Learning to Scuba Dive

Scuba_NancyThe Ultimate Plunge

As a child, there was a time when I was obsessed with Jacques Cousteau. There were no wall-sized posters or fan mail, but I had just about every book about underwater exploration and marine biology checked out of the library throughout my childhood.

My dad happily shared in my marine obsession and we spent many afternoons watching Cousteau TV specials about his “Undersea World” and ocean odysseys. I read about the “Aqua-Lung,” one of the first fully automated regulators, created by Cousteau and Emile Gagnan that supplied air to divers underwater. In my youth (and to be honest, still to this day), I adored pictures of seemingly mythological creatures that could only be found deep in the sea.

Of course, despite this ongoing infatuation with the underseaworld, though I have been an avid swimmer my whole life, I had never taken the ultimate plunge.
SCUBA (Self-contained, Underwater, Breathing, Apparatus) diving is now a world-wide sport that has given human beings the freedom to explore the depths of the underwater world. Today’s SCUBA equipment is designed for safety and nothing is left to chance. The avid SCUBA diver of today is typically outfitted with their own dive computer, which tracks air pressure, dive depth, dive time, and compass bearings.

LEARNING TO SCUBA DIVE AT HAPPY DIVERS DEN!

After researching local dive shops, visiting their sites and contacting them by phone, we decided to put our scuba diving fate in the hands of Happy Divers Den in Streetsville , Ontario . Candy Marston, owner and “Dive Momma” of this friendly little shop, answered all of our questions with facts and from personal experience. During our first visit to the shop, a dive “regular” popped in to return his empty tanks for refilling. We had a great conversation about scuba diving, how much of a thrill I was in for, and how most people get hooked on the sport right from their first dive.

Candy provided me with the 200-or-so-page manual for the Open Water in-class portion of the certification and suggested that I review the first few sections. The course is fairly intensive and is usually completed in one weekend. Reading the material ahead of time will most certainly help you to understand the material—especially the bits about safety and reading dive tables! Next, she helped me to pick out my very own mask, snorkel, fins and booties. Proper fitting equipment is essential to ensuring a safe and comfortable dive. You don’t want a mask that is either too tight or too loose. You want a mask that conforms to the natural shape of your face so that in an underwater scenario, the least amount of water will get in! The fact that I wear glasses was a worry point for me—even with contacts in, I was a bit worried about water problems. Apparently, many divers wear contacts but the more avid divers tend to invest in prescription mask lenses (usually in the range of $50 to $100 per lens, depending on the strength of your prescription).

In the end, I chose a black and yellow colour theme for my equipment but, to be honest, the gear comes in all sizes and colours (including a Barbie-esque light pink!) The array of SCUBA accessories seems endless—an entire wall (and then some) of the shop is devoted to gidgets and gadgets for diving. From underwater cameras to comfort slips for your mask’s strap, if you need it for your dive, you will find it here.

For middle to higher end of the line equipment, I ended up paying about $400 (tax included) for my mask, fins, booties, and snorkel. Of course, this is just the beginning of my SCUBA investment. It is a wise idea to purchase your very own wet suit, BCD (buoyancy control device—the vest that you inflate and deflate to control your buoyancy), regulator, and tank so that you can assure that the equipment is properly stored and maintained at all times. Another increasingly popular diving must-have is a personal dive computer that is part of your BCD. You can expect to invest upwards of $2000 in equipment/gear alone once you have decided to pursue SCUBA diving on a regular basis. Of course, once you have your own equipment, you’ll have it for a long time. At Happy Divers, there is a consignment corner where you can buy/sell used equipment and the shop hosts a gear swap as well. Otherwise, if buying your own equipment is not an option, renting what you need from a reputable shop is your best bet!

Open Water Certification In A Nutshell–

The Open Water Course certifies you to dive to a maximum depth of 60ft/18m upon completion. As a certified Open Water diver, you need to have a dive buddy with the same or a more advanced certification level. Children as young as 10 years old can enroll in the Junior Open Water course and are automatically upgraded to Open Water diver on the their 15th birthday. You need to be in good health with no major health problems (most notably, no problems with your respiratory and circulatory systems). The course is comprised of three major parts: Knowledge Development Sessions, Confined Water Dives, and Open Water Dives.

Rob is already certified after a destination vacation he took a few years ago but chose to sit in on the classes with me over the course of the weekend and to complete a “refresher pool session” on Sunday. Since I am the newbie, I attended two full days and one evening of in-class and pool sessions.

Knowledge Development:

Armed with the manual of mandatory reading, Rob and I arrived at Happy Divers on Friday around 6 p.m. Our instructor Steve was extremely excited for us and couldn’t wait for us to jump right into the material (and into the pool!) The in-class portion of the course, otherwise known as Knowledge Development, provides students with the opportunity to expand on the learning that they have done independently by engaging in discussion with classmates and the instructor. You also view summary videos for each section of the text. Major themes of study include: learning all about the science of buoyancy, how diving affects your body, the physics of diving (including pressure and density underwater), diving safety, equipment selection and maintenance, and learning how to plan out a dive using dive tables. You’ll need to complete a quiz for each major chapter —5 in all. On the last day, there is also a 50-question multiple choice final exam that you will need to pass with at least a 75%. The great thing about the PADI course is that the emphasis is on developing your knowledge and confidence. Our instructors took the time to review any questions that we didn’t quite get the first time around and ensured that we fully understood the content. The information that you learn is entirely practical and the course is designed to help you become a safe and happy diver!

Confined Water Training:

Staggered along with the Knowledge Development sessions (i.e., one in-class session, one in-pool session), the second step of certifying yourself as an Open Water Diver are the Confined Water Dives. This is the part where you get to put on all of the equipment you’ve read about, jump in the pool and take your very first breath underwater. Even in a pool, breathing underwater is pretty exhilarating!

Before you unpack your scuba gear bag, you’ll need to demonstrate your comfort level in the water by swimming 8 laps of the pool (between 200 and 250 metres) with no stops but no time limit either. After a quick rest, you will tread water or float for 10 minutes. Once you’ve demonstrated that you are fit enough to scuba dive, you are on your way to learning the skills you’ll need to dive safely.

The practical confined water dive training sessions can be completed in a pool or in a pool-like setting (an enclosed or relatively shallow open water area). Happy Divers uses the Cobra Swim Club which houses a private pool used to train some Olympic athletes in Brampton . There is a lot of preparation that goes into a dive (even if it’s only a practice pool dive!) Ensuring that all equipment is in proper working order before you go under is of utmost importance. Picking a buddy and establishing underwater communication signals and route is also paramount.

The equipment that you wear for scuba weighs quite a lot out of water. The tank and the BCD alone can be hard to move about on land. Add on a weight belt and insert a few extra weights into your BCD and you’ve just gained at least 30 pounds! Of course, once you’re in the water, all of this weight seems to melt away.