Taking the plunge and learning to dive

I’ve been around the ocean my whole life, albeit on the surface, swimming, surfing, sailing, fishing, snorkeling, but my experience of what lies below the surface was limited to documentaries, photographs and books. I was given a great opportunity to explore the underwater world and grabbed it with both hands.

Taking the plunge and learning to dive

Day one - After finding that my lack of time management skills had left me with one and a half evenings to study in preparation for the course, the echo of Instructor Dave, from Project AWARE, rang out “do give it some time, there’s quite a lot to get through…”

But a comfy night on the couch guided through the PADI e-course, I soon had completed all six sections and scored 98% in the final assessment.

Arriving at Dive Centre Manly I wondered what comes next in this course, the staff were just as excited as I was that I am learning to dive. It’s like they were welcoming me into their club.

I’d seen scuba divers before, in their confusing outfits, like a superhero costume. But after an explanation of each apparatus and its use, the jungle gym of equipment seemed more familiar, and I was feeling pretty good in my Aqua-woman outfit. I was assured each piece is designed for a safety purpose, first for me and also for my ‘buddy’.

Instructor Dave was very patient with me, coaching along each skill I needed to learn, laughing along when I forgot which button to inflate the BCD (harness), and sank like a stone to the bottom of the pool and proceeded to get stuck upside down, like a turtle stuck on its back.

There was a lot of instruction on how to treat equipment and gear, each part of the apparatus respected and rinsed thoroughly at the end of the dive. It made me think about the respect I show my surf gear; when was the last time I rinsed my wetsuit properly?

Day two - We arrived at Shelly Beach, it was a beautiful morning, and an idyllic spot to learn to dive. Cabbage Tree Bay, off Shelley Beach at Manly, is a successful Marine Sanctuary and also happens to be a good right hand point break I’ve surfed many times. Where I’ve paddled out to the wave was just where I’d be taking my first dive, scuba style. I was pretty excited to see what was below the surface of the line I’d paddled so many times. Instructor Dave briefed me on the day’s objectives and we suited up, Aquaman-esque, and headed for the water.

There were a lot of drills and exercises, and things to tick off the list, and it was hard not to be distracted looking at the colourful fish. Three Port Jackson sharks were cruising along the bottom, at times less than a metre away, and a few large Gropers, one of which is in the process of turning from female to male…weird.

There was a lot to take in and I was pretty keen to get swimming with the fishes,

but I remembered that this is a course and these skills prepare me for the real underwater world. I learnt to breathe again, in a different environment than is humanly possible! It’s pretty amazing to think after a three day course you can effectively develop the qualities of a mermaid…

Day three - By day three I was feeling a lot more familiar with the scuba gear, and keen to get into the water. Several other groups of divers at Shelly Beach were all keen to swap notes and have a chat. There was a real sense of camaraderie that the surfing world lacks. Divers seem to be united by their mutual love for marine life, and encourage involvement and respectful care of the ocean. While surfers too have a love of the ocean, the amity is fractured, and it made me wonder whether surfers are more psyched on the surf industry than surfing itself? 

Diving at Shelly Beach was great, and an easy introduction to open water diving. There were a lot inquisitive fish, stingrays, sharks, and nudibranchs just below the surface from one of the most famous surf breaks of Manly.

Imagine a three day course to becoming a Surfer! Demonstrations on the gear, the conditions, you had to complete a number of skills and safety activities. When you showed you were competent enough, you signed a form to say you would respect the Surfer code of practice and not surf in conditions far from what you’d been trained in. Would there be less casualties in the water…?

Once I hit the shore, signed the papers and officially became a PADI certified Open Water Diver the other divers began congratulating me and shaking my hand, they were as excited as I was that now I was in their club!