My lovely instructor, Emma, needed to certify a few more courses before Tuesday so she could undertake her Staff Instructor course and I only needed to complete three more specialty courses to qualify for Master Scuba Diver. The timing was perfect and outcome symbiotic so I jumped at the opportunity.
For my final three specialties, I chose to complete Peak Performance Buoyancy, Underwater Naturalist and Underwater Digital Photographer. All three courses are complementary as you need to have great control of your buoyancy to take photos underwater and it helps to be able to recognise what you are taking photos of.
This was my first foray into underwater photography. I really like taking photos on land, although I don’t practice as much as I could. I discovered it’s just as much fun underwater but so much more challenging. There are so many factors to manage such as trying to stay in position when there is current, getting close to subjects at the right angle to maximise natural light without touching coral, being able to hold the camera steady in mid-water with nothing to hold onto, uncooperative subjects that just keep moving and I was only using a point and shoot camera. However, the challenge can be addictive and I loved it so much I am considering getting my own underwater camera kit. I may have found a new hobby within a hobby.
I am also in the midst of completing my Divemaster course. This is the first level of professional diving that will enable me to gain employment in the diving industry. It qualifies me to conduct recreational diving activities as well as assist instructors From here, many people undertake further courses to become Open Water or Master Scuba Diver Instructors.
This is the most demanding and challenging dive course I have undertaken so far. When I read about it, I thought it sounded interesting but I had no real comprehension of what it involved until I started. Let me summarise for you:
• Time-trialled, points based swimming tests including a 400 metre swim, 800 metre snorkel, 15 minute float/treading water with hands above water last two minutes, 100 metre tired diver tow in full scuba gear
• Points based demonstration of 20 skills including mask removal and replacement underwater, hovering mid water, out of air demonstration. These skills must be demonstrated slowly, exaggerated and in a way that a new scuba diver would be able to copy and perform the skill back to you. Sound easy? It’s not, unless you practice, practice, practice.
• Mapping a dive site including lay out, description of key features, depths, so that you can provide a briefing to other divers.
• Exchange full scuba gear including mask and fins underwater with another diver whilst sharing only one regulator (air source)
• Exams on Physics, Physiology, Dive Equipment, Decompression Theory and Dive Skills & Environment all requiring greater than 75% to pass.
• Assisting Instructors with various courses in confined and open water. Your performance is assessed and you need at least 3 out of 5 on each criteria to pass.
In the last week I have completed 3 of the 4 swimming tests, practiced the skills, started learning all the theory and started assisting courses. I have also completed my Oxygen provider course so I can administer oxygen back in Australia and my Enriched Air certification so I can dive with a gas blend known as Nitrox. Nitrox has a higher concentration of oxygen than normal air allowing greater bottom time without requiring decompression stops.
On Wednesday, I assisted my first open water course. I went out on the dive boat to Phi Phi Island to assist a Discover Scuba Diver course. This is a “try” dive for someone who hasn’t dived in open water before or completed an open water scuba diver course. This was the first time I have really been responsible for another diver in the water. It was a great experience but this was not “fun” diving for myself. My attention was constantly on my diver making sure that she was safe and enjoying her dive. Fortunately, my diver was very good for a first timer and had good control over her buoyancy. I was able to let her swim along by herself and only had to grab her a couple of times to adjust her buoyancy to prevent her from drifting too far up at risk of shooting to the surface or sinking too deep.
The other diver my instructor, Ina, was looking after was not such a natural. If we didn’t hang onto her, she had a tendency to swim off into the blue or start floating up to the surface quite rapidly. At one stage she just started floating up so quickly that I had to dash up to her, grab onto her tank and dump the air in my BCD to bring both of us back to our other divers. Later during the same dive, Ina, was showing us one at a time, a yellow sea dragon hiding under some coral. The diver had a look and was sent over near me to allow the next diver to have a look. I assumed she would stop near me, but no, she kept swimming into the deep blue and didn’t look like she was going to stop anytime soon. I had to swim after her, grab her tank, turn her around and bring her back to the rest of the group.
This is all part and parcel of being a Divemaster. It’s a great feeling to see the joy in the eyes of a first time diver and know that you have helped them to enjoy the experience. At this stage I’m not so sure that I would want to work as a Divemaster. Maybe I’m just selfish, but I still prefer diving for fun for me and now I’ve had a taste of underwater photography, I want to do more. If only fun diving wasn’t so expensive. I’m still committed to completing my Divemaster course for the knowledge and skills but only time will tell if I will ever use it for employment purposes.
Sea Fun Dive Boat - Choksomporn (Lucky) 7
Massive School of Barracuda