Diving in Koh Tao – first impressions by a newbie

I’ve always had this irrational fear of being in the water with an open nose. When I’d dive in, I’d always squeeze it with my fingers. When swimming, I’d either keep my head above the water or use a nose clip or a mask that will cover the nose. I had this since I was a kid.

I also have a minor nuisance with my ears – when it’s cold and/or windy outside, with no hat or ear muffs, I get an ear pain, that transforms into a terrible ear and headache.

But so many people told me how amazing diving is, that I’ve decided to visit Koh Tao to take a course.

Choosing a right diving course

There are about 70 diving schools in Koh Tao, big and small. On the boat from Koh Phangan, a saleswoman approached me offering a good price in Big Blue. She boasted that the school is very big, which allows you to meet a lot of new people.

My friend Tiago whom I met in Koh Muk this April advised me to talk to the instructor before embarking the course. And, honestly, with my fears and having no diving experience – even 30cm below the sea level, it’s a great idea.

Staying in Sairee Beach, I walked to several schools. I liked a few, but one stood out particularly. I’m not a morning person, and most schools have early morning dives – for instance, Big Blue start at 5:45 (if I’m not wrong). One of the schools, Goodtime, I liked almost everything about. They offered free accommodation – a hostel; but for a bit extra, I stayed in a fan room in a nearby resort. The staff were very attentive: Claire met my concerns of pain and explained the cancellation policy, which is almost ‘Pay-as-you-go’. Dan explained me the teaching method and I got to trust that I will overcome my fears. The staff I spoke to were British, so it was easy for me to understand.

The structure of the open water diving course

The plan for the course was:

  • Day 1 – half day theory and half day basic skills in a swimming pool at my resort
  • Day 2 – 2 practice dives in the sea and evening theory and test
  • Day 3 – 2 fun dives

All done and you’re a certified open water diver – SSI in my case. This allows diving to 18m, if accompanied by a buddy – a person with the same (or higher) certificate.

First impressions

SSI offers a mobile app – I’ve used my iPad to do the reading. I’ve realised it has a lot of pre-work which should be easy for a native English speaker, but for someone who never studied biology or physics in English (like me!) it may be a bit challenging at first.

Goodtime run courses in groups no more than 4. Mine had 3 subscribers, but the couple did not turn up in the morning, and I had 1:1 tutoring.

The theory videos during the first session helped the material settled. Then, after a long lunch break I was almost ready to start the pool sessions. Eventually, I was in a group with another lady and we did the pool exercises together.

At first, the amount of information, and the diving system – buoyancy, air supply and all that is overwhelming! You put the gear on, and there are tubes, buttons, procedures! There’s also communcation sings since you can’t talk in the water. And, my fears.

But the familiarisation with the equipment was so slow and gradual that I forgot about my fears. First, I became comfortable breathing under water. Then, I could take out my mouthpiece (oxygen supply) and be able to put it back – even if it’s behind me and I can’t see it! Then (OMG!!!) I learned how to fill my mask with water and clear it. And, amazingly, how to take it off, on and clear it! We’ve learned some emergency procedures with my buddy too – such as each of us running out of air. We had our air supply stopped physically so we know how it feels. Dan, our instructor, was always with us, showing us “well done” signs or correcting our minor mistakes.

After day 1, I felt so happy that I could overcome these fears so easily!

Open Water Diving course – Day 2

Although Goodtime had a later start than others, it was still 8AM. And I didn’t get a good night sleep, and I slipped in a shower having a huge bruise on my elbow. I wasn’t too happy.

We took the gear and boarded the boat after 8AM. After a bit of a ride, we stopped by a reef where we did out swimming test – snorkel for 300m (that’s easy with the fins on!) and float for 10 minutes (I could do it all day!).

After that, we’ve assembled and checked our gear and were ready for the first dive. I’ve been reminded by many divers to ‘equalise constantly’ – since the pressure under water is higher than on the ground, the air-filled spaces in our bodies need to get more air so they don’t collapse. Especially sinuses, and ears. To fill them with ear, one has to breathe gently with the nose closed. I found it really helps to tilt my head left and right while doing so.

We’ve immersed in water while holding the cable and equalising constantly. Then, we’ve done some of the same exercises as in a pool before – and I realised that I’m confident and fearless when doing them. Then, we went to explore the area and enjoy the views. After a little break and some fruit, we’ve accomplished another dive!

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