Updated: Jan 24, 2020
We learned to dive years ago when Mark was earning a master's degree in Underwater Archaeology from Texas A&M, but hadn't tried the sport in years. We found that diving is much more accessible to beginners now. The equipment has been streamlined and the course that used to take weeks of study at the local YMCA can now be done almost completely online before arriving at the dive resort for in-the-ocean instruction and testing. The tedious classroom hours are completely replaced now with engaging videos that can be viewed and re-viewed as often as necessary to build up confidence in new learners. To sign up for a course right now, check out padi.com. The course typically takes 15 hours of online study before the pool or ocean lessons. To become certified, you need to take a written exam and complete 5 confined water (pool or gentle ocean) and 4 open water dives under the guidance of an instructor. Some of the skills tested might inspire terror in new divers, but are really very doable and accomplishing them make you feel confident and prepared to handle emergencies.
We chose the Bananarama Dive Resort in Roatan, Honduras, to put our online scuba classes into practice. We were feeling pretty accomplished after having scored in the 90s in the final test required before starting the in-water training. We quickly learned that mastering the theory and actually doing the skills are two very different things. In the video lessons, very fit people were carrying the scuba tanks as if they were light as air. In reality, the tanks are very heavy to lug around - even when strapped to our backs. Our instructor, a friendly Englishman named Craig, fitted us out with all our gear - wetsuits, fins, weights, and BCD's (the jacket-like Breathing Control Device) and asked us to walk down the beach while wearing our tanks for the first class. This truly was the most difficult part of all the scuba training to come. We were thrilled to learn that after becoming certified divers we would rarely be carrying tanks at all as they are generally brought to the dive boats for the divers. After we clumsily waded into the water, we were immediately feeling better when the water made the tanks on our backs feel much lighter.
Reminding us to keep breathing regularly and never, ever, hold our breath while scuba diving, Craig had us go under the water while breathing from our in-mouth regulators attached by hoses to the tanks. The sensation is very strange at first, but we soon became accustomed to the breathing apparatus and started to enjoy the beautiful tropical fish all around us in about just 8 to 10 feet of water. Much as we love snorkeling, it's an amazing feeling to be able to stay at the same level with the sea creatures. Our first exercises included removing our weight belts and putting them on again underwater. We also flooded our masks with water and learned how to clear them by blowing air out. We practiced sharing air with our instructor and we even were able to survive removing our masks completely and putting them on again. We and our fellow classmates were still nervous about the days to follow when the water depth would increase from less than 15 feet to almost 60 feet, but we left the water on Day 1 with a real feeling of accomplishment. We could have had a lot of celebratory rum drinks, but alcohol and diving don't mix well so we limited ourselves to just one drink each.