The first thing to remember is that no matter how cool diving instructors think they are now, they will have been feeling just like you on the first day of their diving course. Luckily both Sarah and I have videos of our Open Water course, so, just to bring us back to earth we watch them every so often and marvel at the interesting styles we had in the early days. Sarah has a particularly unique entry technique which I have yet to see anywhere in the world.
When people come to us for information about learning to dive, we first try to explain that like most courses learning to dive is based on performance and development. Only when you have mastered one set of skills do we move on to the next, all of which we practice in shallow water no more than a few meters deep. Learning to dive in small groups with a relaxed schedule helps you to progress at a rate that suits.
The training environment is an important element of learning to dive and for this reason Sarah and I thought long and hard about where to conduct our training programs. For many years we have had a love affair with the Perhentian Islands, off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, these two gems sit just a few hundred meters from each other, have no roads and are surrounded by secluded beaches, a trip out to the dive site is an experience in itself.
Not ones for swimming pools we conduct all training in the sea, on a white sand bay in shallow waters just as clear, we believe that learning to dive is an adventure in itself and try to keep things real and exciting. Once you have a basic understanding of scuba diving theory we'll begin by getting you comfortable with breathing through your regulator (the breathing apparatus that regulates airflow) in shallow water, resting on our knees – any problems stand up, we have a chat then go back down.
As your confidence grows we'll get you try different skills, like clearing water from your mask (should you smile too much and allow a leak) and achieving a good swimming position in the water.
Much of the reason why scuba diving has managed to grow in popularity is that all of these skills can be mastered by just about anyone who is willing to give it go. You may not get it right the first or the second time but a little perseverance and it will come.
So your confidence is up, now it's time to head to the reef. The PADI Open Water Course comprises of four 'open water' dives. These are dives that we do on the same reefs that we would take you to if you were a qualified diver wishing to explore this area. Open Water Dive One is purely an exploration dive, a chance for you to test your dive skills for the first time. Only now will you really get an understanding of diving's most important skill 'buoyancy'. Buoyancy generally refers to your position in the water, and is what will eventually turn you into a skillful diver, combined with the odd fin kick you'll glide freely with minimal effort through the water.
The following three Open Water Dives involve some skill sessions at the beginning of the dive. In other parts of the world, not to mention names (Australia, Egypt) you might have as many as 8 in your class – you then have to wait until everybody has finished their skills before you get to the exploration portion of the dive. Chances are we'll finish in a few minutes, then get to dive the reefs for the remaining 40.
There is a little study time involved, however PADI now offer 'eLearning' an online approach that allows you to do your study in the UK with our guidance, this gives you more free time in Malaysia. Alternatively we can do class room sessions on the Islands whilst you are here, its up to you.
After a final exam, which is multiple choice and just a way of showing that you understand what you have been taught rather than an exam as such, you become a qualified diver.
Throughout the course you will have proved to us, through a series of practice and exercise sessions that you are a capable diver and worthy of your Open Water qualification. You can now dive, providing you have a buddy to a depth of 18 meters almost anywhere in the world. Now you are ready to explore the underwater world.
Beneath the surface of the Perhentian Islands you can expect clear waters teeming with fish life. Most dive sites are just a few minutes by boat from our beach and offer colourful and vibrant coral life with large boulders, pinnacles and the odd ship wreck as you become more experienced. Schools of snapper, fusilier and tuna often work their way up the reef, whilst sting rays can be found on the sandy areas. Each and every dive here offers something new and exciting, The Perhentian's, having worked here for a number of years previously remain one of our favourite destinations in Asia.