At the very end of my gap year, I was staying in Koh Tao, an island in the Gulf of Thailand. I worked at a dive shop, tidying up and helping with clients, in exchange for my room there. Koh Tao is renowned for it’s beautiful waters and dive spots, so there are diving schools around every bend in the road. I had picked Koh Tao for the work and because the beaches are gorgeous. I hadn’t really thought I’d be diving. Until about a week and a half before I left the country and I considered how diving there was the cheapest and the most beautiful chance I would get at learning how to SCUBA dive, and I thought, Why the hell not?
Thus I went through my introductory SSI dive training, with a minor bump in the road when I got an ear infection before my last dive. But with some antibiotics and a few days on land, I dove the day I was taking the train back to Bangkok, and proudly received my Open Water Diving Certification. This means I have some experience diving and can dive with just one fellow diver up to 60 feet.
When I was trying to decide if I would learn to SCUBA dive in Thailand, I realized I didn’t know that much about diving and I was a little freaked out by the idea of being so deep in the ocean. So I thought I’d put together a list of everything I’d have wanted to know before I dove for the first time.
1. Diving is only dangerous if you neglect your training or don’t use your common sense.
Being so deep under water can seem scary, but good teachers and a thorough training will make you feel comfortable underwater. The first things you learn are safety procedures. During your first dive you will practice these procedures many times in very shallow water. This repetition helps to cement safe diving practices and emergency procedures in your memory. After your first dive, your teacher should help you slowly expand your comfort zone and knowledge by diving deeper each time. (Make sure you check ratings online and go with a school that uses the major courses, such as PADI or SSI, to make sure you have good teachers!)
2. Be careful not to touch any wildlife during your dive, but don’t be afraid of sharks or big fish!
This is important both for you and the dive site. Corals and some of the other underwater creatures can be delicate or susceptible to injury. Also touching wildlife could give you a rash or a bite, so it’s better to just look at the underwater world. Incidents with sharks are extremely rare when diving, but if there are sharks in the area your teachers will show you the proper procedures so that you can enjoy an amazing sighting.
3. You should prepare for diving by getting a full night’s sleep, drinking lots of water, and being in relative good health.
To SCUBA dive, you don’t need to be a champion swimmer, although you should be relatively healthy and fit. Your instructor will probably make you complete a basic swim test, swimming at your own pace a couple hundred yards (for me it was just around the boat once) and floating for a few minutes. But as long as you can swim, you will most likely pass this test. For any injuries or illnesses you should consult your doctor before diving. However, if you have the flu or even a common cold, you should never dive. This is because if your sinuses or the eustachian tubes are swollen or blocked you may not be able to properly equalize your ears under the pressure of the water. This could cause pain and ear injuries, so it’s not worth the risk. And the easiest tip is to drink lots of water, because a well-hydrated body deals better with the excess of nitrogen in the blood.
4. Lots of precautions and technology will help to ensure that you do not dive too deep too fast.
The main part of your out-of-water training will be about how to avoid decompression sickness, also known as the bends. Either you or your teacher will be wearing a dive watch that calculates the depth and time of the dive. The computer in the dive watch will assure that you descend and ascend at a safe and slow pace. Also, you will perform a safety stop when ascending, which is when you stop around 15 feet (5 m) from the surface, waiting for 3 to 5 minutes. Lastly, you should never fly within 24 hours of your last dive, as there still may be excess nitrogen in your bloodstream.
5. Be excited! Diving is one of the coolest ways to discover a new part of the world.
While the thought of diving may make you nervous, take it from me that it is SO worth it. Unlike snorkeling, diving puts you in the center of the action. You will see fish and creatures up close and personal. The weightlessness and all-surrounding blue is calming and entrancing. Diving is a completely unique way to experience the underwater world. So take a discovery dive, which is offered at most dive schools to allow those interested in learning to SCUBA dive test the waters and see if they like it. Trust me, I could not be happier that I stepped out of my comfort zone and took the plunge!