This world is mostly water. From the saltwater oceans to our freshwater rivers and lakes, there is a world we’ve only barely explored just beneath the surface. Scuba diving is the art of using technology to aid in your ability to explore that unknown. The world of scuba diving has been around for quite some time and has not evolved significantly since Jacque Du Costeau. If you’ve ever been interested in exploring the great unknown as a scuba diver, you’ve landed in the right place! Let’s dive into our beginner’s guide to scuba diving.
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The wonders of scuba diving
We’ve been scuba diving around the world, and it is one of my favorite types of travel and activities. The wonders we have seen from spectacular coral reefs, otherworldly caves, and unbelievable wildlife is hard to describe. In the silent world under the surface of the water, you will experience no other activity similar to scuba diving. In addition, you will see and experience the life of this planet that very few others get to see or experience. From whales, sharks, dolphins, and fish, you will see wonders that may change your life forever.
Some significant experiences I will never forget include an adolescent whale shark playing with us in the deep depths. Intense curiosity about an oceanic manta ray followed us around and even watched us climb onto a boat and watch us while flopping on the surface. Diving through breathtaking caverns with shimmering sunshine, colorful reef, and many fish. Being surrounded by a massive group of Galapagos sharks that circled us out of curiosity. Being followed and hunted by a fierce tiger shark. Bearing witness to dolphins passing through, clicking their sonar at us, and then joyfully spinning around playfully before darting away.
This is only the beginning. Scuba diving is truly a joy to experience, and I encourage any avid adventurist to explore scuba diving. You will thank me! Just take everything I am about to say to heart and do so safely.
Getting started in scuba diving
Scuba diving is a vast world of technical skills and equipment. Depending on where and how you dive, you will need different equipment, technology, and skill to safely navigate the terrain. For instance, the primary base equipment you will use are:
- a buoyancy control device (BCD) that helps you control your buoyancy at depth
- an air tank, with a regulator that has an air gauge (remaining air) and two secondary stages that step the pressure of the air down, so it is breathable (one is your primary and the other is a redundancy backup)
- fins that will give you thrust in the water
- scuba dive mask so you can see in the water
- surface buoy “safety sausage” is primarily used when approaching the surface to warn boats you are there, signal to anyone looking for you, and indicate where you are for others at a distance
- wet suits are often used as they provide a layer of protection and warmth; wet suits work by basically slowing the water flow near your skin so your body has time to warm the water near it which creates a layer of warmth
- dive computers help track your dive time and depth and automatically alarm you when you are breaking recreational safety limits; it is a must for safe diving
- dive buddy, never dive alone. There are conditions where you can lapse into a state of insanity or have critical gear failure; a scuba buddy may save your life
For most folk, scuba diving will fall into the “recreational” category, which generally means scuba diving for fun. PADI has strong recreational diving guidelines, which help with very conservative limits to help keep you safe. Thus, in cases of exceeding recreational limits, these should always be planned, have the proper equipment and experience, and have a purpose. Otherwise, recreational diving is meant to be fun. Because the light only pierces so deep into the water to start with, there is very little reason to exceed the recreational limits, to begin with.
Getting open water certified
It is worth noting that scuba diving is a dangerous activity. However, it is also somewhat explored, and many worldwide participate safely. I highly recommend getting your open water certification for scuba diving. It will give you a much deeper primer than I will discuss here: practice from experienced professionals and proper training to help you safely begin your scuba diving journey.
I have heard in some areas of the world; it is possible to go scuba diving without getting your certification. I highly recommend avoiding this. PADI offers a “discovery” scuba dive, which is okay as you go scuba diving with a trained professional. Otherwise, I highly recommend just doing the PADI open water course. It is a must to begin your diving journey.
Embracing the unknown
One of the most significant factors I tend to see hold scuba divers or folk interested in scuba diving from getting into the sport is fear of the unknown. Scuba diving is mostly pretty safe. You’ll learn many skills and prepare for emergencies with a meager chance of happening. However, those emergencies can be stressful and test your ability to handle the extreme.
This is one reason that scuba diving requires you to be comfortable with swimming. While scuba diving is not similar to swimming on the surface, a swimmer will often experience more comfort in the water. That comfort will make a massive difference in your experience while scuba diving.
Fear will subside with practice
Your goal when you start scuba diving is to start practicing. Don’t stop. Pick beginner-friendly dive sites, don’t go deep, and practice frequently and often. The more you practice the beginner dives, the more comfortable you will build. If you get your open water certification and do a handful of dives, you will still expect a lot of discomfort in the water. If you find yourself on a more advanced dive for your comfort level, this is where things get dangerous, and your ability to handle the unknown may be overwhelmed. Please ease into scuba diving and practice properly before you do anything more intermediate or advanced.
I consider fear the most significant hurdle in scuba diving, and there is no way to overcome fear automatically. You become comfortable by practicing basic skills, practicing for emergencies, scuba diving frequently, and easing into it. However, if issues occur while diving in the more advanced dives, your comfort and practice of the skills could mean life or death.
Top skills to start working on
Scuba diving is a vast sport requiring different skills for different areas of the world, conditions, types of water, depth of the dive, and length. It gets a bit daunting! Let me introduce some of the quick concepts here to help introduce you to where you might eventually be interested in specializing!
Cold water diving
Cold water requires special gear called a dry suit and often another specialized regulator that handles cold water better than regular regulators. A dry suit differs from a wet suit and doesn’t allow water to touch your skin. Cold water often will put you into hypothermia before your body can heat it in a wet suit. Dry suits require a decent amount of skill and are different from regular diving. It requires extra practice.
Freshwater lake diving
Freshwater has a different buoyancy feel and often less wildlife. Additionally, depending on the altitude of the freshwater, you will need to plan your gear differently
Cave diving is one of the more advanced branches of scuba diving because of the dangers presented. Numerous experienced cave divers have lost their lives leading it to be one of the more risky branches. However, there are many safe and explored cave dives to be explored with professional guides that you do not need advanced training for though.
Deep water technical diving
Deep water diving is a specialized skill for advanced scuba divers or commercial divers that need to go well beyond the safety limits of recreational diving. However, they generally have some objectives, such as diving into a downed boat or repairing an oil rig’s structure. These divers go into the great abyss and must have intense training and confidence to make it back safely.
Not a specific diving style, but I wanted to mention Nitrox diving. You will see and experience it a lot in recreational scuba diving. It is not regular compressed air but has a unique mixture that allows you to have a more extended duration of scuba diving. In exchange, you must measure the air mixture before diving and not exceed the shallow safety limits your nitrox mixture allows without potentially experiencing nitrogen poisoning or an increased chance of nitrogen bubbles forming in your blood. The safety limits exist for a reason. Stick to the relatively conservative safety limits and know them well. Nitrox requires some additional training which I highly recommend doing. Nitrox is a nice bonus for more shallow dives as you will have longer bottom time.