After three days of intense dives, physical challenges, swim tests, skills and theory exams, I am Open Water Certified. My scuba diving story in Koh Tao was one of the most memorable tales I have, and certainly one of the most challenging mental and physical task I’ve faced.
Fear of open water ✓
Fear of deep water ✓
Fear of jumping into deep water ✓
Fear of most living things under water ✓
……Open Water Scuba Certification ✓
Why do it?
Becoming Open Water Scuba Certified allowed me to join a special, minority group of people who are lucky enough to view life forms on this Earth that technically, we shouldn’t be able and weren’t designed to see. You really feel like you are flying! Being able to twisting and turn amongst the sea creatures is an awesome feeling. Diving completely negates the limitations of the human body and provides us with the most unique opportunities in the world. To dive 10ft to view a reef shark, or check out a 30 year old Green Sea Turtle at 18ft is something truly extraordinary and an honour. It should be noted though, it’s not all plain sailing (excuse the pun) and there are some legit risks – the main one being DCS, i.e. decompression sickness. DCS occurs when there is a drastic decrease in pressure around you. If you ascend too fast, nitrogen bubbles can form inside your tissues to result in a variety of problems – usually in the spinal chord or brain. Paralysis and congestive symptoms in the lungs can occur.
Is it as easy as ‘don’t come up too fast’ ? Not really. If something happens to unnerve you 18ft, the natural instinct is to swim straight to the top. Therefore, dive with someone you are confident with and that you trust to handle any situation!
Still have some concerns? Check out some other risks and how to avoid them here.
There are a bundle of different things you want to consider when scuba diving in Koh Tao. Picking a dive school is one of the them, so do your research! Check out their online rep, size, facilities, location and obviously their price. One of the biggest questions to ask though, is whether or not they have their own pool and their own boat. For me, being able to practice the skills in calm, unthreatening water was a really weighty factor in my decision. Secondly, if you’re sharing a boat with a bunch of other groups, you’re sharing time, attention and physical space, as opposed to going at your own pace and feeling comfortable.
The Course – Seashell Dive Centre
Seashell Divers were the best fit for us as for the following reasons:
-Staff were immediately confident and professional
-School owned their own boat and pool
-Instructor we met was highly experienced and calm
The big one: My boyfriend and I were the only two to sign up! This meant that for the entire 3 days we had the instructor completely to ourselves, both above and below water. Considering I was already pretty apprehensive, the chance to have immediate reassurance or attention when necessary meant my decision was made.
Also, before making my trip to Koh Tao I’d previously heard and read some amazing things about ‘Sairee Cottage’ diving school. They’re located almost right beside Seashell and also own their own boat and pool. They were booked up during our days on the island.
My Diving Story in Koh Tao Starts Here – Day One
I began my scuba diving story early. By 8:30am we were settled down to watch and study a few safety and information videos. Next there are two swim challenges which test your ability to tread water for 10 minutes and swim 14 lengths of a standard pool. There’s no speed or stroke requirements so it’s not too strenuous! Then there’s an equipment briefing including the assembling, testing, dissembling and washing of your scuba equipment. After lunch you’re in the pool for a few skill demonstrations, e.g. how to get water out of your mask, find your regulator if it falls out of your mouth, etc.
Another 8:30am start with a video full of information and general do’s & dont’s. Afterwards, our instructor specifically reiterated the important ones, e.g. how to jump into the water from the boat, communication signals underwater, checking how much air you have left, sharing air with diving buddy, etc. Following this, we set up our equipment, had a bite to eat, and we were out for your first of two dives of the day.
During both dives, the instructor challenges you to complete more skills practiced in the pool, which includes finding your natural buoyancy, taking off your gear in the water and putting it back on, etc. Sounds easy? Deep down in the unknown made everything far more daunting….for me at least!
This is the toughest day. 6:00am start to go out for the third of the four dives. The fourth dive is an enjoyable, challenge-free fun dive, so the third one tests you with the hardest skill – kneeling on the sea floor and taking off your mask under water, putting it back on, and clearing it of water. Losing your ability to see at a depth of approx. 18 meters and staying calm enough to breath through your mouth only was a massive mental challenge for me. Definitely important to have a calm instructor that your trust at these moments!
Animals That We Saw
When your diving, there are oodles of sea creatures swimming underneath, above and below you, swimming together doing their thing. In fact, you feel a bit like an unwanted guest! Their size, colour and shape is so varied, its hard to keep track. One thing is for sure, there is enough life-forms down there to keep you occupied and enthralled forever!
I had my breath taken a couple of times throughout my experience. As a teacher, I’d read the story of The Rainbow Fish to my students, but I didn’t realise it was real! It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
I was also lucky enough to swim alongside a really large and beautiful Green Sea Turtle. Our instructor believed she was female and approx. 25 years old. She swam with such grace, I could’ve watched her forever.
Another stand-out moment in my Koh Tao story was my first sighting of a sting-ray. Alarm bells went off immediately in my head before I calmed myself by watching its peaceful, unthreatening glide through the water. Naturally, like any sea creature, you must admire from afar so it doesn’t feel under attack.
Why Koh Tao?
If you’re a dive master, diver for fun, or a beginner, Koh Tao, Thailand is where its at. Ranked at #2 out the 6 cheapest places to dive all over the world.
In recent years, the 60 something Dive Centres on the 21km island agreed to charge a minimum price of 1100 THB ($360 USD) for the 3 Day Course. Also, second only to Cairns, Australia, Koh Tao issues the highest number of dive certifications in the world. Finally, the island itself is a stunning little gem on the Gulf of Thailand, with villas dotting the palm-fringed white sandy beaches.
I would say it is important to note, having dived with a friend who has absolutely no fear in water at all, Scuba Diving (and especially the course) is a challenging physical and mental excursion for anyone.
The 3-day course consists of a variety of theory and practical tests, demonstrations, audio clips, and of course, dives. It requires dedication, determination and resilience. Seashelldivers were amazing because they cater and allow for every
It’s not all scary though…a scuba instructor has officially the most calming, peaceful, zen job one can find in adult-life (until things go wrong obviously but we won’t talk about that!) The wave of serenity and silence that washes around when you go down can only be felt to be believed. It’s like no other! To do it every day, all day, and to be paid for it?! That’s basically winning the lotto!
Remember guys keep hold on to your PADI card when you finish as my a colleague said ” In 2006 I did my PADI license in Koh Tao, but after losing my card I wasn’t able to dive again unaccompanied until I redid my PADI again. There was no record of me in the system anywhere!”