Well, if you have managed to be and breathe underwater I guess you can dive. Sort of. Honestly, I had no idea that there was so much more to diving than getting my certifications. I have written about some basics on how to get the first toe in the water here.
This time, I wanted to go a little deeper (literally). Because it only dawned on me that I had no real idea what I was doing even as an advanced open water diver (AOW) when I got to Sipadan.
I was proudly declaring that I had a whole of 15 dives when everybody else in my group was way beyond 200. Ups. And I really realized that I had no clue when I was first faced with a shoal of Bumphead Parrot fish. They hung out stoically in strong currents while I almost drifted off. That wasn't in my manual!
I managed to stay with my group, but little air was left in my tank after the effort. So little in fact that my DM had to piggyback me for most dives as I was always the first out of air. Being the first to be out of air when diving is like being picked last for a team in school – no fun. And so I arrived on Mabul island not only drenched but also quite humbled. While I had been diving in world famous Sipadan, I really didn't feel like a proper diver yet.
Then a lucky star sent me Rachel, a diving instructor, who I was paired with on my first day of diving around Mabul. It was only her, one other guy and myself so it felt like a private class for the price of a regular group dive. When you are so fortunate, you take note, people! As I like to share, here are mine for in case you think you can dive, but are actually not quite fit to meet the little mermaid yet.
Practise makes perfect
Sounds kind of obvious, right? Well, I thought getting a certification was all the practise I needed. Obviously I was wrong. So get in the water as much as you can – warm water, cold water, sea water, lake water, in good visibility and in bad (yes, that may mean getting wet in the rain too!). Give yourself some time to get adjusted to this new and exciting underwater world and quickly it won't be so new anymore (but still very exciting, I promise you this).
With that said, know your body's limits. While I had the offer to do up to 4 dives in Sipadan per day, I chose to only do 3 at the most. Diving is a strenuous activity, so listen to your body and take a rest when needed.
The art of being still
While diving is a physically demanding and exciting sport, you don't need to consider yourself an adrenaline junkie to enjoy it. Actually, you want to breathe as calmly as possible under water to make your air last longer. Same goes for movement - practice being still and to go with the flow. You don't swim underwater, you basically hover and kick with your legs, one streamlined efficient movement. To get this right, it takes some time or in some cases, like myself, a lot of time - that's okay.
*Start to practice from the get-go: 5 breaths in, 7 breaths out (or a similar ratio according to your lung capacity).
*Never hold your breath just make it as long and slow as possible.
*Catch yourself when you are fidgeting underwater and stop moving your arms - think calm superhero pose or serene buddha arms. Everything else is a waste of energy.
*Legs (usually) scissor up and down, move them from the hip for most efficiency.
Dive like Switzerland.
Neutral buoyancy is everything underwater. What it means is simple: you are not bobbing up or down but dive on one level. Unfortunately, it will also be the hardest thing to get right in diving.
To help this process you have your BCD (buoyancy control device) and your breath, just know that being able to control both perfectly will also take time.
*Check your weight first. And no worries, you won't have to get on a scale for it! You will wear a weight belt on each dive and how much weight you will need depends on a few factors: your own body's buoyancy, the type of wetsuit you wear and the type of water you are diving. Get it checked asap for I wish someone would have told me sooner what a difference a pound makes. If you wear too much weight you will need to counterbalance with air from the tank, if you are wearing too little you won't be able to go down – both scenarios you want to avoid.
*Save the air in your tank and rather use your lungs to move: Breathe in - go up, breathe out - go down. Basic physics. Just know that there will be a slight delay in this effect, so whichever direction you want to go, give it a moment, no need to panic and no need to use your BCD.
Every diver gets a log book to note down each dive with its location, conditions, depth, time and usually what marine life you saw. I started to use mine to also write down how my diving was. How was my breath, my buoyancy? It's good to have a buddy who can be an outside observer of both and give you some feedback.
I also write down the type of wetsuit I am wearing, the water conditions and how much weight I wear. And obviously, if that combination worked well or didn't so I can adjust accordingly on my next dive.
While I am far away from being an expert, these are some tips that really helped me improve my confidence and thus my diving. Maybe you resonate with some of them. I would also love to hear your thoughts to add to this list – what are your best diving tips?