Under the sea: my first scuba diving experience / by Jessica Lee

Moving to Australia for me was about trying new things and expanding my limits. So when I saw a Groupon voucher for a CMAS certified scuba diving course certification, naturally I jumped on it.

I had already taken the initial course for a PADI scuba certification in Hawaii last summer and I wanted to get a scuba certification at some point in my life, so I thought this would be perfect.

That is until I heard bad things about booking with diving companies off of Groupon.

Back in Canada, I had no trouble when I used Groupon. I used vouchers to get discounts off of amazing restaurants. Everything worked out fine.

However, I had never heard of this diving company. And people were saying that it was hard to book because the schedules were always full and then their vouchers expired. But I had hope that things would work out and the website looked legit and a quick google didn't come up with anything scandalous or terrible, so in the end I booked.

The diving company I booked with was True Blue Dive.

After buying the voucher, it was extremely difficult to book a course with them as I had been warned. They do not pick up their phone despite me calling them once every half hour for five hours. On the website, all of the dates until June were pretty much full, except for random days like Thursday or Friday. 

However, everything is weather dependent, so I booked Thursday just to get myself into the system because I knew it would rain on Thursday and they'd have to reschedule me to another day. This is exactly what happened. It rained on Thursday so they moved me to Saturday. If it didn't rain, I was definitely ready to skip class to go scuba diving.

On Saturday, I arrived at Clovelly beach at noon, to do my first day.

The weather was a little grey, but it was beautiful. There is a nice cliff of rocks and there's not many people so you can hear waves hitting the rocks very clearly. The air is humid and salty.

It's not a very popular beach because the actual sandy beach area is small. I got there early so I did some yoga and stretches. It was nice.

We don't have gorgeous beaches like this back home in Toronto so I really appreciated the moment. I will definitely miss the beaches when I have to go back home.

The lesson started with us being handed liability forms which we had to sign before beginning the course. To be honest, I wasn't sure I wanted to sign it.

I mean, here I am trusting these people I had never met before. How was I supposed to know they filled up the oxygen tanks properly?

But I signed anyway. I was already at the beach, I paid for the voucher and it would be hard to try to get my money back. I had already taken it this far. Might as well go through with it.

After signing, we were taken to the pool beside the beach to do swim tests. We had to do eight lengths. It reminded me of when I was on the water polo team back in high school. From experience, I knew that I could complete eight lengths, but I didn't know how good the other swimmers were and I didn't want to be the last person to finish my lengths.

Though I am reasonably fit, there was a bit of scrambling and I was out of breath as I went for my last length. I wished I had prepared for Australia back home by doing laps at the neighbourhood pool the same way I did push-ups to prepare for paddling while surfing.

I came in third last (out of eight people) so it wasn't that bad.

We did some water treading afterwards for 15 minutes. Though I wasn't tired through the treading (thank goodness for water polo training five years ago!) it brought back memories I thought I'd repressed of when I was a skinny little girl at age 7, tasting chlorine water through my nose, not quite catching up to the treading water abilities of the 9 year olds in swimming class.

The whole "testing of our abilities" felt like I was in the Hunger Games. Especially when the instructor said "we do this to make sure you will be able to survive the dives". He said it with a thick Australian accent, which made me feel better I had decided to get my certification in Australia with a Groupon as opposed to doing it legitimately back home in Canada. Everything is just so much more fun in an Aussie accent!

We went snorkelling in the ocean afterwards. It's supposed to lead up to the scuba diving, to make us feel more comfortable. The snorkelling was beautiful except when a massive condom hit my arm in the water! Gross gross gross! I am just glad it didn't hit my face.

And that was the end of day one.

Day two started at 8:00 am. Or it was supposed to anyway. I woke up at 6 am (earlier than I would have for any class at university) just so I could make it to the beach on time.

Guess what time the diving instructors showed up?

8:52 am.

We were not impressed. Minus professionalism points right there.

Regardless, it's not like I had other plans, so it didn't affect me too much. I would have liked to be able to sleep in though.

We started the day off with lessons on how to put together our oxygen tanks. It reminded me of a university lecture, except the classroom was a gorgeous environment of ocean and sun.

Back in Toronto around this time (April), I'd probably be just waiting for the snow to melt so I could finally head out to play a game of basketball. This is why I love Australia's weather.

The whole set-up seemed a little complicated at first, but after doing it a couple of times, I am now confident in setting up my own scuba gear.

Side note: did you know SCUBA stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus?

After a quick theory lesson (seriously, it was so quick, I felt like I didn't know what I was doing) we were thrown into the water. There were way too many people in the group 11 people for two instructors so we had to divide into two diving groups, which meant five newbies diving with one person who was responsible for our lives. Probably not the most ideal condition to do your first ocean dive in, but hey, you get what you pay for and I paid less than $200.

Funny thing. Everyone else bought off Groupon too, leading me to think this company was run solely through Groupon (a little sketchy). But an internationally recognized SCUBA certification for less than $200 is an extremely good deal and I'm still alive. I didn't get the bends and my lungs didn't rupture either. Everything's fine.

The quality of the instruction was extremely varied. I got the guy who didn't speak English leading me (he was nice, but I didn't really learn much from him), so I had to figure things out for myself in the water. Though this could have been potentially life-threatening, the lack of instruction made me feel more proactive once I figured everything out.

Being under water was amazing. I had visualized a scene from Disney's The Little Mermaid where Sebastian (the crab) is singing, and little fish are dancing in harmony to music. Being near the coral and reefs and the fish in Sydney was somewhat like The Little Mermaid, except without the music and the fish dancing and there were no singing crabs.

There were no sharks either, though I was expecting to encounter one at any moment. Has anyone seen the movie Jaws (1975)? My goodness Steven Spielberg, you have conditioned in me an intense anxiety of being in deep waters.

One thing about diving you should know about is that it requires a lot more physical activity than you would expect. First of all, we were required to carry about 25 kg of gear down to where we actually dived. This included the weigh belt (for us featherweights who can't get to the bottom of the ocean without some help) and the tank and the vest. I was near dying just walking down the trail which couldn't have been more than 300 metres. Seriously I've developed a six-pack just from that walk alone.

After that, we had to get out into the water and pass a huge tide that kept pushing us back to shore while we were wearing 25 kg of gear.

The actual dive was probably the least physically-demanding. It's hard to kick underwater (and there's a special way to kick using flippers, where you kick from the hip), but it's not like I was trying to get somewhere in a hurry so it didn't matter how slow I was going.

I still have a few more dives I have to do before I can get my certification, but things are going swimmingly for now. I don't think I'm going to die from scuba diving with this company.

I'll update you as I go along.

Or not.

If you don't see any more posts from me, you can assume I died from diving.