What is the “Scuba Discovery” class? Well, let’s say you’re on vacation. You’ve always wanted to go scuba diving, but you’re not sure it’s something you want to invest the time or the money for a full certification course. You want to “try before you buy”. So you sign up for the Scuba Discovery (also known as Discover Scuba Diving, Try Scuba Diving, Tandem Diving, etc.) class.
During this program, you get a taste of what diving is like. You should always have a theory session, during which your instructor will go over the basics of the SCUBA equipment, important rules of diving, what to do, what not to do, communication and signals, as well as a briefing on what skills you will be working on when you go into the pool.
Then you go into the pool. Different instructors have different ways of teaching, but there are standards that every instructor must follow in terms of what skills are to be taught. Personally, I like to make sure my students are comfortable with breathing underwater before we even start with any of the skills. We repeat the skills over and over again until both the students and I are confident that the skill has not only been mastered, but will be remembered and applied should the need arise.
We then practice swimming underwater with the equipment, maintaining neutral buoyancy and learning how to do proper kicks and maintain a proper body position in the water (trim).
Then we move on to the pièce de résistance. The open water dives! In our case, we always offer 2 dives with our Scuba Discovery program. Why 2 dives? Well, simple.. On the 1st dive, a lot of people tend to be very apprehensive, nervous, don’t really know what to expect, and so once that dive is done, you know what to expect, you can relax more on the the 2nd dive, and enjoy it a whole lot more (not to say that the 1st dive is not enjoyable… it is. Very much so). You’ll get to experience and discover a whole new world. One that you only had seen in movies and TV is now not only directly in front of you, but you are a part of it. You are weightless, breathing beneath the sea, swimming with the fish, eels, and all the other critters that live in, on and around the coral reefs. Do me a favor. Close your eyes, and try to picture yourself there… Pretty cool, right?
Everything is done under the direct supervision of one of our highly qualified, extremely experienced instructors.
Now you’ve tried it, you’ve loved it, and you want to keep doing it. Well, if you have time, you can sign up and complete your Open Water Scuba Diver Certification Course with us, or, when you go home, you can sign up with your local dive center and do it with them. Then, when you come back to Playa del Carmen (or anywhere else) on your next vacation, you are ready to go diving!
So there you have it! If you’ve never been diving before and want to try it, get in touch with us before your next vacation in Playa del Carmen and set up you Scuba Discovery adventure, and get ready for the first day of the rest of your life!
Cave and technical diving are quite different from recreational diving, and as such, so are the instructors that teach these highly advanced scuba diving courses.
There are several things you should always consider before you choose your instructor, and this guide will hopefully help you choose wisely.
Is your instructor an active diver?
This is probably a bit of an odd question. If he/she is an instructor, obviously they are active divers, I mean, they are diving all the time, right? Well, not really. A lot of instructors pretty much only dive when/while they are in course. You could say that they’ve lost the passion for it. Maybe they are churning out one course after another, and the last thing in their mind is to go diving on their day off. SO be sure that you ask about their actual experience diving. Are they involved in any exploration projects? Conservation efforts? What kind of dives or which sites really get their engines going? If they won’t answer or you get an answer that is too vague or ambiguous well, I suggest you turn away.
How many courses do they do every year?
Ideally, you want an instructor that is actively teaching courses at the level you want to train in. With TDI, all instructors are required to actively teach at their highest level on a regular basis, otherwise, we lose that level. Again, an instructor who is teaching [for example] 3 full cave courses per month might have a lot of experience teaching, however, there is no time in there for him/her to conducts dives of their own and actually go out and expand their skills, explore, and have fun.
What is their failure rate?
Nobody wants to fail a course, and I assure you no instructor likes failing a student, but it does happen, and it should happen. Technical and cave diving are both highly demanding activities that require a lot -both physically and mentally-, and as such, not everybody is built for them. An instructor that has a really high failure rate is most likely doing a few things wrong him/herself. A very high failure rate either means that this instructor is not properly screening their students, or is not adequately teaching them, and expects them to be perfect with minimum effort on his/her part. On the other hand, a 100% passing rate means that the instructor is probably just handing out cards. We are educators, not magicians or miracle workers. And like I said before, not everybody is meant for this type of diving.
Me personally, I have a failure rate of around 5-10%. However, keep in mind that even though someone might fail a course, it doesn’t mean I wash my hands of them. No. I will try to do everything I can to make sure the student is able to get over whatever is keeping him/her from passing. However, there is an issue with attitude. If you don’t have the right attitude for cave or technical diving, even if you have the highest developed skills ever known in the diving world, you will not pass until you get your ego and/or attitude in check.
How long have they been diving at this level?
Here you should ask how long they have been diving. Not how long they have been teaching. Let me expand.
A lot of instructors become instructors with very little actual diving experience. I am talking maybe a year or 2 after certification and a mere 100 logged dives. This is a trend (commonly known as “zero to hero”) that is unfortunately even invading the technical and cave diving world. We’ve seen instructors who have been diving at a full cave level for less than 2 years, and somehow managed to become cave instructors at some level (be it cavern, intro or even full cave!). Regardless of how many dives one can log in a 1 or 2 year period, it is my opinion that they still lack actual real-world experience. They’ve never had what I like to refer to as an “Oh, Sh-t!” moment. So how can they teach you if they themselves just passed the same course you are planning on taking such a short time ago?
I think that an individual should have no less than 5 years of experience and several hundreds (if not more) of dives at the level they are planning on teaching before even considering the possibility of becoming an instructor. Otherwise, it just seems like they are trying to enlarge their ego, and are jumping from one certification to the next. Again, this is my opinion, and yours could differ, but I do believe you deserve better than to get “trained” by someone who doesn’t have enough experience yet.
Is the price too cheap?
Technical and cave diving are expensive activities. All the equipment you need to do the dives you will train for will come with a price tag in the thousands (if not tens of thousands). While the majority of instructors love what we do for a living, we still have bills to pay, mortgages/rents, taxes, food, equipment repairs, etc., so a good course comes at a price.
When a course is really cheap (and for technical and cave diving, anything less than $200-$250/day is really cheap), you have to ask yourself where those savings are coming from? Are corners being cut? Are you getting maybe just some really short dives just to meet standards so that the day ends early and the instructor can be home early and kick back? Are they properly servicing the equipment they are using or the equipment you are renting?
A good instructor values their time, training and experience, and obviously, that is reflected in the price of a course.
Do you “click” with your instructor?
Interview your instructor. After all, when you first make contact, your instructor is also interviewing you.
Every instructor has a different style, some are really laid back, some are tougher, with a no-nonsense approach to things, and some have a bit of a combination of both styles. Most instructors are able to switch styles depending on the needs and personality of the students. Some students require a bit more laid back approach to things, while some others need a bit of tough love. Regardless of teaching style, we all, at some point have to get tough to get a point across. This does not mean that we are trying to be jerks, quite the opposite. We have to get tough because when you are on your own, planning and conducting your dives with your cave or tech diving buddies, the environment you will be diving in will be a lot less forgiving of mistakes.
Entry level students often ask us the difference between SDI and PADI. Today, I would like to address that question and the reason we choose to do the vast majority of our recreational diving courses through Scuba Diving International.
I have heard the phrase ‘I want to get my padi’ or ‘I did my padi with X or Y dive shop,’ so many times that if I got a nickle each time I hear it, I’d be able to take my wife out for a fancy dinner at least once a week!
Today, I want to clear the air, and get rid of any misconceptions or misunderstandings about scuba diving agencies.
Keep in mind that Beyond Diving does offer training courses through both PADI and SDI at our Playa del Carmen dive center. You are probably wondering how that can be, so let’s begin.
Let’s talk about the WRSTC –
The WRSTC (World Recreational Scuba Training Council) are the nice folks who set the bar for all scuba diving training agencies. They tell every agency (who in turn tells all of their professional members) what the minimum requirements are for each course taught. Therefore, most training standards are pretty much universal. The core curriculum of the courses is basically the same across the board.
Now you’re probably wondering…
‘Who to choose?’
‘Which is the safest?’
‘Can they be safe or good if I’ve never before heard of them?’
Let’s really drill this down. What really effects market share in our mass consumer world?
Perhaps you have a friend who has completed their PADI Open Water Diver training and another who completed theirs with SDI. Both loved it and are looking to dive again. They have invited you along on a dive trip to Playa del Carmen with them, yet you are not a certified diver.
You did your research. You checked Tripadvisor and Scubaboard, and narrowed it down to a few dive centers in Playa del Carmen. You can’t wait to complete your open water course in Playa del Carmen, but you are totally confused…you ask yourself:
‘Can we all dive together if we were certified through different agencies, and who should I choose – PADI or SDI?’
I’d like to explain the reasons why at Beyond Diving we prefer to teach SDI courses.
The team at PADI do a really great job at promoting their brand. Those PADI posters you’ve seen, that dive show you attended, those magazine spreads you’ve read. These all stick in your head, and have turned the name “PADI” essentially into a generic for “scuba diving certification”.
SDI on the other hand, have a much smaller marketing budget. A budget that they gain from smaller dive agency fee’s, smaller certification cost fee’s and smaller staff budgets (I guess they don’t have a big fancy marketing team working from a new shiny office). Yet, they still do a fantastic job creating a buzz about the agency, keeping in touch with the instructors and dive centers affiliated to the agency, and most importantly, making themselves available to all members. Not to mention every person who works at TDI-SDI Headquarters is an active diver, dive instructor and/or instructor trainer for different levels of recreational and technical diving.
So just because you are aware of one more so than the other, is it fair to say that they offer a different service? A service that is less safe, that has less quality? Less educational value?
OF COURSE NOT!
We prefer to teach SDI because of these reasons:
Student Focused Learning:
SDI Instructors can modify their teaching methods to suit the students pace of learning but PADI run their courses in a strict set order. To give you an example, think of it as McDonald’s and your favorite local eatery. You go to any McD’s in the world, and you pretty much know what you’re going to get with very little room for modifications (if any), but if you go to your favourite restaurant, you can get your food made according to your needs and wants.
Order is good, isn’t it? Or why should this matter to me?
Imagine you are taking a PADI course, and you have problems with Skill A. Well, according to PADI standards, Skill B cannot be started until Skill A has been mastered. If you continue to struggle with said skill, then the course starts to loose its fun factor, you stop enjoying it, your confidence goes down, and that sucks.
With SDI’s proven methods, your instructor can move on and come back to that particular struggle area at a later time, making you feel more comfortable, less stressed – ultimately more safe and in control in the water at any given time, which greatly increases the level of fun and enjoyment.
In Playa del Carmen, currents can sometimes reverse, pick up or die down, so it is important for us to be able to be flexible when conducting our training dives.
SDI started from technical diving:
SDI is the sister agency of TDI (Technical Diving International). This means that it was created following the strict protocols and procedures needed for conducting advanced technical dives. While we don’t expect you to become a technical diver right away, we will train you with the hopes that some day you will and a solid foundation.
Instant Certification E-Card:
With SDI, besides you getting a physical card in the mail, you will be able to download your electronic card free of charge. This means that although the card might take a few weeks to get to you, you will have the card in your phone ready to go. Also, in the event of you losing your card, you do not have to worry. You have it in your phone. You can dive anywhere in the world, even if the next dive center you choose is only offering PADI courses. PADI actually charges you over US$20 for an electronic version of your card.
The benefits of chosing PADI over SDI?
Well, that one is really up to you.
Let’s go over the similarities once again…
Both are governed by the WRSTC – so PADI & SDI have quality of training and safety – check!
Both offer the same format – videos, theory, knowledge reviews, confined water training, open water training, exam – check!
Both have been around for over 20 years – professional and have longevity – Oops I missed that, well, here you have it!
DID YOU KNOW?
You can even move between certification agencies, do your Open Water with SDI and then switch to PADI for your Advanced course, all the way up to professional Instructor level. Keep in mind that through SDI, to earn the level of “Advanced Diver” you must have 25 dives and 4 specialty ratings (only 1 of them can be a specialty that doesn’t require dives – such as Equipment Specialist). With this, you can actually call yourself an “Advanced Diver”, whereas with PADI, the Advanced Open Water Diver rating is achieved after completing 5 dives (deep and navigation are compulsory) in the course. In SDI, we call that “Advanced Adventure Diver”.
Which is better PADI or SDI?
Well, honestly when it boils down to it, it’s your decision. There’s no difference in training quality, world wide recognition or experience level.
We always recommend that you make your choice based on the instructor rather than the agency. Pick the dive center you feel most comfortable with, the one who you have connected most with. The one that is the most informative, the one that doesn’t ‘bash’ the competition based on a negative, mostly uninformed, fictional view of other certification agencies.
To reiterate, at Beyond Diving we can teach both PADI and SDI courses, we just prefer SDI based mainly on the flexibility allowed and in the agency’s roots in technical diving.
Internationally Recognized – Dive anywhere in the world
Interchangeable – you can get certified as an Open Water Scuba Diver with SDI, then Advanced Open Water Diver with PADI. Or even better, stay and progress with SDI.
Safety – Science, Skills and Techniques are essentially the same
Insurance – if your insurance covers scuba diving, you’re covered!
Theory (AKA book learning)–
SDI: E-Learning or Manual.
PADI: E-Learning or Manual.
Water Flexibility and Skills –
SDI: Yes. The instructor can adapt the course to fit the pace of learning, ensuring a student focused training program. Students are taught to always maintain neutral buoyancy and horizontal trim. The courses are taught with the use of dive computers.
PADI: None. Skills performed in rigid sequence with no wiggle room for changing water conditions or student learning pace. Neutral buoyancy and trim are generally not introduced into the course until it is well on its way. If you do change, you break standards. If you teach more than what is required in the course, you break standards. Courses are still taught using dive tables only, adding unneeded complexity and [in my opinion] antiquated materials in the age of dive computers.
Certification Cards –
SDI: Sent to your home (physical card), and free electronic card to keep in your mobile devices.
PADI: Sent to your home, 90 day temporary card issued, extra charge for electronic card.
SDI: Yes. And if you get stuck along the way, they have a nifty “Chat with an Instructor” button which will connect you to one of the instructors at HQ to answer your questions. The transcript of the chat is then emailed to us so that we may follow up with you.
PADI: Yes. However, if you get stuck, you might have to wait hours before you get a reply from your instructor to answer the questions you may have.
Ultimately, the decision of taking a PADI or an SDI course is yours. If you train with Beyond Diving, you will get a course that is second-to-none. Regardless of the agency. It is very commonly said that the instructor, rather than the agency make the difference, however, we truly believe that the right instructor coupled with the most advanced and best method of teaching can and do make a gigantic difference in your training and future enjoyment as a certified scuba diver.
It happens very often. You plan a great vacation with your family to a tropical destination like Playa del Carmen, but you are the only scuba diver in the family. This puts you in quite the predicament, doesn’t it?
How do I spend as much of the vacation time I have with my family, yet still manage to get a whole bunch of awesome dives in during that time?!
Fortunately, there are many things that can be done to get you in the water, get you diving and still keep your family happy with you.
You can arrange for the non divers in your family to participate in the Discover Scuba program. This way, they can take the theory and pool session in the morning (maybe while you get 2 dives in), and then in the afternoon you can join them for another 2 amazing shallow dives. This is a great way to introduce your family to the wonderful world of scuba diving, and they will get to experience first hand all of the great things that diving in Playa del Carmen can teach them!
If they are interested, they can do their Open Water Scuba Diver course, and you can join them during the open water dives of the course! How great would it be to have a bunch of certified divers in your family? Imagine being able to plan every vacation you take together as a dive vacation!
They don’t have to do the entire course here though. They can start their course back home at a dive centre in your home town, and then they can finish their courses as a referral course in Playa del Carmen.
If all of that fails, then there is always the option of bribery… A round of golf or a day at the spa while you get your dive on sometimes does the trick. After all, we get that not everybody is interested in diving, and no matter how many youtube videos, photos, or amazing diving stories we share with them, their minds are not going to change.
One of the great things of diving in Playa del Carmen is that when we do ocean dives, the reefs are quite close to the coast, so on our morning trips we are usually back by (or before) noon, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the day with the family.
Diving in Cozumel and in the Cenotes is a bit more time consuming, but we are usually also back by around 1:30-2:00 PM, so you are not away from them all day.
Being a small dive center with small groups does give you (and us) options that some of the bigger resort operations don’t have. That is why we have morning and afternoon trips for local ocean diving, and we can customize the trips to suit your schedule (of course it all depends on our other guests as well).
It is important to remember that family vacations are exactly that. They are for spending quality time with the people you love the most.
It seems like every time I log into my favorite cave diving or technical diving forums or even facebook, I see news about someone who was not trained for cave diving, attempted to go cave diving and died. Many of those have happened at some of the most challenging sites in Florida’s Cave Country. Caves like Eagle’s Nest that not only are overhead environments (like all caves) but super deep as well. Such sites are challenging even for the most experienced of cave divers. Yet untrained people attempt to do these “pinnacle dives” so often that it seems to be becoming the norm.
I’ve been diving caves for over a decade and doing deep technical dives (whether on air or trimix) for about as long. However, I sought out training before attempting to do these dives because I knew that I didn’t know enough not to do something that could jeopardize my safety or that of those diving with me (also known as “something stupid”).
I took many courses. Technical diving courses, cave diving courses, technical cave diving courses, you get the idea. I took those courses from different instructors because as much as I enjoyed learning from each one, each one of them had something special, and each one of them helped shape the cave diving instructor that I am today. But this post is not about me or what a great instructor or great diver I am.
So what drives someone who isn’t trained on a specific form of diving into doing it? My best guess… EGO. They probably feel that they are above taking that cave diving course because they have been diving for x amount of years, and there is absolutely nothing new that some instructor could teach them that they don’t already know. They probably feel that by taking a course they are admitting to the fact that they are not good enough.
Well, I hate to sound like a complete jerk, but you aren’t. At least not yet. That is why you train. That is why we all train. To better ourselves. We train and we practice to become better. Better athletes, better scientists or better divers. You don’t start college knowing everything about your major, right? Heck, you don’t even graduate knowing everything about it. Just because I had bachelor’s degrees in environmental science and biochemistry when I graduated didn’t mean I knew everything. Then I went to graduate school and got advanced degrees, did research for many years, and became an expert in the field of my studies. But it took practice, it took training and it took persistency.
Same thing when I started diving nearly 3 decades ago. It took much training, practice and will to become a good diver.
Some of the better known diving agencies have seriously dumbed down their courses. You basically get your certification just because you paid and you showed up. It doesn’t matter if you demonstrated proper diver skills (and by that, I don’t just mean that you know how to clear your mask and regulator while kneeling on a sandy bottom) and attitude. This is also the root cause of the problem. People are not getting proper scuba diving training at the most basic of levels, and are getting certified without earning a certification because it seems is not in the best interest of the dive shops to train good, independent divers who will not need a divemaster or instructor to babysit them the whole time, or instructors start the course, and they know they will not be conducting the checkout dives, so they do the bare minimum, and let the one who will be conducting the checkout dives deal with the mess. This holds true not only in tropical destinations, but everywhere.
Sometimes people go for the cheapest course, or the best deal. Well, as a good friend of mine always says, “You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” A good scuba diving course at any level should not be cheap. It shouldn’t break the bank either, but it should not be cheap. When you think of all of the costs associated with giving a quality course (good equipment, good instructors, tanks, boats, fuel, pools, materials, etc), plus the costs of doing business (rent, taxes, utilities, etc), you have to ask yourself where the corners are being cut to offer such cheap prices.
But I seem to have gone off on a tangent. Back to getting properly trained.
Proper training courses are not only necessary to get the knowledge you need to make well informed decisions regarding your future dives. They give you the necessary tools to build up your skills and get experience so that in time you can do those dives you see people posting about on social media. Earning a full cave diver certification does not mean that you are ready to take on the most challenging cave dives, and start exploring caves. It means that you have demonstrated mastery in the skillset (and yes, that includes attitude) required to conduct dives at the level of a full cave diver, but should be cautious enough to start out slow. That is one aspect where we as instructors sometimes fail our students. We sometimes do not emphasize the fact that although they are now full cave divers (or divers at any level), they should continue to learn from every dive and build up their experience. The certification is a ticket to continuous learning at an independent (i.e. without an instructor) level.
What will happen if people continue to disregard the need for training? Well, we will see more deaths, and with that, we will see either government regulations (we do not want that!), sites closing down (we do not want that either!) or both!
So please, get proper training. Research the instructor that you want to train with. Evaluate yourself before signing up for a course so that you know that you are fully ready for what lies ahead, and most important, ask yourself why you want to do it. If it is to blow up your ego, then stop right there. Diving is not a competitive sport.
We’ve all seen that person who looks like a bull running around a china store when they dive. You know the type… over weighed, trampling on the coral, or doing a number of things that – whether on purpose or not, gravely damage (sometimes irreparably) the reefs.
Here we will do a list of things you can do to not be that person and to become a better, reef friendly scuba diver.
Only take the amount of weight you need to become neutrally buoyant.
When you are over weighed, you will feel like you’re constantly fighting the current (even on drift dives), constantly finning to try to stay off the bottom, which will in turn lift up tons of sand that will inevitably end up on top of some poor unsuspecting coral polyps.
If we are properly weighed and neutrally buoyant, our air consumption gets way better, our dives become more enjoyable, and we don’t send sand all over the place ruining visibility and damaging the corals.
Good buoyancy comes with practice, but having a good foundation to begin with is also essential.
If you’re an instructor, teach your students to perform skills while neutrally buoyant, maintaining horizontal trip. Hovering vertically and doing “fin pivots” teaches nothing but bad habits.
Keep a horizontal trim throughout the dive and keep all of your equipment streamlined.
When we keep a proper horizontal trim throughout the dive, we can move with much more ease even if we are going against the current. This is because when we are flat and horizontal, with no gear dangling, we are streamlined and we create less drag.
If you have gear dangling, then it can get caught on the reef possibly causing severe damage to both the the reef and to your equipment. It also increases your drag.
Do not stand, kneel or bounce around delicate coral reef structures.
This one should be obvious, but unfortunately it is something we see way too often.
When people do this, it causes irreparable damage to the reef. In fact, it kills the corals that form the reef, can kill, or seriously injure the delicate small creatures that live there, and can also cause them to get injured from possibly stepping on fire coral, scorpionfish or some other animal that doesn’t appreciate getting trampled.
Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles, kill nothing but time.
Another super obvious one. Do not spearfish while on scuba, do not collect shells, or anything while you’re diving. Those empty conch shells could be the next home of a hemit crab, they could provide a place for juvenile fish and other animals to hide from predators, and ultimately, it is not yours. Not to mention that in a lot of places in the world, it is a criminal offense.
While on the subject of taking photos…
If you need to come all the way down to the bottom, make sure you do it on a flat sandy area. Not on the reef, not on a plant, a gorgonia or a critter’s burrow.
Be mindful of where your fins are throughout the dive.
What do we mean by this? Very simple. Please always know that your fins are not accidentally scraping on the reef, on sponges, or anything else.
Learn other kicking styles than the flutter kick.
Frog kicking is a lot easier than you think. It is also a lot less disruptive and destructive. This is because when we frog kick, the water we displace gets pushed to the back rather than to the bottom where it hits with tremendous force.
The modified flutter kick is another excellent kicking style in areas where frog kicking might lead to damaging the coral (such as a smaller swimthrough – though you shouldn’t get yourself in an area that small, but that’s a topic for another blog post).
Backwards finning, helicopter turns, among others, are kicking techniques that every diver should attempt to master. There is a reason why we use such styles in cave diving.
If you see a piece of trash, pick it up and bring it up.
Turtles and other animals cannot tell the difference between a plastic bag and a jellyfish. To them, it looks the same, however, when eaten, one will seriously hurt them (eventually even cause their death), and one will provide them with a nutritious meal. Can you guess which one does what?
Also, do we really want mountains of trash polluting our oceans? I think not. Take a small mesh bag with you on your next dive. Make it count and pick up any trash you spot. You will feel good about it and you will make a difference by saving the life of the animal that will not eat that bag or get stuck on the six-pack ring.
Do not harass, chase or touch any of the animals you encounter.
Other than the fact that marine creatures do not enjoy getting petted, chased or harassed, if we touch them we are introducing all kinds of bacteria and other pathogens to which they have no immunity. This can cause life threatening diseases, and can get you bit as well. Neither one is a happy reminder of a great dive.
Do not feed the animals!
Feeding or chumming to attract animals is a terrible idea. It changes feeding behaviours, migration patterns, and it makes animals associate humans with food, which could eventually lead to a very unfortunate accident.
If you must use sunblock, make sure it is biodegradable.
Sunblocks, suntan lotions and body lotions leech all kinds of nasty, harmful chemicals into the water. Biodegradable lotions will not. Even better, use a rashguard and a hat to keep the sun’s rays from burning your skin to crisp. That way, you will not be leeching chemicals into the environment.
We are often asked by our non-diving friends and relatives to explain to them why we scuba dive… what drives this passion that all divers have about the sport.
Well, instead of telling you the reasons why I dive, and why I have been diving for over 25 years, let me give you a list of reasons why YOU should learn to dive and become a certified scuba diver.
Why should I learn to dive?
The World is over 70% water. This means that there are more places in the world where diving is possible than those where it isn’t. What does that mean to the average diver? Well, it means that no matter where you live, or where you travel for vacation, you will never be more than a few hours away from great diving – yes, even lakes and quarries offer fabulous diving… just make sure it is allowed.
You will make tons of diver friends. Seriously! I would say that about 70% of my friends are divers. Not just here in Playa del Carmen, but also in every other place where I have lived, diving has always helped me make some great friends. Of course, not every diver you will meet will become an instant best friend, but ask any active and serious diver how many of his/her friends share their love for the sport, and you will be pleasantly surprised. This also means that you will always have someone you enjoy being with willing to go out for a dive over the weekend, or to take a diving vacation (don’t you just love the word “Vacation”?).
The whole family can take up diving together! Yes, that’s right! As long as everybody is over 10 years of age, in good health (Of course, as with any activity, your family doctor should be consulted first), everybody can swim (and you don’t have to be an Olympic level swimmer. Just be competent in the water and comfortable), you and every member of your family can take up the wonderful sport of scuba diving. Which will in turn make vacation planning so much easier! Just go to a nice tropical destination and be sure you book your dives beforehand!
It is easier, cheaper and safer than what you may think. The sport of scuba diving has evolved much over the past 30 years. While it used to be considered almost like an extreme sport, today, diving is one of the safest activities you can do as long as all the rules are followed and it is done properly. Diving doesn’t care about age, gender or body shape. Underwater, we are all the same! When you do a training course, you don’t have to buy every piece of equipment at once. Most dive centers will have rental equipment for you to use when you book dives with them, so don’t worry about having to spend thousands of dollars in gear just to get started.
When you are under water, you will see things that the majority of the people of the world never get to see in real life! You will see the most beautiful colors you never thought existed, some of the most beautiful animals that you always dreamed about being face to face with, and you will see that sharks are not man-eaters. They are misrepresented, and they should be respected, admired and protected, not feared. It doesn’t matter where you dive. Be it a tropical reef like those we have here in Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, a cold lake in the North or a cold water reef like in the Pacific North West (USA & Canada) or UK, you will find the most amazing things ever (not just fish and coral.. think historical wrecks as well).
Feel what astronauts feel when they are in outer space. When we dive, and we are properly weighed and neutrally buoyant, it is as if we are floating in space. We feel as though we were in real zero gravity. We can say that the weight of the world comes off of our shoulders! Even better, when we do a drift dive, we feel like we are flying across a whole new planet filled with new and interesting creatures!
You will become Aquaman! Well, not really, but you will get to breather under water! Even though we don’t get to talk to ocean creatures with telepathic superpowers, we get breathe underwater! Imagine! How cool is that?! So basically, if you become a scuba diver, you essentially become almost like a superhero!
You will become an Ocean Ambassador. What does this mean? Well, you will be a part of an elite group of people across the world who do everything in their power to make sure that all waterways – be it the ocean, lakes, rivers, swamps, etc. are protected and that the creatures that inhabit these areas are protected as well. We need clean waterways, and we need healthy coral reefs if we want to protect our species as well! Not to mention we want to keep having beautiful places where we can dive.
You never stop learning. Even after you become a certified diver, there are still dozens of courses which you can take that will keep expanding your knowledge and skills. Courses like nitrox, advanced open water, rescue diver, deep diver, even – with sufficient experience- cave diving!
Once you become a diver, the world is really your playground!
There are some caveats. Don’t be fooled by the super cheap courses offered at many dive shops. Get your training with a reputable instructor, at a reputable dive center, and don’t be afraid to ask your instructor about his/her experience as a diver and as an instructor.
When you do a google search for “scuba diving in Playa del Carmen”, “dive centers in Playa del Carmen” or “dive shops” or any other scuba diving related querie, you get hundreds, if not thousands of hits. Obviously, you are not going to contact every single website that you come across, because, well, you have better things to do! However, it is very important that when you are planning your vacation to Playa del Carmen, the Riviera Maya as well as any other destination where you plan on doing some (or a lot) of diving, you do some research.
What do I mean by research? Very simple. There are some questions you should always ask any potential dive operator.
Do you have a physical dive shop?
Are you/your guide/instructor a Mexican citizen, and if not, are you legally allowed to work in Mexico?
How many years have you been in business?
What are your group sizes, diver:instructor ratio?
What is the experience of the instructors/divemasters that work for you?
You are probably scratching your head at some of these questions. There are good reasons why you should know the answer to these questions.
If the operator does not have an actual shop, and is just some person selling trips/courses from his/her computer, then what guarantees do you have that your reservation will be honored, deposits will be safe, and that you will have a safe place where your equipment can be stored if you will be diving for several days? An established dive center will give you all those and more.
If the operator is not a Mexican citizen and is not allowed to work legally in Mexico opens you up to all kinds of trouble. Imagine you are heading off to the Cenotes with this great person who has a beautiful website, talks a big game about his/her thousands of dives, charges very little in comparison to others, and then you get pulled over. Well, it turns out your guide has no permits to be transporting you, has no permits to be working in Mexico, and now, the vehicle you’re in as well as everything in it (including your personal equipment) will be subject to seizure by the authorities. Also, there is the issue with liability and insurance.
We all started our business at one point. So a new shop does not necessarily mean that the shop will not be just as good, or even better than one that has been around for decades. However, a shop that has been around for a few years probably has a better track record than a new shop.
Some dive shops are all about maximizing profits and minimizing expenses, and this is not always better for you, the customer. This holds true both in Playa del Carmen as well as the rest of the world. It is not uncommon to see an Open Water Diver class with 8 or more students and just one instructor. Or a combined group with several open water diver students, a couple of advanced open water diver and perhaps a rescue student and one instructor (and maybe a dive master assisting). This is unacceptable even in the best of conditions. An instructor should never have more than 4 students at once, and they should all be doing the same level of training. The same goes for leading dives. Groups should not be larger than 4 divers per instructor or dive master, and they should all be of similar experience and training levels. Mixing groups is just not acceptable.
Again, we all started as instructors or dive masters at one point. With little experience, and fortunately, someone cut us a break. Some of us were certified divers for a long time, and even worked as dive masters for many years before we decided to become instructors, however, the world has changed a lot in the past 10-15 years. We live in a world of “instant gratification”, and unfortunately this has also transferred onto the diving industry. One of the bigger agencies allows many of their larger affiliated centers to conduct what have been commonly become known as “zero-to-hero” programs. In these programs, they basically take you from being a non-diver (or one with little experience) all the way to open water scuba instructor level in a year or less. You probably ask yourselves what the problem is with this… well, the main problem is the lack of experience. You see, most recreational scuba diving training agencies require that to become an instructor, one has to have a minimum of 100 logged dives. 100 logged dives may seem like a lot, but in reality, it isn’t. Especially for someone who is an instructor. When you choose an instructor, you want to make sure that your instructor has lots of experience in as many different environments as possible (be it tropical reefs, cold lakes and quarries, caves, wrecks, cold water reefs, etc).
These are just some of the things you should be asking before booking dives or scuba diving courses not just in Playa del Carmen, but all over the world. This information will not guarantee that your vacation will be flawless, but I can promise you that if you know all of this beforehand, you will save yourself a whole lot of headaches and heartache.
Greetings fellow divers and lovers of the underwater world! Today we task ourselves with bringing you news of a potential serious red flag. This one goes out to all of our potential guests who are planning their weddings and honeymoon in Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya.
A couple of years ago, we signed up with an online company that goes by the name of Wanderable (not going to give them the benefit of a link). This company is an online wedding registry where couples choose activities the want to do during their honeymoon and their friends and family can purchase said activities for them.
Seems like a pretty cool thing, right? Well, there are many other sites like that one (honeyfund, honeymoonwishes, travelersjoy, among others). We were invited to be a part of this wonderable site when it first launched about 3 years or so ago.
At first, things were very smooth with them. People would list a gift certificate for whichever activity (we had Discover Scuba Diving, Cozumel Direct Trip and Cenote trip), their loved ones would buy it for them, and we would get an email to tell us “John Doe and Jane Smith were gifted X, Y or Z activity – gift certificate code blah blah bah), then the couple would get in touch with us, we would confirm dates with the couple, and we would get paid by wonderable.
Suddenly this all changed. Folks would get girft certificates, and we would not be informed by the company, nor would their certificates sometimes appear on our “sales orders”. Then the payments stopped coming. A couple of times we honored the reservations, and had to wait weeks to get paid, they wouldn’t reply to emails or answer phone calls, so eventually, we stopped honoring the gift certificates bought through this company, and we asked them to take Beyond Diving – Riviera Maya off their website and off their vendor list.
Fast forward several months…. We receive an email from a nice gentleman who has unfortunately fallen prey to these unscrupulous people. Him and his future wife were gifted a local Playa del Carmen 2 tank dive trip, which we told them that we could not honor, but would still love to have them as our guests. Fortunately, they decided they still wish to dive with us, and all is good.
However, they will have to fight it out with wanderable to try to get their money back.
I was just checking out wanderable’s facebook page, and it hasn’t even been updated since July 2015, so that alone should raise all sorts of red flags. Not to mention the comments left by couples who cannot get in touch with them.
I have emailed wanderable yet again demanding that our company be taken off their site, so we will see how that plays out. Since Beyond Diving – Riviera Maya is a registered trademark, any unauthorized use of our name constitutes a violation of international trademark laws.
So our suggestion to anybody thinking of using wanderable, is to not use it. I am sure that our company is not the only one that has stopped honoring their gift certificates, so I would recommend that you contact the companies directly from which you want to purchase an activity and do so directly. That way you can be assured that your reservations will be honored and you will save yourselves the hassle of a potentially cancelled reservation due to non-payment.
Unless you’ve been living in the International Space Station for the last 8-10 years, surely you’ve heard of sidemount configuration. Surely, you’ve even seen a few divers using this configuration. Over the next few paragraphs, I am going to give you a bit of a rundown of what this is. Let’s start…
How did sidemount diving start?
Sidemount diving is by no means a new thing. It was started by British cavers back in the 1960’s. When they were doing exploration in sumps, they needed equipment that was light weight and small enough to get past tight underwater passages that lead to the next dry section of the caves. Needless to say, carrying around back mounted double tanks, was not an option. Since the dives were not long, and the dives themselves were simply a way to get from point A to point B, the harnesses were somewhat crude, had no buoyancy control, sometimes they didn’t even carry fins. They simply needed a means to attach a tank and a regulator to themselves (outer thigh) with a belt and a cam band and that’s it.
In the 1970’s, Florida cave divers refined these crude systems, added buoyancy control and made the systems so that they allowed them to do extended exploration dives in the Florida caves. The tanks were moved up from being attached to the thigh to being attached at the hip, then up the torso. This allowed for improved trim which in turn allowed the divers to do their dives with more comfort. They continued to improve on their system individually as there were no commercially available harnesses at the time. Everything was DIY.
In the 1990’s we saw the first commercially available sidemount harnesses.
The early part of the 2000’s saw the boom of the sidemount configuration. The Armadillo Harness was developed, and many of today’s harnesses follow that design. It had bungee anchoring for the tank valves. a bottom routed inflator on the wing, buttplates, etc.
From the mid 2000’s till now, a myriad of harnesses have been made commercially available, with many divers still embracing the DIY ethos.
So what makes Sidemount Diving so special?
Sidemount diving to many, is more than a simple configuration of equipment. It is an entire philosophy for diving. Going a step beyond DIR (albeit without the dogma attached) of only taking what is absolutely necessary on a dive to make yourself as streamlined as possible with very little chance of getting snagged or tangled on a cave line, and being able to pass through small restricted passages in caves (keep in mind, this configuration was originally thought out for cave exploration). However, it goes far beyond that.
Sidemount diving allows the properly trained diver to improve his/her trim, buoyancy and air consumption. It allows some of us who may be getting a bit older or who just don’t want to walk around with big heavy tanks strapped to our backs to kit up in the water and get out of our gear in the water as well with ease.
As each tank is independent from each other, gas management does become a bit more complex, but emergency management becomes safer and easier because we have access to the valves right in front of us.
Now the beauty of sidemount is that you do not necessarily have to carry two tanks. You can sidemount a single tank, or even multiple tanks for technical diving.
I myself have been diving for over 25 years (about 10 of which I have been doing cave and technical diving)… I wish I had discovered this configuration sooner!
Should I take a course to learn sidemount diving?
While you can probably pick up the basics of sidemounting on your own, it is important that an instructor teaches you all the nuances of diving in this configuration. After all, you’ve trusted an instructor to teach you other aspects of SCUBA diving, correct?
Most SCUBA diving training agencies have a sidemount program. TDI, SDI, IANTD, SSI, PSAI and even PADI have sidemount training programs. Some are good, and frankly, some are just atrocious. In my opinion, the best way to learn proper sidemount techniques is to take a course with an instructor who is an expert in sidemounting.
How do I know good vs bad sidemount techniques?
Allow me to illustrate. Obviously, the faces of these subjects will be blurred to protect both the innocent and the guilty.
Let’s start with the bad…
Notice in all of these pictures, the tanks are completely out of whack… Even though the trim on the first 2 photos is ok, the tank position is just horrible! This happens because as Aluminum tanks empty, they tend to become more buoyant so tanks need to be repositioned to prevent looking like this. Also, in some, you will notice horrible hose routing due to improper regulators, and improper hose lengths.
Now let’s look at some good examples of proper sidemounting techniques.
If you notice on all 3 of these pictures, tanks are in-line with the body, hoses are properly routed, valves are pointing inwards and first stages are protected by the diver’s body. This creates a neat, streamlined configuration. Mind you, all 3 of the photo subjects are experienced cave and sidemount instructors.
So what is the best sidemount rig for me?
There are many sidemount harnesses and wings. Some are manufactured by very large equipment manufacturers, and some divers choose to make their own rigs. Some of the most notable commercially available systems are the Razor Harness, the Ultimate SM Harness, the XDeep (in its Classic, Rec and Tec variants), Apeks WTX-25, Hollis SMS50 and the UTD Z-System. These are all sidemount specific rigs that are proven and tested.
Then we have several other rigs that are not sidemount specific such as the Hollis SMS (75 &100 variants), DiveRite Nomad (several variants) amongst others. .
There are several differences between these systems. For starters, most SM specific rigs use harnesses that are custom sized and wings that provide lift only in places where lift needs to be provided. They have no extra rings, clips, or unneeded accessories (there are exceptions though), whereas multi-use rigs can be used for sm, single tank backmount or double tank backmount. They have massive wings, loads of extra stuff that is really not needed in most sidemount diving scenarios. They can also be quite cumbersome and large. Especially if you are diving with Aluminum tanks (as is the case with most tropical diving destinations). Not to say that they don’t have a purpose and a use with steel tanks for example (but even that can be done with SM specific rigs like the Razor and Xdeep Tech).
I don’t personally endorse any one brand. But I can tell you what I use (Razor SM system with Apeks DS4 regulators, and I have an Ultimate SM harness with a DECO 20lb bladder, as well as Razor harness with a UTD Z-Harness). So it is very important that when you choose an instructor for your Sidemount Diver Course, you choose one with experience with different systems. Not just one, and that they don’t just advocate one particular training system and brand of equipment.
It doesn’t matter if you are going to progress into techinical diving or you wish to stay completely recreational after your sidemount training. Getting proper training is the best way to ensure that you will be a well rounded sidemount diver!