I have to admit, diving was never one of those things I felt compelled to do, even though I enjoy snorkeling and catching a glimpse of elusive creatures like sharks and turtles. I just couldn’t wrap my head around hauling a heavy tank, putting on that uncomfortable wet suit and descending into waters where you don’t know what you might encounter. But when we travelled to the Philippines one summer, my husband convinced me to spend a few days getting our PADI Open Water Diver certification—and was it ever worth it! Being from a land-locked city, we would have had to learn how to dive in a salt-water pool–versus the underwater paradise of the Philippines. Not a hard decision!
We were on the popular island of Boracay which is blessed with warm waters and incredible underwater life, so we signed up at a dive shop/resort called Blue Mango. For around $400US, we got classroom sessions as well as in-water dive training which includes a couple of practice dives, and a free dive at the end once we were certified. It also included equipment rentals, an instruction book, our PADI certificate and a chance to write the certification exam.
Disclaimer: there is nothing worse than sitting in a classroom studying while on vacation. Seriously.
That being said, it definitely felt like we spent more time in the water than on dry land, so we got lots of opportunities to check out the incredible tropical fish, which included lizard fish, eels and barracudas. Sessions are also only a few hours, meaning we still had lots of time to explore the island. Instructors start off by explaining how to safely use dive equipment, breathe and descend, as well as point out dangers such as why you can’t go on an airplane for at least one day after. After you figure out how to put on the ridiculous amount of equipment, you get to head out!
Our group of about half a dozen people jumped into the warm water and practiced important skills like how to breathe if your regulator fails and how to equalize as you go deeper. Once the instructor was satisfied with our diving prowess, we got to swim around underwater, gliding effortlessly through the silent blue waters.
It truly is a different world down there, and one of the surprising things for me was just how quiet it is.
Obviously I’ve never been to space (maybe someday…hey Richard Branson?) but I imagine the two are comparable when it comes to that feeling of weightlessness and solitude.
Check out this ultimate guide to scuba diving in the Philippines to learn more about the best dive sites.
After acing all the in-water requirements for a PADI certification, you have to pass a written exam made up of 50 questions, 48 of which are multiple choice. Honestly, it’s really easy if you’ve actually been paying attention—which you should be, as your life is on the line. My husband and I wrote our tests while sitting in Blue Mango’s bar with a cocktail in hand—not a terrible way to do it! It took about an hour or so, and after that…we were allowed to dive on our own!
It’s a great feeling to be able to navigate the waters on your own, without having to stop and perform tasks for an instructor. We still went down with an instructor for the last dive, which I would recommend, as it’s reassuring to be down there with an expert. We got the chance to do the same thing when we headed over to Panglao Island, armed with our brand new PADI certifications, where we again saw dozens of different types of tropical fish, eels, Christmas worms and starfish. Thankfully, there were no sharks to be seen!
Where to book: The most important thing is booking through a reputable dive shop, that is PADI certified. Diving is a risky sport, so it’s critical that your equipment is in working order and your oxygen tank is properly filled—as oxygen toxicity can be fatal.
Cost: The cost of diving ranges depending on where you are and if you have equipment, but expect to fork over about $70 per dive, including equipment.
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