Becoming a PADI Open Water Scuba Diver

A whole new world to explore, marine life to learn about and endless skills to develop, that’s what learning to dive was about for me

To become a PADI qualified scuba diver is my best achievement to date. It is something I am super proud of. Not an easy ride but was worth every struggle. So why did I want to scuba dive? Because I love the sea, fascinated by marine life and want to get closer to that world than I do with snorkelling. Also I just want to capture on my camera what I find under the sea. It’s my photographers dream, I guess. Diving is something that Joe and I are doing together, so by learning together and with a bit more experience we will be each others dive buddies. Super exciting.

PADI Scuba Diving Books on Mindful Adventures

We started off by choosing our PADI scuba diving centre. We looked at many online, all across Devon, Somerset and Dorset. All looking rather good with many options for the open water course, but one centre stood out to us the most. Scuba Blue. A relatively new dive club/centre to the area, based in Somerset. Ideal location for us, nice website, plenty of information about everything they offer from courses to products sold in their dive shop. What stood out for us was how friendly Scuba Blue is. The first phone call with Midge and visiting him in the shop, he took the time to find out what we want from diving and answering all our questions about the course. As well as a never ending excitment for diving. This reassured us that this was the right decision, the right club for us.

The Pool Sessions

So to complete our PADI scuba diving open water course we had to complete a selection of knowledge modules, pool dives and open water dives. It started off with 5 weeks of weekly pool sessions. The first part of the session was going through the knowledge modules and completing the multiple choice tests for each section. Then we would practice and go through the skills for that module in the pool after. This was a great way to do it, as you could take the time between the sessions to really read the book and understand the skills. Giving a good understanding of what to expect when in the pool or out on a dive.

Pool Diving Selfie - Mindful Adventures

The skills were also where I discovered my hatred and fear for mask skills. A partially flooded mask clearance fully flooded mask clearance and mask removal, replace and clear. They’re the skills that if you ask any diver they dislike them the most. For me there was just something about having water in my mask, that just sent me into a bit of a panic. More about that and how I overcame it in another blog post soon.

Skills, Skills, Skills

All very important skills were taught in the pool, such as what to do if you run out of air, doing buddy checks, controlled emergency swimming acent (CESA) and more. This is to ensure that you are safe when diving and know what to do in emergency if something was to happen on your underwater adventures. What I learnt is that at lot of it is common sense. The PADI scuba diving courses (and all other courses) put safety as the top priority. The instructors would demonstrate the skill, as many times as was needed, then you would perform the skill. Do not worry if you don’t get it the first time. Its takes time. For most of us being under the water and breathing is a very weird experience when first starting.

The more you practice the skills the easier they become and the more you read and understand the knowledge the more it goes in. As someone who is a little bit more academic, I found learning the information and theory side to the diving easier to pick up than the practical. Where as Joe is the opposite and could pick up the practical skills really easily but struggled more with the knowledge. We took our books with us on holiday prior to starting the course to start reading the first section, as thats how keen we are! At your last pool section you take a final exam. It’s a multiple choice course to check your knowledge of diving, safety and the skills to ensure you are ready to do your open water dives.

The underside of me swimming with my dive gear on and SPG and Octopus dangling in the water - Mindful Adventures

As we live in the UK, the water here is cold and its recommended to do the drysuit specality as well. So there was a 6th session added onto our couse where dived in the pool in drysuits. This was super helpful before the open water dives as it was a completely different ball game diving in drysuits. Added weights, different bouyancy and extra safety bits to think about. However by having that session we knew what to expect when we did the open water. Also myself and Joe are going to be diving mostly in the UK, so important for us to stay warm and have the appropriate knowledge and equipment when diving.

The Only Girl?

Now one thing that stood out to me on my course was that I was the only girl in the group. Joe, 2 other guys and me. I loved that it was a small group as everyone got individual attention with the instructors, which meant we improved better. We also got on really well and supported each other throughout the course. For me, I had to learn that I couldn’t match the skill level and confidence as quickly as the guys. I’m not the strongest of swimmers and was not that confident in the water, particularly deep water.

Also, I was scared of snorkelling until about 6 months before I did the PADI scuba diving course. (Please note; it is probably a good idea to make your instructors aware of this before you get to the open water dives and nearly give them a heart attack when they find out…) But I didn’t want that to get in the way of doing the course. I just had to come to terms with doing it slower and getting comfortable with it, not compete with the boys to try and keep up with them. Later I found out as Scuba Blue is still a new PADI scuba diving centre that I was the first female to go through the open water course. I thought that was pretty cool.

Jo Pool diving looking down to the camera with the OK hand signal - Mindful Adventures

Lets Go Diving In Open Water

Okay, weve done the theory. Done the pool sessions. Done the drysuit pool dive. Its now time to jump into the cold wintery open waters!

It’s the first weekend of November, it’s rather chilly and we are at Vobster Quay Inland Diving Centre. A quarry turned diving centre in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. Add an early morning start to that and I think I’m looking forward to it. Nerves were creeping in slightly (as expected). A tour of the site and a day brief later, then we were kitted up ready to go. We were split into 2 groups, the 2 other guys and someone redoing some of their qualifying dives as one group. Then Joe and I as the other group. Headed down for the first dive, got through some skills including the partially flooded mask. I was feeling pretty good.

Dive 2 started with a giant stride, the water level at the quarry was lower than usual. So it felt like a huge scary stride for me. This knocked my confidence and made me a little shaky. We started the dive and did the fully flooded mask. Just after completing the skill, I had a panic attack and came up to the surface. Taking some time floating around trying to calm. I could not, and still cant, figure out the trigger to that panic. I think it could be a combination of the cold water, flooded mask, and the giant, giant stride. Given the choice to swim around and finish the dive or head back down and try the rest of the skills. My stubborn, determined side kicked in. Finishing the dive brought my confidence up a little bit.

Pool Diving Selfie of Joe and Jo - Mindful Adventures

The next day we had the final dives 3 and 4.  I was very nervous going into this, after spending the evening dwelling over dive 2. Unfortunately, during dive 3, I could not bring myself to do the mask removal, replace and clear. Then coupled with a fin falling off during the CESA meant that I didn’t complete the skills for that dive. I could not qualify as an open water diver that day. A total blow but everyone was so positive that I’d do it next time. Also, they persuaded me to get back into the water and do a 4th dive. It was Joe’s qualifying dive down to 18m and I pootled around with a Divemaster at around 12m. Super proud that Joe got his PADI scuba diving certification that day. Always knew he’d do it!

The Next Steps

We were lucky to have trainee Divemasters assisting on our course. They were great as they were extra reassurance and could offer extra feedback on top of the instructors. Any questions or problems they would help and made the experience more enjoyable. Even on my difficult days. So after the problem with open dives 3 and 4, I got amazing support from them all. Before starting I was reassured that Scuba Blue would get me through my PADI scuba diving course at my pace and even if I had to retake the dives a few times until I complete it.

I decided I wanted to try again at the next open water weekend in 5 weeks time. Over the next few weeks, a wonderful (now official) Divemaster Carla helped me to practice the mask removal skill and go over the CESA until I had the actual skill nailed. We tried many ways of practicing the mask skills building up to doing them in the deep end of the pool. Then it became more of a mental game, of telling myself to take that mask off on dive 3!

Becoming A Qualified Diver!

It was now a cold December Sunday back at Vobster to complete dive’s 3 and 4. There was the latest group of open water divers completing their dives there too. Nerves came back a bit as I arrived. But I channelled them into just getting through dive 3 comfortably and confidently.

We started with a bit of a swim around exploring one of the sunken cars at the bottom of the quarry. Before moving round to try the mask removal. I could not get myself comfortable to do the skill and found it hard to communicate that during the dive. So we swapped to do the CESA first. After that heading back down to a more comfortable spot to do the mask removal. It gave me more determination doing the CESA first because I knew I had 1 skill standing between me and qualifying. Completing the mask removal, replace and clearance then finishing that dive felt fantastic!

me at Vobster diving center after becoming PADI scuba diving open water qualified

Dive 4 was my qualifying dive, we headed down to the crushing works area of the quarry and headed down to 18m. The deepest depth you can go with PADI scuba diving open water course. It felt amazing to finally complete and become a qualified diver. It was quite the learning curve for me and as much as a learning curve for the instructor who can now handle anyone who doesn’t like the mask skills!

The Adventure Continues…

Since qualifying Joe and I have got our hands on some BCD’s and Regulators, as well as create a list of equipment we want to get. Turned an old wardrobe into a dive kit store. Joined the Scuba Blue club membership and continued to practice skills in the pool. The mask skill is still a difficult one for me and each time I go to the pool I will continue to practice it, in various situations.

Also in January, we headed off on our first sea dive and dive since being qualified! Heading to Babbacombe in Devon for an early morning shore dive. It was a brilliant experience, didn’t see much marine life or find mushroom rock. But was a great insight to what we have to look forward to as we continue to dive. I hope to get some more experience under my belt then look towards doing the advanced open water course a bit later in the year.

Diving with Scuba Blue 1

I hope this gives a bit of insight and story of what its like to learn to dive in the UK. Everyone’s experience is different and the skills that I found difficult might be a breeze for you. If you take away one thing from this blog post, I hope its that if you’re determined and put in the hard work you will get there in the end. It doesn’t matter if it takes you longer, yes it hurt at first, I was rather upset that I didn’t qualify at the same time as Joe. However looking back on it now, I can dive just as well as him. So keep going and soon you’ll have a whole underwater world to explore!

Have you got any PADI scuba diving qualifications? Or any other diving qualifications? Be sure to share your stories in the comments!

Related Posts: Snorkelling

Snorkelling Near Port Issac – Summer 2018

Snorkel Safari with Wembury Marine Centre

See you next time and happy adventuring!

Jo x

(All pool photos taken by myself and Joe after qualifying, Pre dive last photo taken by Vicky from Scuba Blue)

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