This is the first in my series about going from an Open Water diver to a Dive Master.
I miss life in Koh Tao, I find myself thinking alone in my head, saying out loud to my Koh Tao buddies, and now writing to you. You heard about how I ended up in this little island, and you’ll hear later more about what that really means, life on Koh Tao, but it all starts with this: The Open Water Course.
Why would anyone want to do something crazy like scuba diving?
You know, I keep trying to convince people to go get certified and don’t have too good of an answer except that THE UNDERWATER WORLD IS INSANELY COOL.
I mean, where in your life have you ever seen something that looks like this:
Aside from the fact that it’s a lifetime sport, incredibly relaxing and likely a challenge (at least mentally) the first time you do it, IT’S JUST REALLY FUCKING COOL.
Open Water vs. Discover Scuba Dive
If one is visiting little Turtle Island, one is likely there to dive or learn to scuba dive. There is such thing as a Discover Scuba Dive, or what we call a “Try Dive”, where your instructor only gives you the very basic under water problem solving skills and does everything for you.
However, anyone who is remotely afraid (most people are) of breathing under the water the first time, should probably just jump in to do their Open Water Course. For me, at least, I took great comfort in having more information about what was happening with all of my crazy equipment that would allow me to act like a fish, what could go wrong with this new outfit, and how to fix it underwater without killing myself.
Plus, you get to take really cool selfies with your first dive family!
What is the Open Water course?
Becoming an open water certified diver means that you are certified to dive, with a buddy, up to 18 meters. You technically do not need a dive master or instructor to take you out and are trusted with everything from setting up your own equipment to navigating the mystical underwater world.
In Thailand, as an open water diver, you legally must dive with a dive master until you are, in fact, a dive master. While there are many laws in Thailand I do not understand, this one I firmly stand behind. Most divers, after four dives, don’t feel comfortable going down solely with a buddy anyways.
But I’m scared!? Every person who gets certified is scared. It’s not normal to breathe underwater. I was terrified for my first few dives. The fear started to dissipate, albeit slowly, but I still had pangs of anxiety upon descent nearly every dive until I hit about 15 or 20 dives. It’s normal and all part of the fun.
But what if I get claustrophobic? I thought the same thing. At no point did I ever feel claustrophobic. In fact, you feel like you’re flying or floating, or something totally surreal and unable to describe, but you never feel like you’re stuck in a box and can’t get out (unless you’re in a cave but in that case, just don’t go in a cave, silly). Plus, try it and if you happen to feel claustrophobic, then at least you tried.
Where can you do your Open Water Course?
(Koh Tao is the answer. Koh Tao.)
You can become certified nearly anywhere in the world. Google where you want to do it, and I’m sure something will come up.
I chose Koh Tao for the simple reasons that a) it’s the cheapest place in the world to do it b) it has great diving c) there seemed to be a culture of young travelers. After diving Koh Tao’s many dive sites, in various conditions, I can also declare that it’s “easy” diving. There’s rarely a day where we get conditions that new divers cannot handle.
On Koh Tao alone, there are more than 65 dive shops. I originally chose Roctopus Dive because of Alex in Wanderland’s recommendation (…thank you!). I ultimately fully altered my entire travel plan to stay in Koh Tao and do my dive master training course with Roctopus Dive because I loved the people, the dive shop and the island so much.
They use Australian safety standards (the highest in the world), rock small class sizes (typically around 4, largest being 6 – with an instructor and an assistant), and are dedicated to making sure their divers have the time of their lives, both on the boat and at night.
If you’re going to Koh Tao to get certified, or even for a fun dive, don’t waste your time shopping around. Go to Roctopus. Tell them I say hi and miss them dearly.
When should you get certified?
Anyone in good physical condition over the age of 10 can get certified. There are a few medical conditions that may prevent you from getting certified (asthma, etc.).
Time of Year
When I first started my dive master, I asked the Roctopus owner about the visibility in the upcoming months. I did my Open Water course right after monsoon season (see image above), so visibility really wasn’t that great. He said something to me that stuck and I’m repeating it to you here: it’s not all about visibility.
Sure, you want to see cool shit. But learning to dive requires skills that you can practice whether or not you can see 20 meters ahead of you. In fact, I would say that learning to dive in non-perfect conditions will make you appreciate the near-perfect condition days so much more.
So when should you go get certified in Koh Tao? Any time of year, really. The monsoon season is roughly between November and December, dragging into early January. If you’ll be depressed if there’s rain, then avoid it then, but other than that, it doesn’t really matter.
How does it work?
Day 1 (a couple of hours)
Orientation: You’ll begin your Open Water course by meeting your instructor and the other people who will be joining you in your course (your first dive family! Yay!). You’ll likely watch some safety videos, learn your schedule, and get your homework.
Day 2 (Full Day)
Academics: Class time. You’ll go over some homework, hear a lesson from your instructor, and watch a couple of videos.
Pool/Shallow Water Confined: Here’s where you learn to breathe underwater! Either in the pool or in protected and very shallow ocean water, you’ll practice all the skills you’ll need to actually go diving.
Day 3 (Full Day)
Academics: More class time. Same same. Homework, lesson, and videos.
Dives 1+2: Your first real dives! Here you’ll descend to no more than 12 meters. You’ll get to practice all the skills you learned the previous day and might even get to go see some cool fish!
Day 4 (Half Day)
Dives 3+4: No more academics! Woo! You’ll likely get to go to some of the best dive sites in the Gulf of Thailand for these dives and you’ll descend up to 18 meters. While you may still have a few skills to practice, most of your time on these dives will be spent looking for cool shit. Turtles! Schools of fish! Stingrays! Eels! Nudibranchs (that photo of the black and white weird thing above)! And maybe even…he who shall not be named in hopes of not scaring him away…the whale shark.
Party time!: There’s no denying it: the Roctopus crew love to party. You’ll likely have had your third and fourth dives recorded. You will get to celebrate completing your Open Water course with all the Roctopus crew by watching the video and sharing a few beers at the Wind Beach bar – it just happens to also be right on the beach.
Getting Open Water Certified Outside of Koh Tao
By this time, you’ve seen that I am a Roctopus and Koh Tao devotee. If you’re diving in Koh Tao, go with Roctopus. I’m not going to teach you how to pick another dive shop in Koh Tao.
However, if you can’t make it to Koh Tao to do your Open Water, you’ll need some info to help choose where to do your course. In some places, you may not have very many options.
Dive Shop Vibe
But, if you do have options, I’d say first and foremost, go meet the people at the dive shop and just get a feel for them. See if you click with the people. It should be fun, but you should also feel safe enough to put your life in their hands.
SSI or PADI
These are the two largest umbrella organizations. They’re very similar at the Open Water level. The major difference is that SSI instructors have more flexibility in their teaching, which allows them to adapt to their students’ individual needs a bit more. I don’t think it matters at the Open Water level as long as you like the dive shop itself.
Whether you’ve never thought about it before or thought about it but are too scared, just do it! For those of you who have *taken the plunge*, share some scuba love and encouragement in the comments!
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