One of my goals on this trip was to earn my PADI diving certificate and get in as many dives as possible as we touch on some of the worlds best dive sights. I had only tried diving once a good few years on a trip to Mexico. While I enjoyed the experience, I was a very nervous diver.
But one thing this trip is about facing some of those things that you may not do because they challenge you a little. I was determined to learn to dive and more importantly enjoy it more fully.
After having a look at a few dive schools on the island I selected Gili Air Divers. It was attached to the hotel we were staying at, but most of all I liked it because it is smaller than most and seemed to offer a more personalised service.
It was quiet and at first I was 'one on one' with my instructor Andrej until the lovely Saara from Finland joined us on the course. She was great fun and had her own wobbly moments so we are able to chat about how we were doing.
She and my instructor Andrej got me through the bad bits and allowed me to continue to earn my certification. We managed to meet up with Saara and her fellow Finnish traveller, Anna, before they left the islands for a farewell evening.
I decided on the PADI Open Water course which takes about three to four days depending on how fast you can work through the video tutorials and work books where you have to learn a little about the physics of diving, safety procedures, what your equipment does and how to look after it.
The hardest bit of the learning (and it is not really that hard) is getting to grips with the Recreational Dive Planner so you know your limits on various depths and multiple dives.
The first part of the course consists of you learning the basic skills of scuba which include some more alarming safety skills of taking your mask off and putting it back on under water and seeing what it feels like when you air runs out, something you hope never happens in reality. That’s what the training is for, to let you understand and practice what to do in such situations. Reassuring afterwards, but not while you are going through the training.
My confined water dives with all the practicals went OK and I was getting to grips with the very unnatural and strange sensation of breathing underwater. At the end of these confined dives in the safety of the shallows at the beach edge we went on a short dive into slightly deeper water. My first real experience of scuba diving for a long time and I was feeling OK.
The first open water dive was to Bounty Wreck and if I am honest now I can’t really remember much about it apart from the fact that I got to see my first family of clown fish cavorting about their anemone. Worth it just for that.
The reason I cant remember much else is that I was concentrating far too much in getting my breathing, buoyancy and direction in the water sorted. I also used up my air far quicker than everyone else and I felt I was spoiling their fun.
The second dive to Manta Point was much better I started to relax more, the visibility was perfect at around 30M and the beauty of the different fish on show took my mind off the mechanics of diving and allowed me to enjoy the feeling of weightlessness as we moved slowly around the reef.
My third dive was to become my bette noir. I was feeling confident after my second dive and the afternoon had us headed to Frog Fish Point , the weather had gone cloudy and visibility was relatively low compared to the luxurious conditions I had experienced so far.
In addition to this we were starting the dive against a current and I got myself tired, managed to snort in some salt water and got myself in a bit of a pickle. I signalled to the divemaster that I was not OK and another staff diver, Alex, came with me to the surface, cutting the divetime in half.
I was not happy and wondering whether or not this was for me, but after some reassuring words from my instructor I persevered, got up next day and decided rather nervously that I would go on my fourth. I was determined not to let my bad experience put me off enjoying this dive.
We again had perfect conditions and visibility was fantastic. The dive at Coral Fan Garden started shallow, working your way down a slope after we had completed some open water mask fill and mask off exercises. It was a great dive, I put out of my mind the events of the previous day and had a great 40 minutes under water to a depth of around 18 meteres. I completed my final exam and tests that day and was now a certified PADI Open Water diver.
I was eager to continue to get a few more dives under my belt before we left Gili and the reassuring familiarity of the Gili Air Divers, but alas a chest cold got the better of me for the next four days which meant I had to watch forlornly as the dive boat went out for underwater adventures without me.
Finally my chest cleared two days before we are about to leave Gili Air and I was able to continue building my confidence with another two dives where I got to see lots of new creatures. Both of my final two dives went swimmingly (sorry couldn't resist that) and the dive professionals at Gili Air Divers continued to help coach me to relax, control my breathing and learn how to fully enjoy the unique experience of scuba diving. So thanks to Sup, Juan, Florent and all the team for turning a nervous diver into a more confident one eager to explore the wonders of the underwater majesty.
Why have I written in detail about my somewhat difficult experience?
I know I am not alone in having a few wobbles along the way when learning to dive. It is, if you think about it, completely unnatural. I learnt that you need to work through the fears and challenges, learn from them, accept them and then allow yourself to experience the wonder of diving. Most of all you need to concentrate on what is happening during the dive and the wonders that you are witnessing, not the extremely unlikely myriad of things that might go wrong, remember you are trained to deal with those, so put them out of your mind until you actually need to call upon them.
Had I not persevered I would never have seen a white tip reef shark swimming in the distance, the the barracudas idling past, or the magic of the aged turtle sat on the reef minding its own business as me and three other divers hovered and watched until it got fed up with us and decided to swim majestically to the surface for a gulp of air. Special special moments...
*** Disclaimer *** these photos/videos are not of my diving experience, but of the fantastic sights you will see snorkelling off Gili Air taken with my underwater camera which can manage a depth of about 5M only. Diving pictures may feature in a future post as I consider taking my PADI underwater photography course, and I rent a camera that can operate at diving depths.
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