In the past week we all worked diligently to earn our PADI open water scuba diving certification. The first two days were split between learning scuba skills in the classroom and in the pool. We were enthusiastically taught by our energetic instructor, Rob. Rob is an experienced diver and clearly loves what he does. From the moment we met him outside our hostel in Cairns he was full of energy, life, and excitement. Through watching PADI instructional videos, practicing skills in the training pool, and asking Rob many, many, questions we learned what to do in every underwater disaster scenario. We are now qualified to: remove our masks underwater, put them on full of water, and clear them, remove our BCD apparatus and put them back on, drag an injured diver to safety, relieve cramps in other divers, provide air for a diver that’s out of air, and many more skills. It was also our responsibility to assemble and disassemble our gear which consisted of a BCD, a regulator, an oxygen tank, mask, and flippers. The first breaths underwater were invigorating! The first few minutes were simply spent sitting on the pool, watching each other through our masks, trying to get our brains used to the idea that we were actually breathing under the water. We then moved on to maneuvering around underwater, doing flips, handstands, push ups, blowing bubble rings, and moving deeper in the training pool, all the while equalizing for pressure so that we didn’t burst our ear drums and watching our air intake so that we didn’t suffocate. It was a lot to focus on, but eventually it all became second nature to us. We also went over hand signals. Since communication can be difficult underwater, we made sure to be very clear on these, especially with our buddies that we would stay with at all times while submerged. These signals were everything from “Are you OK?” to “Hey! There’s a stingray!” (Which just happens to look like giving someone the Finger, but we all knew what it was supposed to mean).
After we gained confidence in these skills in the pool, we transitioned to the ocean. We took a boat to Fitzroy Island and got to stay at a tropical resort for a night! After months of home stays, hostels, and camping, it felt great to pretend we were just tourists stopping at an island resort for a night. Our first day on the island was packed with three shallow dives (shallow being about 7 meters underwater) where we got to practice all of our new skills in the turquoise sea filled with rainbow fish and coral. This was certainly the best classroom we’ve ever been in. The underwater world was absolutely popping with life. Life hid in every nook and cranny of the colorful coral. We watched in awe as the cast of Finding Nemo swam by. Its easy to lose track of time when you’re in a place where time doesn’t exist. Although it was important we didn’t, because some of us go through air quicker than others! During these dives we practiced all of the skills we learned in the pool but with the added difficulty of impaired visibility and the immense vastness of the ocean. By the end of our final beach dive we were more than ready to get out to the Great Barrier Reef and get certified! We had a nice relaxing night enjoying the resort and taking full advantage of the A/C units in our rooms.
We got up on the morning of our final SCUBA day ready to get out there. After filling ourselves with energy from the all you can eat breakfast buffet, we boarded a boat with all our gear and started out towards the Great Barrier Reef! It was awesome that we got our certifications at a place very few people will ever see, let alone see in the way we did. Our first dive off the boat required us to demonstrate a couple of skills before we went under for the dive where we would surface as certified divers. The ocean world was incredibly clear around the reef. We were able to see huge schools of fish, sea turtles, sharks, and, of course, tons of beautiful coral! After surfacing we hopped back on the boat and moved to a second location, where we had of first full certified dive. We saw a giant clam and took some pictures now that we weren’t considered students.
The experience passed so quickly but we learned so much. Many of us are already excited about the next chance we will have to delve into the deep ocean and see the world from an angle few will ever know.
Adam and Rachel