You have just signed up to an entry level scuba diving course. Congratulations! If you are thinking about doing it, you really should. Like most people, you will probably love it, and if you don’t, you are still learning a new skill and expanding your horizons. Everyone expectations of what diving will be like are different. Some people imagine they will be gliding around weightlessly in a three dimensional world, others can picture themselves exploring reefs more beautiful and colourful than James Cameron’s blockbuster hit, Avatar.
Here is a list of things that you can expect when you learn to dive. Don’t worry if they seem a bit disappointing from what you may have had in mind. Diving is still more amazing than you could possibly imagine.
You’ll spend lots of time in the pool or classroom
When you sign up to a dive course, you might think that the first thing you will do is to jump straight in the ocean and dive! This may seem like a good idea, but doing so is just asking for trouble. There is tonnes of important information – for both safety and technique- you need to learn before breathing underwater.
You will complete number of theory sessions which cover topics such as –physiology, physics, decompression theory and dive planning. You will also need to jump in a swimming pool so you can get used to breathing underwater and learn how to perform a number of skills that are essential to being able to safely scuba dive.
You won’t be 100% comfortable
Don’t worry, you will be soon, just not at first. As a beginner diver, you will be in an alien environment and your mind and body will need to adjust to it. Ear equalisation problems are very common as a new diver, but defiantly not the only novice problem. Buoyancy can be tricky to master, and some people struggle with their body positioning and finning technique, while others may take time to get used to clearing their mask.
The key is to keep practising what you may be struggling with, and it is very important to tell your instructor if it is something they might not be able to easily see. Once you get more dives under your belt, you will feel much more comfortable.
It’s louder than you would imagine
You might think that sticking on a tank and heading underwater would be a good way to get some peace and quiet, but diving is actually a lot louder than you would imagine. The sound of your bubbles as you breath out are loud enough to scare away most close fish – unless you use a rebreather, that is.
It isn’t just the sound you make as a diver. There are a number of ambient sounds made by animals, although many are very quiet so you might not pick them up individually. Parrotfish are good examples of this, making a scraping sound as they remove algae from rocks and corals. Probably the loudest sound you will encounter will come from boats passing by. Because sound travels so effectively underwater, they will sound much closer than they really are.
Your senses will become distorted
Light and sound work differently underwater as they do in air. We have already mentioned how diving is louder than you would have initially imagined. This effect is amplified because sound travels four times faster underwater, which means that loud boat that sounds like it is just overhead may be half a kilometre away.
The biggest effect this has on us is the way we hear the sounds. When we hear a sound, there is a gap between when the sound reaches each ear drum. Our brain will use this information to calculate roughly which direction the sound came from. Because sound travels much faster underwater, that gap is much shorter, and the brain cannot work out the direction. It will seem like all the sounds are coming from above.
Water has a magnifying effect, so everything we see underwater, including ourselves, seems much larger than it really is. After a lot of time spent in the water your brain will learn to cope with this, but at first, if your instructor asks you to grab hold of a rope, there is a good chance you will miss it.
It’s not always as pretty as you thought
Ok I might upset some people by saying that, but it is true. Actually when you really get into diving, the underworld is more amazing than you could ever had imagined. But most new divers surface from their first dives and say things like “That was amazing, but I thought it would be more colourful than that”.
Whenever you watch diving movies, or look at diving photos, the underwater world is bursting with every colour from the rainbow, but when you actually get underwater, it is mainly shades of blues, greens and purples. This is simply because light from the sun is absorbed by the water. The first colour to go is red, followed by orange, yellow, and so on…
When you see these amazing colourful photos, the photographer has used an external light source, such as a strobe or flashlight. This way, they can bring all the colours back that the depth had stolen. A dive light is a good investment if you want to dive a lot – that way you can appreciate the true colours every time you dive.
Don’t set your expectations too high
Many non-divers believe that every dive is packed full of sharks, turtles, manta rays and so on. These non-divers who then decide to go diving are often disappointed that after their fourth dive, they are yet to see a whale shark, and they only saw ‘like, two turtles’.
This works the other way too. Many non-divers are afraid to pick up the sport because they believe the ocean is full of sharks that are just waiting to eat them. You should look carefully into where you want to learn to dive. If you want to see hundreds of turtles, Sipadan or Bunaken might be the right place your you. If you want to avoid sharks, maybe you shouldn’t learn in Fiji. Just like everybody else, you have your own interests, and you can maximise your enjoyment of diving by doing a little research before you even get started.
Remember, most divers will go hundreds of dives before seeing things like whale sharks, manta rays, or dolphins. If you do see any of those, you are very lucky, but don’t use that as a bar to set any future dives off. If you do, you will probably end up very disappointed in the future.
‘What to Expect when you Learn to Dive’ was written by Mike