Dreaming of a warm weather getaway, but bored of the same-old water sports and sunbathing routine? Consider getting your PADI dive certification. It's been on my travel wish list for some time, and after talking to PADI's Theresa Kaplan, a Master Scuba Diver Trainer who has logged more than 3,000 dives in her career, I was ready to climb into a wetsuit.
As Kaplan puts it, "If you think about it, two-thirds of our world is covered in water. Less than one percent of the population will get to see that [from underneath]. Everybody can go to, say, Roatán and do the zipline tour and horseback riding on the beach. If you're truly an adventure traveler, you're missing out on a major opportunity [by not diving]."
If that struck as strong a chord with you as it did me, good news: It's easier than ever to get certified with PADI, which stands for the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (www.padi.com). The well-regarded organization has more than 133,500 dive pros and 6,000 workshops worldwide, plus a popular online learning program that launched in 2005 and drastically reduces the time and hassle involved in getting certified. And PADI even has its own smartphone app, which allows you to search for PADI Dive Centers or resorts all over the world.
I spoke with Kaplan about the basics of getting certified and why diving is such a great option for exploring a destination in a whole new way.
What's involved in the certification process?
You'll first go online (www.padi.com/elearning), and from there you sign up for an open water diver course. You complete three different phases: Dive theory and your knowledge development, which is your bookwork about the physics and physiology; learning the basic skills of scuba in confined water, like a pool, and then open water, like an ocean or lake; and then you complete the final exam. You may be doing your theory work while you're working with a dive center on your skills.
PADI offers more than 30 types of specialty courses. Tell me about some of them.
One of them is a night diver specialty. Going into the ocean at night is very intimidating, but so many [sea creatures], like octopuses, come out only at night. There's wreck diving, which is a program that you want training on because wrecks tend to be deep. We also have a deep diving specialty, to more than 60 feet. There's an underwater photography specialty, which is especially relevant with digital cameras becoming so popular. That's another way you can tell your story, with photos.
A lot of divers describe diving as one of the most unique travel experiences you can have. Do you agree?
It's hard to compare to anything else, but one comparison you hear is that it's like going into space. Being weightless is appealing to a lot of people. It's the same thing with scuba. You wear equipment that you use to adjust your buoyancy, where you just float in the water and you get that "free" feeling. Imagine the most beautiful aquarium you've ever see, but instead of looking through the glass you're right there in it.
What are some of your most memorable diving experiences?
I was just in Palau, in a place called Blue Corner. It's at the edge of a reef where two currents push in and converge, and the currents bring in jackfish, manta rays, eagle rays. You ride the current into Blue Corner, clip into the rock, and you're just hanging there. And Cozumel is high on my list. It has a natural current that flushes by the reef and helps to clean it. The soft sea fans wave like they're blowing it the wind. All kinds of soft corals are there, and every critter imaginable.