• Claire

How to Become a Scuba Diver! | My Experience Getting My PADI Open Water Certification

Updated: Apr 20, 2019

Learning to scuba dive is undoubtedly one of the best things I have ever done. I got my PADI Open Water Diver qualification last year in Gili Trawangan - an island off the coast of Lombok near Bali. The whole experience was as challenging as it was rewarding, but becoming a scuba diver has opened up a whole new world of possible adventures. Since getting my PADI I've done some incredible dives in the Philippines and Australia and plan to do more all over the world!

I recently read that astronauts go scuba diving as part of their pre-space mission training because diving is the closest thing on earth to being in space - how cool is that! Learning to scuba dive really opens up a whole new realm of possibilities and allows you to explore the planet from a different perspective as over 70% of the world is underwater. Getting your PADI Open Water certification enables you to dive anywhere in the world to a depth of 18m!

I travelled to Gili Trawangan (also known as Gili T), Indonesia in July while visiting Bali (you can read all about my Bali trip here). Gili T is renowned being one of the best places in the world to learn to dive. There are around 25 dive sites around the Gili Islands - the water is super warm and crystal clear and filled with an enormous amount of diverse marine life like reef sharks, turtles, octopus, rays and eels! The most convenient way to get to Gili T from Bali is by catching a fast boat from Padang Bai which takes 3-4 hours.

Dive sites in the Gillis

The shorefront of Gili Trawangan is dotted with dozens of dive schools who all offer similar dive courses (at fairly similar prices). I chose to go with Blue Marlin Dive because it had really great reviews online - Blue Marlin is also the largest dive company in Indonesia. The course cost roughly $500 all up. This included 4 ocean dives and a number of pool dives, all equipment, a dive computer, course learning materials and instructor/certification fees.

There were other dive schools offering cheaper courses, but you can't be sure what shortcuts they're taking to offer you a cheaper price. I feel that a dive course is not something you should cheap out on. It's worth it to pay a higher price to ensure the standard of equipment, safety and professionalism of the dive centre is up to scratch.

Gili T

The course went for 3 days from 8am-5pm so you need to stay on the island for at least 4 nights. I stayed at M Gili Hostel which is a great hostel a few streets back from the main drag.

Day 1

The first day of my open water course was spent doing mostly theory. We met our instructor Mike (from New Zealand) and Katie (from England) who would be helping assist as she was in the process of becoming a dive master. I was in a group with 4 other students including my best friend Rhi, which was a comfortable class size.

We were given an Open Water Diver training manual and completed exercises on things like equipment, physics and emergency procedures after watching a series of short instructional videos. We learnt that the most important rules of diving are: (1) never hold your breath and (2) always dive with a buddy!

After lunch we learnt how to set up our dive equipment and hopped into the training pool for the first time. Honestly, the first time breathing underwater was so strange but the coolest thing ever! We practiced exercises in the pool that we would eventually have to perform out in the open water - like finding our lost regulator, clearing our mask and performing emergency rescue skills.

I struggled so much learning how to clear my mask while underwater! You have to let water fill up your mask then blow hard through your nose while pressing the top of the mask to your forehead and tilting your head back. I found this the hardest thing of the whole Open Water course - for some reason my brain associated not being able to see with not being able to breathe and I would panic!

Luckily, spending time in the pool gave me heaps of time to practice and I got better and more comfortable!

Our 'classroom'

The training pool at Blue Marlin Dive Centre

Day 2

We began the day by finishing off the last of our theory before gearing up to head out on our first open water dive!

We learnt how to do a back-roll entry and I held my mask and reg to my fast, took a deep breath and landed successfully in the water! Our instructor briefed us on the dive at the surface and we descended down to 12m while holding on to a rope as we went. It was seriously the coolest thing ever being able to breathe so far under water. My first thought was to liken this experience to what it must be like floating in space - it was awesome. The water was super clear and clean and we saw a heap of turtles!

During our second dive out in the open water we began to practice the skills we had learnt in the pool. We had to practice running out of air and using our partner's alternate, taking out our reg, dropping it and finding it again and taking off our masks. So I had to confront my fear... and take off my mask completely, put it back on again and then clear it - something I was dreading. But, I did it! It was really challenging but I was super proud of myself for not freaking out!

Open water course diving in Gili T

Open water course diving in Gili T

Day 3

The morning of our third and final day we did our final exam - a 50 question multiple choice exam. To my surprise I got a score of 49/50! We also had to do a swim test in which we had to swim 200 metres of the pool and then float/tread water for 10 minutes.

Our last two dives were to 18m - the level we would be certified to. We practiced more advanced skills like buoyancy and navigation techniques. I found controlling my buoyancy to more difficult than I expected. Perfecting buoyancy is a matter of aligning your weight-belt, the amount of air in your BCD and controlling your breathing so you remain neutrally buoyant (flat) while diving. This can be difficult as a new diver, especially when you're nervous but I ended up getting the hang of it eventually. The time you put in doing theory and practicing in the pool really helps prepare you for the open water.

We saw so many turtles - I even got a picture with one! - and a white tip reef shark.

So after the end of the fourth dive I was officially a qualified open water scuba diver, certified to dive anywhere in the world to a depth of 18 metres!

Open water course diving in Gili T

Open water course diving in Gili T

Open water course diving in Gili T

Qualified open water scuba divers!

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You can read about the rest of my Bali trip in my blog post here, or watch the YouTube video I made here!