Monday, July 25, 2016

PADI 101

In May, I had a five day holiday and nothing tying me down, which meant it was time for a trip. After looking at my options and asking for some input from friends, I decided to go to Vietnam.

My main purpose in going to Vietnam was to learn to scuba dive, so I went to Phu Quoc.

I'll talk more about Vietnam in another post, but for now, I'll focus on the diving aspect.

In a nutshell, it was a really cool experience to be underwater, and it's amazing that my breathing determines much of how I rise and sink in the water. It's absolutely something I want to do again, and I recommend trying it.'s also something that is better done with a friend/spouse/family member than alone. I usually have decent luck when it comes to meeting other people as I've traveled solo. This time, the chips didn't fall in my favor. I just didn't mesh well with our small group, and it was what it was. That said, if you can't find anyone to join you, I say go for it anyway. It's just better with the company of someone you know you can share it with.

Wow. This is a remarkable turnaround from a prior win some, you lose some, I guess.

Alright, so my first surprising (and not in a good way) realization about scuba diving came when I arrived at the dive center. To provide some context, we have to go back to March, when I started emailing this particular company. The person emailing me back was nice enough, but I think he presumed that I knew more about diving than I actually did.

Please see Exhibit A:

I thought "the video" was going to be an hour-long instruction piece about how to breathe into the regulator (I learned that's what a diver puts into their mouth to breathe underwater), why you shouldn't try to pull another person's regulator out underwater (because it's mean), blah blah blah.

Boy. Was I wrong.

"The video" is actually a set of DVDs that contain 4.5 hours worth of information. If you want to get certified, you have to watch them and take a test on the material.

Scratch that - you have to take several tests: one is a review of the DVD material (which, thankfully, can be done as you watch it), one is an RDP or Recreational Dive Planner test (which reminded me that I never have and likely never will like story problems), and one is a final exam. The latter two tests took an additional three hours to complete on my second day in Phu Quoc.

I felt so stupid about not knowing what to expect with these tests, like I must have missed something obvious in the lead-up to starting the course.

Hopefully this can be helpful to someone who is planning on getting scuba certified, especially with PADI, make sure you either:
  1. Have plenty of time on your trip to space out the quizzes and tests.
  2. Do the courses online...however, note the cost. 
On the bright side, I was treated to this view about 3 hours into the video:

Okay, enough droning on about the testing stuff.

On the second day, I went to a nice swimming pool to learn a few nunchuck scuba skills. I was joined by a couple, making three of us in total. Upon arrival at the pool, we got right to work. As in, immediately after learning our names, our instructor told us to get into the pool and had us swim 200 meters (20 times back and forth) without our feet touching the ground. Now I'm not much of a swimmer, but I do a pretty sweet squid tread, which is what I call the awkward attempt at a swim move I do because I don't know what it's actually called. Moving on...we then had to float for 10 minutes without touching the sides of the pool. Success. But I thought it was odd that we did all of this before knowing anything about our instructor.

Eventually, we found out that his name was Dave. He had the demeanor of a grizzled British pirate, until we went underwater. At that point, Dave went from Redbeard the Riotous to Underwater Ballet Grand Master. The grace. I like to save my tears for when I'm above the water,and that's the only wai I managed to not cry from the beauty of submerged perfection.

Also, it was surprising to me how naturally the breathing came. The skills weren't too difficult. Then we came out of the pool... was pouring rain. I hadn't even looked up at the surface to notice the ripples. But my stuff that I had brought with me, including my flipping DVD review worksheet that I'd powered through during the previous day, certainly noticed it.

After a mad rush out of the pool to dry it, I found out that my worksheets were still salvageable. I know you were worried.

Back in the water, kick kick kick, practice practice practice, yada yada yada, it was all pretty simple. BUT...the most challenge for me was keeping good buoyancy. As mentioned before, I found out that my buoyancy is mostly controlled by my breathing. Inflating the BCD (it's the zip-up vest, it stands for Buoyancy Control Device, and YES...I am finding this information out as I type this post almost three months after the dive) is a last resort.

I had to head back to the dive center to finish my tests (yes, I lied. I'm bringing up the tests again). It sucked, honestly. At least Dave/Redbeard was willing to give me a lift back to my home stay. D/R also smoked while he took me on his scooter, and no, there was nowhere to escape. Oh well, he got me back to my place.

The next day was the first open water dive. The boat ride out was nice. See for yourself.

From the boat in Duong Dong

Out by our first dive site
We did two dives. The first one was just shy of 40 minutes and just over 7 meters deep...when we were to finally able to find a place on the sea floor to rest, that is. There were sea urchins everywhere! Dastardly creatures. It was a trip to be in open ocean. Unfortunately, water conditions were murky, but it was cool to see the coral whenever possible. There were a few scrapes and stings (the lady in our group had a brush with a jellyfish), but we did it!

Again, buoyancy proved to be a challenge. I really had to consciously regulate my breath so that I didn't rise/fall too quickly. Also, equalizing was a bit difficult. The deeper you go into water, the more pressure is acting on you. To match the pressure, you have to equalize your ears. Sometimes, you can pinch your nose and blow, like on an airplane. Most of the time, you just have to give yourself time at a certain depth to adjust before you descend again. The "you" in this paragraph could easily be replaced with "I/me," since I seemed to struggle with this a bit.

We got back into the boat and went to a second location with slightly better visibility and significantly fewer urchins. Also, we got to move around a bit and explore the reef. We saw several jellyfish and a large expanse of coral. It wasn't quite "Finding Nemo" (OR "Finding Dory") color quality, but it was still a cool thing to move freely underwater!

We had an awesome lunch and then went back to the harbor. On the way back, I looked out into the ocean and saw hundreds of jellyfish, all different hues of tan, pink, and purple. I didn't get any pictures because my phone wouldn't have been able to catch it and, honestly, I was so wrapped up in watching that taking pictures was an afterthought.

The next day was supposed to be my final diving day, and I had been assured that I'd be able to do the dives even though my flight was later that night. Which brings me to a segment I like to call:

~ Who'd 'A Thunk?~

Just as the pressure on your body increases as you go deeper into the water, the pressure decreases as you go to higher altitudes. If you have residual nitrogen in your blood from the dive to bubble. And no one wants that.

Well, originally, I was told I was okay. When I reminded the head of the dive shop of when my flight time was, he told me that it wouldn't do to dive again with such a short time interval before flying. He gave me a refund for the day and told me I'd get my dive card in the mail later.

So the dive adventure was over. And honestly?

I was perfectly happy to be done.

My mistake was trying to squish too much into 3.5 days. It limited how much I was able to enjoy Vietnam, and by the time the last day came, I was over it. LEARN FROM MY ERRORS!

Would I go again? Absolutely. I have to go again at some point anyway, if I want to be a legit open water diver. It would be great to try another location.

But hey. I got this neat book.

Bonus tidbit below.

WARNING: Nipple mention detected...

Dave/Redbeard has had over 100 piercings in his life. When he told us that he has successfully hung sundry items from his nipple rings, I thought he had hung something with a small amount of mass.

Folks, Dave has hung a longboard from those rings.

Said rings have also attempted, and failed, to suspend a bicycle. Can't win 'em all.


  1. I'm just so grateful you had this experience - b/c it gave me the opportunity to read this highly entertaining blog post!

    1. Thanks Ashley. It was a comedy of errors, but I'm glad I took the plunge. (<-- See what I did there?) Your next adventure is coming up very soon, I believe. Keep me posted!

  2. I added more depth to my life by getting scuba certified last year. I will be making my first ocean dive in Thailand in February. It's a great way to decompress. Once you get pass the first stage, you can handle the pressure.

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