Sunday, August 18, 2019

PADI Cake, PADI Cake

I completed my PADI training previous day at a hotel pool. It was not the glorious PADI deep pool that the website advertised, but whatever, I did not care. I had a Dive Master Pro (Rob) who oversaw everything and a Dive Master pro (Matts) in training who would be looking after me. I had no issue with being trained by someone being trained to train, being overseen by someone who is an experienced at training.

Training went fine. Outside the pool, I was given the tast of putting the gear together properly and then taking it apart. I did this three times. I needed to know what each piece of gear was, what it was for and it's basic functionality. Everything centered around the buoyancy control device or the BCD. --the vest that is inflatable and holds the tank (air) and the regulator (breathing the air). There was the proper way to mount both the tank and regulator and how to put put on and wear the BDC. We went through the weight belt, the mask and fins and how to properly enter the water from a boat.

There were a series of exercises I had to learn and perform. This included clearing my mask from seeping water while I was underwater. Taking my mask off, putting it back on and clearing the water. The basics of buoyancy and how to do it. You must remain calm and basically float underwater. It is not all about thrashing and bashing. There were breathing exercises including shared breathing for emergencies. There were hand signals for OK, running low on oxygen, out of oxygen, go up, slow down/calm down, ears not clearing and danger. Hand signals are fundamental for underwater communication and safe diving.

Training lasted most of the day. There was a written requiring 75% to pass. All told there were 5 written tests during my training and one final exam. It was not difficult as you go over everything repetitively during the 3 days of training. I did have to watch about 3 hours of videos as a part of the education process. Difficult? Not really however the work "exam" still strike high school fear into me, even for a millisecond. 

It was diving day. Training was over and now it was time to get into the water. Shit, things just got very real. There were no intentions of bringing my waterproof camera on any of my training dives. Focusing was more important than Facebook. Everyone met at the shop where the crew loaded all the gear and planned the day. There were quite a few "divers" hanging around with "lost looks" on their faces, so I was with my tribe. The crew had been through this routine thousands of times and oddly, the divers seemed to be pushed aside. They/we were going to be looked after, that was not an issue. However there was work to do and I appreciated the focus, double checks and conversations back and forth between Gary, the Dive Master Pros and the support team. We loaded into our van and off we went to the pier.

The morning was nice and the hour boat ride out to the first dive spot was peaceful. My first task? I had to swim 200 metres in the open ocean, which was 6 times around the boat. Everyone was gearing up and chatting excitedly. I plunged into the ocean for my swim and looked like a lost seal gulping for air as I did my laps around the boat with the theme from Jaws pounding my soul.

My dive master/instructor was Sue. A local with about 25 years of diving experience. I asked how many dives she has completed and she laughed. "I stopped counting around 3000 she laughed", "and that was years ago". I was in very good hands. She was open, funny and calming. She did not baby me but she absolutely had her eye on me at all times. We reviewed what we would going to accomplish on the dive then we geared up. We did a buddy check on our systems and she smiled knowingly as she tugged and pulled on my straps. Then it was a walk to the back of the boat to put the fins on. I was a bit nervous, but the good nervous. I put on my mask and put my regulator in my mouth. I made sure my BCD was fully inflated. I put my right hand on my mask and regulator, put my left hand on my weight belt and took a giant stride (not a jump) into the Gulf of Siam. I turned to the boat and gave the signal that I was OK and swam towards Sue, who was waiting patiently at the dive buoy. Ready? I lifted the BCD air hose, pushed release to deflate and down I went. Mr. Limpett had arrived. Now where is Ladyfish?

Whatever you do, never ever call the mask goggles and the fins flippers. Just don't do it. 😎. I didn't because I spent a lot of time researching diving rookie mistakes and how not to make them.
I did four dives over two days. As required we went no deeper than 18 metres. We saw a few turtles and lots of reef fish. What is a really great experience is the sound that a school of fish makes as it swims by.

We practiced hand signals, I had to clear my mask and do all the tasks taught in the pool. On the second day, Matts joined us which was cool. The three of us together. Sue would just keep me calm, have me slow down and enjoy it. The idea behind SCUBA is not to kick like crazy but so to go slow and limit your body movements to save oxygen. I was to keep constantly checking my levels and report the PSI of my tanks when asked. There are hand signals for that as well.

We practiced me running out of air and using a buddy system to get to the surface where I had to inflate my BCD by blowing into it. It sounds easier than it is when bobbing on the surface. From 12 metres I needed to take a breath, remove my regulator and surface slowly. The idea is not to hold your breath but to breathe a steady stream of bubbles so you do not collapse your lungs. I had to hum as I went up to prevent the natural reaction of holding my breath. Again, it was harder than you think. If I went for my regulator to get air, I would have to do it again. I was never in any danger and the experience was worth it.

We had a nice drift dive at about 10 metres where the current just took us along a reef. There was the lesson to watch the surface for boats, and more importantly SeaDoo traffic. Listen, look and raise your arm as you surface. All told I completed all my tasks and had 5 dives under my belt. I went back to the shop, took the written test, got two wrong out of 50 and just like that I was PADI Open water certified. Next up Advanced Open Water with 4 more dives including deep water 30 meters and another shipwreck.

Challenge accepted. Mission accomplished.

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