“Meet people. Go places. Do things.” Those are our guiding principles for traveling the world. So, we decided it was time to take our certification to the next level. So, after 6 years of enjoying the wonderful sport of scuba as PADI Open Water divers, we figured we would take the next step and pursue our Advanced Open Water Certification. Keep in mind that Esther is from Miami. She grew up swimming in the tropical waters off the coast of Florida and is definitely not a fan of cold water. Me, on the other hand grew up in California surfing as much as possible and am a bit more comfortable committing to diving in the mid fifties. It took a couple of months (probably subliminally waiting for the weather to warm up) to commit to taking the plunge but once it was decided, it was off to our friends at Eco Dive Center.
We told the dive staff at Eco that we were interested in getting our Advanced Open Water Certification prior to an upcoming trip to Sipidan, Malaysia. Of course the ever positive and energetic team at Eco Dive Center were eager to help get us get in the water and get certified prior to our trip. As a matter of fact, the package that the team at Eco put together was so good that we committed to purchasing all of the materials to become Rescue Divers as well!
As many of you can imagine, there are numerous different reasons that someone would want to increase their certification level in any sport. Some people are interested in the education, others prefer the chance to work together and meet new friends while doing something they love, some (us) want to be able to volunteer at local aquariums and beach clean-up efforts. There are, of course, many other reasons that we decided to get our advanced certification, the main one being that we wanted to be better prepared for any situation that we may encounter. Let’s face it, the more prepared you are, the better you will be able to handle stressful situations in a safe manner.
About three weeks prior to our class, we began reviewing our SDI AOW dive manual covering the following topics :
- Underwater Navigation
- Deep Diving
- Advanced Buoyancy
- Boat Diving
- Computer Diving
- Drift Diving
- Dry Suit Diving
- Marine Ecosystem Awareness
- Night Diving
- Underwater Photography
- Beach Diving (Esther’s LEAST favorite)
- Wreck Diving
For those of you who are not fans of studying books, the SDI AOW book is an easy read that you can absorb in a couple of days. The coursework is geared toward real life applications for each of the subjects. Once we finished the reading, the class gathered at the dive shop on the Friday night before the weekend’s dives for a briefing and discussion of what to expect over the next two days.
Saturday morning the alarm came early at 5:00AM. We were literally getting out of a wonderfully warm bed to go drive to a local beach and plunge into the cold surf for two hours. Crazy? Maybe a little, but the payoff was so worth the work. Our first dives were at Veterans Park in Redondo Beach, California. We gathered all of our gear in the parking lot and made our way down the stairs to the beach. Once we go to the water, the interesting part began. We timed our entry into the water very well and no one fell over on the way out. Once out in the water with our patient and wonderful instructor Greg, his positive energy put us at ease in the near zero visibility that we were in. It turns out that the bad visibility of the beach dive was perfect for our first exercise of underwater compass navigation. Once under the water there was absolutely nothing but depth and your compass readings to keep you on course. With Greg’s expert approach to teaching and obvious experience in the water, everyone in our group did very well with the compass navigation and quickly got the hang of reciprocal, square and triangle patterns in the water.
Next up, were the pool exercises. Once at the pool, we learned how to tie a bowline knot, a half hitch and a sheet bend. All and all, the first day was a great learning experience and it was a good way to get to know our instructor Greg. Who we had the pleasure of spending the rest of our weekend with.
Sunday morning at 4:30AM came very quickly, but once again we were out the door to voluntarily throw ourselves off of a perfectly good, not to mention, warm boat. We arrived at our first dive site and Captain George announced that the visibility was as good as it gets for California diving. As soon as we jumped in, you could see kelp forests as far as your eyes could see. To make things even better we were greeted by a sea lion showing off in figure eights and having a good old time just hanging with us as we made our descent. Unfortunately, as we submerged, Esther had trouble equalizing and we decided to abort the dive to get back to the boat to adjust while our group went on with their deep dive.
After our surface interval and some delicious chili (compliments to the Sand Dollar’s Chef) we hopped back into the water and made our second attempt at a deep dive. This time Esther’s ear was fine and she was able to equalize. Once down we circled a small sailboat wreck and saw a number of Garibaldi (California State Fish) along with huge kelp forests and loads of bait fish shimmering in the rays of the sun. About half way through the dive we stopped and practice deploying our safety sausages and used all of the knots that we had learned from the previous day. Thanks to great visibility and Greg, our amazing instructor, we had our first dive in California that was a complete joy filled with all sorts of beautiful sights.
For our last dive, the planned skills to practice were advanced buoyancy control and search patterns. We got right to business with buoyancy control and quickly after everyone was leveled out just above the bottom, we headed for the kelp and went for a nature swim right through the forest, it was absolutely breathtaking and we now long to go back for more. About half way through the dive we stopped at an opening in the kelp forest and ran search patterns for about 15 minutes before we continued our trek through the kelp forest. After hearing about how beautiful kelp forests are for years, we finally experienced it and recommend Southern California diving to anyone who is thinking about giving it a try.
So whether you are after more knowledge of scuba diving, want to become a more independent diver, want to volunteer at a local aquarium, or if you are interested in enhancing your certification to the next level, get out and do it! There is a great big ocean out there to explore and many people to meet along the way while you are doing it. With dive teams like the folks from Eco Dive Center, you can’t go wrong and you will have fun along with all of the hard work you do to enhance your certification.
Happy Diving! –Dan