Firmly convinced that our primordial ancestors had every reason to sprout legs and lungs and crawl out of the mayhem that is the sea, I had never felt particularly inclined to reverse that trend. A mediocre swimmer at best, harboring a primal fear of being gobbled up by sharks, and having tuned in to one too many Discovery Channel specials about the veritable sea monsters trolling the ocean’s depths, I had resolved that I would happily stay on terra firma and leave the sea to those with gills.
Of course, having a couple of scuba diver girlfriends along with my boyfriend, John, harp on for years about the wonders that lie beneath the surface of the sea – “it's like visiting another planet!” – I was, admittedly, intrigued. And then John pulled out the trump card: No true explorer (and gosh darn it, that I was!) could claim to truly know this planet – the Earth’s surface is, after all, 70 percent covered by ocean – without setting out undersea.
So off I was: With an adult swim course to sharpen my in-the-water skills and a newfound resolve to face my fears, it was time to take the plunge. I am now a proud scuba diver.
Read on for a quick-and-easy breakdown of the three-step process for getting your own Open Water Diver certification – a requirement for all scuba divers – from the world’s largest scuba-certifying agency, PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors).
Step 1: Classroom Lectures & Scuba Theory
While you can technically complete the full three-step PADI certification process once you get to your dream diving destination, I recommend knocking out the classroom portion (outlining basic scuba theory), before you hit the road, leaving more time to actually dive and unwind when you arrive. Sign up at a local PADI dive center for traditional classroom lectures and quizzes, or opt, as I did, for the PADI eLearning course ($130), which can be completed at your own pace and convenience online.
Step 2: Contained Water Dives & Scuba Skills Training
Once you’ve completed the classroom component, it’s time to get familiarized with the gear and learn hands-on scuba skills by practicing underwater dives, usually in the comfort of a pool. You’ll first need to demonstrate your ability to swim and float, before taking on basic diving skills like regulator clearing and mask clearing. And breathing underwater for the first time isn’t something you’ll soon forget!
Complete these initial training dives in as little as one (jam-packed) day or over five spread-out sessions at a close-to-home dive center; otherwise, plan on setting aside at least a full day of your scuba vacation for this step.
Step 3: Open Water Dives & Scuba Skills Review
Whether it be off the beautiful beaches of the Bahamas or Bali – or, if you’re lucky, perhaps even in your own backyard – it’s now time to dive in on the real fun. The final certification step requires four open water dives (usually completed over two days) with a PADI Instructor, and is the time to demonstrate the skills you’ve learned in true-to-life conditions. Use PADI’s site to pin down a trusted dive center (they have more than 6,000 worldwide). I completed my certification at the topnotch Crystal Divers in Bali, which had an impeccable track record for safety, set me up with an experienced instructor who had logged a staggering 12,000-plus dives, and included training dives to world-class dive sites like Tulamben, with its shipwreck and coral gardens.
Granted, diving can be an expensive hobby, but you can save by booking trips to budget-friendly dive destinations (Cozumel and Roatán spring to mind), and by selecting dive centers that include value-add extras like hotel transfers, gear rental, meals, and more. Happy diving!
Incurable travel addict, longtime travel scribe, and mindful money-saver Elissa Richard is currently indulging her insatiable wanderlust on an epic 14-month journey around the globe – intent on making it every step of the way without busting her modest budget. Follow her along the way as she reports back with budget-savvy travel tips from the mountains of Transylvania to the wilds of Tasmania, and from the little-trodden temples of Burma to the bustling bars and clubs of Buenos Aires. A vagabond in search of value, just for ShermansTravel!