I miss diving.
Long time readers may have noticed that over the last few years I’ve been logging less and less time underwater. That’s not because my interest in diving has waned — far from it! It’s pretty much the same reason that many divers stay dry for too long. Work gets busy, bad weather provides a good excuse, and life gets in the way. While spending more time on Koh Tao became a major priority over the past year, my extensive diving history there meant I found myself less motivated to go fun diving than I would in a new exotic and exciting destination. Basically, I found myself in a diving rut.
In fact, over four months after I’d landed back on Koh Tao, I was shocked to realize I’d only been out on two fun dives! For shame. It was around then that a friend at Master Divers, a PADI dive school with a reputation for not just meeting but exceeding industry standards, piqued my interest over talks of a course I’d never even heard of: PADI Self Reliant Diver.
The Self Reliant course is a distinctive specialty, a specific kind of class developed by PADI instructors who have special scuba diving interests and expertise, in which source materials and curriculum are independently developed — thus, you won’t find them just anywhere.
Diving without a buddy? I admit, at first, it does sound pretty bananas. But occasionally, experienced divers may want or need to make a solo dive, or be independent from their buddy underwater. This can be the case for photographers, videographers, rescue divers, or dive professionals who can’t necessarily rely on their students to assist them in an emergency. Don’t worry, you don’t have to ditch your dive crew — the emphasis of the course is on self reliance both without or with a buddy.
As someone who once worked as an underwater videographer and now obsesses over underwater photography for fun, I was immediately drawn to the course — and I knew Master Divers would be the perfect place to enroll.
The night before I began the course, I lay in bed staring at the ceiling and wondered what I’d gotten myself into. Were they going to drop me off in the middle of the ocean and tell me to fend for myself, trial-by-fire style? (Spoiler alert: No. Duh.)
The next morning my fears were quickly put to rest as I met my fellow students — one, a professional underwater photographer originally from the US but living on Koh Tao, the other, an avid diver on vacation from Eastern Europe — and our British instructor Gaz. As a PADI Course Director, Gaz seemed obscenely over-qualified to teach us, but embraced the role with gusto. As both an advanced Tec enthusiast and passionate freediver, Gaz had a wealth of knowledge into the physiology of diving.
The next two days would consist of classroom time as well as three dives spread over two days — though Master Divers is quick to emphasize that they will never rush into signing someone off if they need more time to comfortably complete a course, which really makes it more of a guideline.
Up in the classroom, we discussed the potential risks of diving alone as well as the value of equipment redundancy and the necessity of back-up gear. We learned how to measure air consumption, plan gas requirements, calculate something called a SAC rate, how to plan independent dives safely, and how to use specialized equipment like sling tanks, SMBs and lift bags. In the water, we repeated drills on emergency situations I’d never even considered until our responses were drilled securely into our muscle memory.
It’s been years since I dove without my camera, but during this course, I didn’t even miss it (the underwater photos in this post are from the two ho-hum fun dives I went on in the months prior). I just had so much fun slipping back into the role of student again.
When I’d first sat down in the classroom and seen the vocabulary words Gaz had scrawled on the board — DSAT vs. Pelagic-2 settings, say what? — I’d wondered if I’d gotten in over my head. I don’t normally consider myself smart in these science-y, technical subjects, and so I doubted my ability to keep up in this course. Yet by the time we surfaced from our third dive, I felt confident and proud.
Who is this course perfect for? Photographers, videographers, and dive professionals, absolutely — but also experienced dive enthusiasts just looking to increase their underwater skill set, and those who might be interested in dipping their toes into the world of Tec. To enroll, you’ll need to be certified to the Advanced Open Water level and have at least a hundred logged dives. The 7,000B course fee with Master Divers covers everything including three dives, textbooks, all rental equipment and fees.
Considering Master Divers’ reputation for excellence I wasn’t surprised with the in-depth and high quality education I received there. These guys go by and beyond the book: Gaz was one of the most knowledgeable and experienced instructors I’ve taken a course with, and the shop itself was both organized and efficient.
Yet most notably, to me, is their strong dedication to protecting the delicate eco-system of Koh Tao. At the initial briefing, they offer a detailed list of green travel recommendations for the island, they provide on-site recycling, free water bottle refills and the use of their tupperware for takeaway to the regular beach and they organize regular dive site cleanups. They didn’t just slap “ECO” on the label — they are really living it. Also, a small detail, but it stood out — their instructors don’t smoke on the boats. As someone with extremely sensitive allergies, I appreciated this.
I walked away from this course with a new appreciation for self-reliance and a greater sense of independence underwater. Mostly, I loved the way it made me think, and challenged me to consider dive planning, equipment configuration and emergency preparedness in a whole new light. Am I going to be popping into the water for a solo shore dive anytime soon? Nah. But I will consider diving more conservative profiles and adding a pony tank to my gear roster, and I’ll feel more confident planning dives where I’m semi-independent from my buddy while we both focus on our cameras.
Taking a course was the perfect way to get out of a diving rut: it took advantage of less than ideal conditions, it helped me look at a familiar place in a fun new way, and it shook me out of my comfort zone by reminding me how much I still have to learn. I loved it so much, I signed up for two more — so stay tuned!
Are you a diver? What has your favorite course been?
This post is brought to you by PADI as part of the PADI AmbassaDiver initiative.