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.