Guest Post: Under and Wonder

Note: Dave is the author of the always entertaining He was kind enough to write this kick ass post on how to get dive certified.

Eric asked me to do a guest post on learning to dive. Probably because he’s off adventuring, and he knows I’m stuck at my desk.

What I’m hoping (and Eric has graciously given space for) is to show how much fun scuba diving can be, and of all Eric’s readers, I hope at least one will take up the banner and learn how to do it. Yeah I’m talking to you—you, the one reading this at your work desk.

I am a member of the one percent. No, not that one percent. The other one. The cool one.
About one percent of the world population has dived.

I don’t understand that.

Diving is an inherently dangerous sport. It takes place in an alien environment. It relies on mechanical devices to protect its practitioners.

But it exposes you to magical world that no one outside the club can imagine. The training program is designed to make learning as simple as possible. And you get to fly underwater!

Here’s what’s involved (along with some observations from my own experience):

Really, it’s like learning brain surgery. You don’t want to screw around in there until you know what you’re doing.

I’ve gone through the program twice. One of my instructors was Di Dieter, the crustiest, curmudgeoniest bastard I’ve ever met.

When I first met him at the orientation for his class, I asked him if he knew what he was doing.
He looked me up and down, and said “Of course I do. But please pay in full before we start.”

He then gave me a breakdown of his diving history, his teaching history, and what other questions I should be asking. He also suggested that if I had any hesitation, I should wait, and maybe find someone I was more comfortable with.

I can’t stress the wisdom of his advice enough. You will be trusting the instructor (until you learn it on your own) with your life. Get someone you trust—either recommendations from friends who are certified, or by calling up every dive shop and just talking to them.

You can play spin the bottle in the training pool, but no one really wins.

I’ve found that it’s next to impossible to look cool while you’re getting in and out of a wetsuit. And at some point in your diving, you’ll need some kind of wetsuit.

You’re going to have to prove you can swim first. That was the most physically demanding part, aside from hauling my gear around for my open water dive. And getting in and out of the wetsuit.

Some notes about your (well, my) health.

I’m an insulin dependent diabetic. Who is not supposed to dive. I also smoke a pack a day. Also not supposed to dive.

As with any physical disability (or in the case of smoking, mental disability), have an idea of your limits.

I keep a very close eye on my blood sugar in the evening and morning leading up to a dive, and yeah, I’ve skipped dives because it wasn’t where I wanted it to be.

That being said, my doctor is aware that I dive, and wholeheartedly approves. So if you want to (and if you really think about it, you do), then go.

Just don’t be an idiot about it.

So that’s what you need beforehand—teacher, sense of humor, health. Now what?

My gear: Fins,mask, flashlight, snorkel, compass. Dayglo is fun!

Well, you’re going to need some time. Unless you’re going to a resort or something, the course will probably be spread over several sessions (about 5 – 10, depending on how you do it) split between classroom and pool.


Yes. You need to know about the equipment. Again, a good teacher makes it fun.

Once you’re in the pool, you’ll understand why you did the class. My first reaction when I went under was to hold my breath. Once I saw the balloon video in the class, I knew that would be a bad idea.

You’ll also learn a lot of hand signals, like I’m going that way or I’m out of air, or Excuse me waiter, where may I pee? Just kidding. Use your wetsuit.

You’ll practice everything you need to know. Again and again and again. And you’ll know it. Getting out of your vest and tank to wriggle away from a bad spot? Yeah, you’ll learn it.

I was underwater doing a beach dive at Rockaway. It’s about 50 feet deep, depending on the tide, and one of the attractions is swimming through some sort of construction cage.

Big fun.

Until you catch one of the crosspipes between your tank nozzle and vest.

But you paid attention in class. You remember to breathe normally. And just like in the pool, you shimmy out of your vest, free yourself and shimmy back in. Without panicking.

And now you know how cool you really are.

In fact, the thing that gave me the biggest problem were the hand signals.

I’m cool. That means gesturing “Thumbs up” is cool.


Really, know what they mean.

Not when you’re diving. Instructor gestured “are you okay?”, I replied (naturally) with thumb up. He grabbed my vest and up we popped.


Afterward he explained that that little demo would keep me from ever making that mistake again. And I haven’t since.

When you do your open water dive, you’ll do everything you learned in the pool. Then your instructor will turn you loose to play in the water. Because he knows you can, and you’ve just done it, so you know you can.

When I got my certification card (complete with a little passport picture that I actually combed my hair for!), I was prouder of it than I was of my drivers license. Still am.

Because that’s my entry pass to the club.

Membership is open. Come hang out with us. We’ll be meeting at -50 ft on Tuesday.

C'mon in, the water's fine!

For those interested, the two main diving certification organizations are the Professional Association of Diving Instructors and the National Association of Underwater Instructors.



  1. So cool! Scuba is one of those things that I’d love to have the nerve to do – especially when I see images of the Great Barrier Reef, etc……Your instructor sounds hilarious too, but I’d definitely be heeding your advice to get a teacher I was comfortable with, if I ever went for it. I can’t imagine why anyone would do anything different, but yet we’ve all heard the horror stories. So true also, that we learn best by “doing” – as in your hand signal tale! My boyfriend would love to take scuba lessons, he loves all-things-adventure! Thanks for sharing.

      1. Gmail is spying on me, man. It just offered me some absurd deal on diving lessons in San Diego. Let’s see what those sneaky bastards come up with when I send e-mails on nothing but midgets and unicorns for the next week.

  2. ok – soooo do I post my comment here and expose your friend to the the lizziecacked effect? I just made that up btw but it sounds frickin awesome doesn’t it? Or do I mind my manners and say good job clap clap clap ( I really did like it !!! ) and go over to your stomping grounds and lay it on thick….it is quite a conundrum my friend and I don’t know what to do. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………OK! I got it! Eric – you picked an awesome guest blogger (that is the proper term I believe?) and He of course ROCKED your blog which I think is pretty cool in its own right. I don’t know if you will think that is a good thing or a bad one that you are on my radar. I have jotted you down for Happy Talk on Saturday because by default I like you (El Guapo likes you and I think he is pretty much on it in the people who are cool department – He thinks I am so….. ….yeah…anyways I will wrap it up because I am really trying to reign it in BUT……. and with that I bid you good evening and all that happy horseshit …man I kinda blew it sorry. Stupid butterfly. Made me forget ..
    🙂 Peace

  3. Dear Mr Eric and Mr Guacamole Bits, what if, hypothetically speaking, someone was severly cluastrophobic and was certain they would have a panic attack and DIE when the mask-thingy was on their face? Do you have any tips for someone like that? And by ‘tips’ I mean ‘not encouraging said person to have a panic attack and die’.

    1. Ginger – Go to a dive shop that has a pool, and ask for some sort of introduction to diving, explaining that you’re claustrophobic.
      Tell them you really want to go, but are afraid you’ll freak out.
      Get them to let you sit in the pool with a mask and a snorkel tube and practice breathing through that. Don’t even submerge. Just breathe through the tube.

      Once you’re comfortable breathing through the snorkel, slowly lower yourself into the water. If you start to get nervous, come back up, but try to keep breathing through the tube. (Remember, the tube isn’t very long. Don’t go so deep that the end is underwater. That’s unpleasant.)
      The important thing here is to go slowly, and not rush. breathe evenly. Take your time.
      When you get your face completely covered, see how you feel. If you’re alright, then that’s it.
      Scuba diving is like flying, but underwater.
      If you can breathe through the tube and keep your wits, you should be alright to dive.

      One note – I don’t know if they will lend you a mask and snorkel. You may have to buy them.

      But have someone come with you with a camera just in case. Because if you do panic, that stuff is pretty funny, and I would like to see the video!

    2. Guacamole bits is unacceptable. Personally, I would have a panic attack if a waiter came out with only a bit of guacamole, instead of a heaping pile.

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