug and Meg, it was so simple to weave natural conversation into the battle rhythm of training that I never questioned the trust we developed.
So after a quick weekend, I was certified, rang the bell twice, and was on my way. This nautical rite of passage was beautiful in itself to me. Qualifications soften the self-doubt any honest twenty-something will admit to feeling. When you get that card, the dive log is signed, and someone says you passed an exam, they must certainly know best, and maybe you know something now too. Sure hoped so, since a week later I would be in Thailand.
“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” –Loren Eiseley, Anthropologist
If you ever get the chance to travel around the world to Asia, this should be a top of the list spot. I specifically chose to dive in Koh Tao because it is a largely tourist location which caters to beginner divers and offers lots of training amongst the various resorts. I dove with Big Blue Diving, which is the second oldest and, to my research, most reputable of the locales, though all seem equally suitable. Thanks to the training, I was able to instantly work with my buddy, who trained on location in Thailand, as well as various instructors from around the world. They taught me a slew of additional hand signals to indicate various aquatic life (such as signs for barracuda, turtles, various fish, and sharks) and they also used different signs when operating in bar vs the American standard PSI, so I learned those too. As soon as we switched my weights over to the metric system and adjusted for salt (ocean) vs fresh water (quarry), all else was easy and equal.
Then we were off to the races. Four dives in one day, with two in the morning, a lunch break/long surface interval, and two afternoon dives. Max depth I attained was 63 ft. I saw all sorts of tropical fish, rays, sharks, a turtle and jellyfish. The water was 84F degrees, no thermocline noticed, with a very slight current. We tended to have about 20-30 ft of visibility the entire day. It was a perfect location for a first real ocean dive.
That first time you take your big stride off the back of the boat into the middle of the ocean is equal part terrifying and exhilarating. As soon as I entered I looked down and saw… nothing. It was just deep blue as far as I could see, which I’d never experienced before. Somewhere below me was a shipwreck. And I wanted to go find it. That first descent in the open ocean seems to take forever because now you want to kickstart your exploration. I dove a wreck, a canyon/cavern, saw a massive school of fish and explored Shark Island. If you are curious, I made this video of some of the footage. The diving begins around 5:45 mark: Preston's Thailand Dive
When you dive you are simultaneously both alone and surrounded by other people who share your passion and interests. You will witness nature in all its beauty and see creatures we share this increasingly small world with. So go dive, and see what’s out there! “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” – Loren Eiseley, Anthropologist
Preston Hildebrand – Open Water Student, September 2018