Beyond Open Water Certification – When my inner geek meets my inner adventurer

Pamucak Beach on an October morning - heading down for more dive training

Scuba Diving has a massive attrition rate; the percentage of people who having achieved their Open Water Certificate never dive again is high, estimates range between 50-80%. Nobody knows the real number because after that initial certification from the official agencies people may never again come within the record keeping sphere, they are free to dive anywhere that will take them on the basis of that certification and their degree of participation in the sport isn’t officially recorded until they again undertake some form of official training.

The vast majority of divers are holiday divers, happy to take a dive in warm water when they can without going to the expense of acquiring their own equipment (let alone trying to include it in their stingy airline luggage allowance!) or investing the time and money needed for advanced training. There is nothing wrong with that, Turkey has beautiful warm water and a variety of easy dive sites that the holiday diver can enjoy to their heart’s content, but it’s not enough for me.

When I decided to learn to dive I hoped I wouldn’t stop at a basic Open Water certificate. When I started actually diving I became determined to take as many qualifications as I could. Diving is really accessible, I would happily take my 74 year old Father on a Discover Scuba Dive with Active Blue, he’d love it and he could cope with it, easily, but to get the most out of the undersea world you need certain skills and they need to be automatic and they need to be learnt and practised and maintained. I see a lot of rusty divers and I see a lot of divers that despite their dive guides advice are unwilling to take a refresher course and I see the difference underwater between them and the divers who have practiced and honed their skills over time and I know which kind of a diver I want to be.

No dive guide anywhere in the world is going to be dragging me around a dive site like a sack of potatoes! I’m going to learn to do this properly and enjoy it to the max.

Early morning at Active Blue - ready to start another day training

All of the Scuba agencies offer advanced training, the Open Water Certificate really is very basic and the skills you start to acquire by taking it need perfecting and the agencies know that. I’m certified with SSI – Scuba Schools International – and they combine experience (the number of dives you have taken) with formal courses to teach you the skills you need to expand your diving horizons.

My inner geek loves formal training, it loves reading books and passing exams and fitting all the information into the gradually growing more detailed picture of my diving world. My inner adventurer loves the experience dives that take me off of my home reef and into caves and down into deep water.

The day I passed my Open Water I signed up for five more SSI diving courses to keep my geek adventurer happy:-

Nick combining dog walking and navigation exercises

Navigation:- I have a little bump of direction, I can feel north, but underwater it is easy to get disorientated and the navigation course, which is heavy on skills of natural navigation, is really useful to get you into the habit of picking out landmarks underwater and following them. The compass work is basic but useful and the habit of using the compass on your console to orientate yourself is a good habit to develop.

Perfect Buoyancy:- If your buoyancy is rubbish your diving is hard work and you run the risk of damaging beautiful reefs by crash landing on them and you’ll never be in control underwater. I want to fly underwater, I want to hover centimetres above something to photograph it and so I need perfect buoyancy. Once you get buoyancy right diving becomes very zen, very easy, very calm, you control your place in the water by your breathing and it’s a beautiful feeling, it’s like yoga without the painful stretching 🙂

Bristly Worms - the first underwater photograph I was really happy with

Underwater Photography:- Learning to photograph underwater and working on improving it will probably take up the next ten years of my life and an awful lot of disk space. The difference between what you see underwater and the photographs you come home with is massive. The photos are normally a huge disappointment. You don’t need to spend a fortune on kit to get great photos underwater but you do need to learn how depth effects light, which settings on your camera work best and how improving basic diving skills impacts on your photography. This course gives you the basics and reduced my howls of frustration on reviewing my dive photos to manageable levels.

Deep Diving:- My inner geek likes deep diving, it likes learning the physiology and physics of it, how depth effects my body and my dive plan. I’m so geeky I even built a spreadsheet to monitor my air usage at depth where you use air much faster than in shallow water and I am in love with my Oceanics dive computer that feeds me facts and figures whilst I dive. It’s not that I want to plumb the depths of the oceans it’s just that deep diving allows you to go beyond the shallows if you want to and learning about it gives you a better understanding of the physics of the sport and why the limits are where they are.

The new love of my life - my Oceanics Geo 2 dive computer

Stress and Rescue:- I’m a grown up, it’s probably my most defining characteristic, I make responsible choices and I take responsibility for myself and for me to choose to dive without being prepared for what can go wrong would be, to me, fundamentally foolish. As a result the Stress and Rescue course was a “must take as soon as possible” and probably repeat at various points in the future. Right now I’ve taken the academicals and the written test and I’ve endured part one of the practical where during a self rescue test my instructor knocked my mask off and then unknown to me turned my air off as I retrieved and cleared my mask. It wasn’t a walk in the park but it taught me things I really needed to know not least that the training works, when things go wrong your response is automatic. I still have part two to endure but I am bloody glad I am taking it – quick prayer to the gods under the sea “May I never need it!”

Look at me Mum, I can fly! - learning Perfect Buoyancy

In case you wonder how I manage all these diving courses in a country like Turkey where the native language is not English all of my instruction is in English and all of the SSI teaching materials, videos and text books are in English. There is no language problem in taking your diving career further in Turkey.