I revel over anything that can get me just that little bit closer to the sea, and have an incredible fondness for water sports. The only thing is, I can’t actually surf. Well, I’ve tried, but getting dunked 100 times before I’m anywhere near as good as Layne Beachley isn’t my idea of fun. I’m no good at windsurfing either (holding a gigantic kite when you have no upper body strength is a joke), and snorkelling, albeit fun, just isn’t adventurous enough for me.
So when a friend suggested I try diving – there’s no dunking or kite flying, but you’re guaranteed plenty of time with Nemo – I was quick to take the plunge.
I ended up at Dolphin Dive Fremantle – a shop dedicated to all things fins. It was here I signed up for their PADI open water diving course: An all-inclusive, all-comprehensive program on just about everything you need to know about the underwater sport.
Bring on four jam-packed days of 8am starts, theory lessons, pool dives and two days out in the open sea.
Day one started in the classroom, where, along with other rookie divers, I went over the pre-course homework given to me when I signed up.
After a quick refresher with our instructor, it was off to the pool to test out my newly learned skills, which included dive gear assembly: from how to attach the air tank to the BCD (a vest you wear to help you float and sink), to how to hook a regulator (the thing you’ll breathe out of underwater) to the air supply, and how to attach it all to myself.
Once I was all decked out in my scuba gear, I hopped into the water, and after a few safety checks, it was time for my first dive. They say you never forget the first few breaths you take underwater. It’s an entirely surreal experience that’ll have you hooked. And from that moment on, I was.
The only thing that stood in my way of mermaid life was three and a half more days of the course!
A lot of ‘monkey see, monkey do’ scenarios followed. The instructor would perform a skill – like clearing water out of his mask while under water – and then I had to copy him. There were more than 20 skills to be learned over the four days, and I’m not going to lie – some were tougher than others. Aside from figuring out how to float on the sea floor gracefully, I had to be able to swim around without a mask for a minute, practice switching between snorkel and regulator, and manually inflate the buoyancy pockets in my BCD, which allowed me to float on the surface. Ascending and descending properly was a must, as was always breathing (you’d be surprised at how many people hold their breath). But it wasn’t all work and no play!
The last two days I was transported away from the pool, to the bottom of ocean – one day at Rottnest for a boat dive, and one day at Rockingham for a shore dive. Although there were still a few skills to be performed, for the most part, my instructor, my other PADI buddies and myself got to explore what was lying on the ocean floor, and I really got to swim with the fishes.
PADI Open Water Diving courses are available from a number of diving shops around Perth. They start from $495 and are between three and four days in length, with part time options available. You need to be able to swim 200 metres, tread water for 10 minutes, and obviously not be afraid of water. Snorkelling and previous diving experience helps, but all who can complete the minimum swim requirements can get on board. Once you have successfully completed the course you’re certified to dive with a buddy to a depth of 18 metres.
Head to PADI.com for course breakdowns, nearest stores and further information.