Everything is A-OK… © Emma Sparks
Scuba diving doesn’t appeal to everyone. For some, the prospect of experiencing an underwater world of Nemos and colourful coral just doesn’t quite quell the paralysing, self-shattering fear of meeting one’s end in the murky depths. Unfortunately, I am one of those people. Yet, I recently managed to complete my PADI open water course in Koh Tao, Thailand. How? I have no blimmin’ idea. All I know is that I am extremely proud of myself. And if I can do it, you definitely can.
If you are scared of diving, but have the adventurous, fun-loving spirit that keeps tempting you to give it a try, here are my top tips for your first time scuba diving.
Find a decent instructor
This is a must. The company and instructor you choose to dive with will affect your whole diving experience. You are going to be entrusting this person with your life. So you’d better hope they’re awesome at their job. They need to be using decent kit as well. Do your research, read reviews and when you arrive, go and have a chat with them.
You want someone who puts you at ease and can handle your nerves. I for one, am a faffer. The Queen of Faff, in fact. Between extremely tense silences, I would interrogate my instructor about the up-coming dive, and the torturous exercises he was going to make me do. So if you’re like me, you might want to find someone with a LOT of patience. Also have a think about the size of your group. Would you rather have an instructor to student ratio of 1:8 or 1:3? I know which I would pick.
Holding on for dear life… © Emma Sparks
Learn to breathe
Inhale, exhale. In, out. You do it 24/7. You can also do it underwater. Focusing on your breathing before and during your dive is the best way to keep calm and stop your mind wandering… to the fact you’re 18 metres deep and those creepy fish are staring you down. In, and out…
If you’ve never tried yoga or meditation before, consider taking a few classes before you dive. People tend to hold their breath unconsciously for a variety of reasons including stress, so practising continuous, steady breathing in a relaxed atmosphere is the perfect preparation for diving.
OK, so as the Queen of Faff I tend to ask too many of them, but questions can also be useful to those of a nervous disposition. Knowledge is power, and the better you understand the equipment and techniques involved in your dive, the more confident you will feel.
Don’t worry about asking your instructor to explain something again – it is in everyone’s best interests that you are comfortable and clued up. Don’t keep your nerves bottled up; discussing your worries with your dive buddy helps them bear in mind that you might not be as cool as a sea cucumber underwater. It’s nice to know that people are looking out for you.
Gulping in lungfuls of fresh air at the surface © Emma Sparks
DON’T PANIC! ARGH!
Dive instructors are by nature, extremely chilled out. They have to be. Panicking in the water is a major no-no, so they need to be experts of calm to do their job properly. For the freaked-out first timer, this can seem odd; don’t they realise that they are putting themselves in danger on a daily basis? Are they INSANE? To the first question, the answer is of course yes. They just choose to laugh in the face of fear, and reap the benefits of seeing life from a completely different angle. As for the second, that’s for you to decide…
You must keep a lid on your urge to flap about/cry/scream/rush to the surface. Sure, have a sob when you come to the surface (I sure did), but underwater you don’t have the luxury of getting emotional. My instructor Lorne taught me a great tip: Look into your buddy’s eyes if you’re starting to get worked up – hold the eye contact, and your heart rate will slow as a natural response.
Proud.of.my.self © Emma Sparks
You may well take the plunge and never look back. You might, like me, be convinced to do it again one day, but will stick to dry land for a wee while. The likelihood is you will absolutely love it. Either way, this is an experience you simply won’t regret.
I learnt to dive with the fabulous Charm Churee Divers, in Koh Tao, Thailand. Lorne Harris (manager and instructor) is a legend and if you go to Koh Tao you need to meet him and his team! I also stayed at Charm Churee Village. This was part of my prize for winning the #ThaiTales competition in November, the entry to which you can read here.