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Learning to dive

By John DurrantNZ Fishing World
Learning to dive

Fishos spend countless hours on the water but most of us tend not to get in and discover the whole other world under the waves. John Durrant fulfilled a long-held ambition to obtain his PADI open water certificate and quickly reaped the rewards that diving can bring.

Slow and steady – fill your lungs and regulate your breathing. Keep calm and relax. I’m right here mate.

Good advice in just about any situation but given that this was in the single most alien environment this writer had ever experienced, it was even more pertinent.

The fulla dispensing this sound advice was Sam Jupe – one of Dive HQ’s most experienced instructors. He’s dived all over the world and obtained his first PADI qualification at just 12.

He’s good, no question about it. But how would he fare teaching such an inflexible, uncoordinated lump as me? Only time would tell.

One-on-one in the pool

One-on-one in the pool

Finally doing it

Having talked about learning to dive for so long, I was finally doing it. The theory work had been completed and I had spent a day in the pool learning the skills that are essential to become an open water diver.

Now I was in the water, just off Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf, and I was finally on the brink of undertaking my first open water dives.

There had been plenty to get through before I got to this stage though.

The PADI open water course is comprehensive. It has been designed to give the novice diver the skills he or she needs to feel confident under the water.

It might be a bit daunting at the start as there’s a lot to get through – that’s understandable.

Modern diving practices mean it is a relatively safe pursuit but there are risks and you’re made acutely aware of these during the course.

Ready for my first sea dive

The first step

Before I could even think about going near the water it was vital to learn and understand the basic theory behind diving.

The PADI open water course is divided into five sections that, once learned, give you a good understanding of what this diving thing is all about.

At the end of each section, you’ll be given a test to make sure you’re processing the information.

If your instructor is anything like Sam, he or she will also randomly fire questions at you throughout your course.

Sam had a penchant for directing a question at me at rather inconvenient times like just as I’d entered the water or when I was wrestling with my BCD.

He definitely liked to keep me on my toes. It was good fun and kept me thinking.

PADI’s patience

The theory work is fairly involved but a lot of it really comes down to common sense.

As long as you listen and do a bit of studying you shouldn’t have too many problems.

PADI makes things a bit easier by supplying a DVD with your course pack. This covers everything on the course and allows you to go through the sections step-by-step as you watch it.

Maths was never my strong point – that’s probably why I became a journalist  – and I struggled somewhat with the questions on decompression tables.

Instructor Sam was patient though and took some extra time with me to hammer home the calculations.

There seemed to be a real emphasis on taking the learning process slowly. Nothing felt rushed and that’s one of the most impressive things about the PADI course.

Questions were encouraged, no matter how stupid they sounded in my head and I was prompted to speak up if I felt out of my comfort zone.

Sam, the instructor, encouraging me to get under the surface

Sam, the instructor, encouraging me to get under the surface

Taking the plunge

So the theory was out the way. I got a respectable 93 per cent on the final exam. Those bloody decompression tables being the only questions to trip me up.

The next hurdle to clear in order to gain my open water certificate was the pool work.

The thought of breathing under water for the first time was nerve racking. The only solace was that I was reasonably sure there were no sharks in the water at Newmarket Olympic Pools.

Before I had to worry about wetsuits, BCDs and regulators, I had to first prove that I could swim 200m continuously and tread water for 10 minutes. This is a minimum requirement for anyone wishing to do the course.

With that out of the way, the first practical diving steps could begin in earnest.

The gear seems intimidating at first

The gear seems intimidating at first

In gear

It’s important to get to know your gear at this stage. The first thing you’ll get up close and personal with is your wetsuit, which was interesting.

I’ve had little experience with these things other than watching smart-arse surfers wearing them. Those dudes seem to throw them on in seconds at the beach.

Must be easy, I thought. Wrong. I’m not the nimblest of fullas and it could be said that my physique doesn’t immediately spring to mind as the ultimate chassis to hang a wetsuit on.

Getting into a properly fitted wetsuit is one of those things that takes a while to get used right and you’ll soon notice that everyone has a slightly different way of doing it.

If you’re diving with a buddy (and you really should be) then help each other with zips.

Your BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) is the rockstar of your equipment. Worn like a jacket, it can be inflated to regulate your buoyancy, as the name would suggest.

Getting to grips with the regs, which attach to your tank and all the associated bits and bobs was a lot to take in at first but after a couple of attempts it started to make sense.

Once all rigged up, it was slightly worrying just how cumbersome and heavy all the gear felt on, especially with a tank strapped to your back. But that was all to change as soon as I finally hit the water.

The awkwardness of all that equipment on land disappeared the moment I hit the water.

Those first few breaths of air taken underwater are unforgettable. It feels all wrong for a while. Let’s be honest, it’s unnatural. But once you come to grips with the fact that you are safe, it becomes easy.

The awkwardness of all that equipment on land disappeared the moment I hit the water

The awkwardness of all that equipment on land disappeared the moment I hit the water

Sinking in

The pool work was a pretty intense day of skills. There was a lot to learn but, again, Sam was incredibly patient and happy to go over these again and again… and again until it sank in.

Eventually, the various skills started to click and before I knew it, I had reached the end of my pool time and the next day I would be doing it for real in the sea.

I was nervous and excited about that prospect. Sam made the point that he only takes his students into open water once he feels they’re ready for it. It made me slightly more confident about the next day’s activities.

It was time to get my game face on and complete my open water course with four dives over two days. Day one could not have been better. Sunny, warm and smooth seas.

Our mate Adrian Hogg from Mares NZ had kindly agreed to join us as skipper and he also supplied some shiny new Mares gear for us to use during the training.

We dropped anchor in around 9m of water on the northern side of Waiheke Island. This was it – my first ever open water dive.

Ready for my first sea dive

Ready for my first sea dive

Open water excitement

Once again, Sam was fantastic at thoroughly briefing me on what we’d be doing, where we’d be going, what I could expect to see and generally reassuring me about the process.

As I geared up the excitement began to build and suddenly I was ready to hit the water.

A backwards roll into the water and my diving career had officially begun. What immediately hit me was just how incredibly warm the wetsuit was.

I had braced myself for a cold shock but it simply didn’t happen. The Mares wetsuit was certainly doing its job.

The water temperature was only just nudging 14 degrees but I could have been floating around in the pool again, such was the warmth.

When you take up diving, if there’s one rule above all I would suggest it is buy quality gear. There could be nothing worse than having a good dive spoiled because you’re cold and uncomfortable.

The first 20 minutes of my first open water dive will stay with me forever. Taking in this amazing new world for the first time was almost a sensory overload.

There was a real sense of wonder as porae, small kingfish, maomao, trevally and butterfish went about their business quite unfazed by our presence.

Once I’d got to grips with regulating my breathing and setting my buoyancy it was on to perfecting underwater skills such as recovering my regulator, removing and replacing my mask and the testing Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent (CESA).

By the time of my fourth dive on day two, I was far more confident in the water than I could ever have hoped to be and that is testament to Sam Jupe and Dive HQ.

Scallops, one of the many benefits of learning to dive

Scallops, one of the many benefits of learning to dive

Dive HQ makes it easy

It’s fair to say that the open water training course would not have been as enjoyable without the guys from Dive HQ. The service they provided was absolutely faultless.

My instructor Same Jupe – an incredibly experienced diver – went out of his way to make the adventure one that can never be forgotten. 

His patience, personality and sheer passion for diving was unquestionable and I would recommend him and Dive HQ to anyone looking to complete a dive course.

Working the drills in the pool

Working the drills in the pool

A fresh perspective

The beauty of diving is that it gives you an insight into the terrain you may be fishing into.

Spots that might look fishy on the topside could well be barren and lifeless on the bottom.

Use your dives as reconnaissance for future fishing missions – it’s your very own inside intelligence.

Thumbs up means it's all good mate

Thumbs up means it's all good mate

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