Scuba Diving lessons
By erik

9 Reasons why you should do your Scuba Diving International (SDI) Open Water Scuba Diver Course

9 Reasons why you should do your Scuba Diving International (SDI) Open Water Scuba Diver Course

 

According to statistics, there are over 6 million certified divers in the world[i].  When you think about it, there are over 7 billion people alive today, so when you do the math, we are talking about 0.1% of the entire world’s population.   That means that people who actively dive are part of an elite group of individuals who get to see parts of our planet that the other 99.9% of the people in the world never will. If that’s not enough reason for you, here’s a few fun facts.

Get a new perspective on how you see the world.

Once you’re in the water you’ll have an entirely new perspective on the world. Everything under the surface is calm and you’re surrounded by the most amazing creatures. Schools of colorful fish big and small, invertebrates, crustaceans, colorful coral formations that date back to an age before time itself existed are all there waiting for you to come and meet them

When you are a certified diver, you can start exploring all these sites and as a beginner you don’t even need to go deeper than 18meters/60 feet to see the most beautiful sights the world has to offer.

 

The scuba diving community

Scuba Diving friends

No matter where you go in the world, you will meet divers.  I have met some of my oldest and dearest friends through scuba diving.  Whether you take a trip to Playa del Carmen or Cozumel, a liveaboard in the Red Sea or simply join a dive club in your location for weekday pool nights and occasional local dive trips, you will see that as a certified diver, a  whole new group of individuals will welcome you with open arms to help you become a better diver, gain experience and simply have fun!

If you travel solo, you’ll never be bored because with diving, you will fill your days with excitement, and who knows, you might meet some really cool people on the dive boat who will become your travel friends, and even lifelong friends!

 

More reasons to travel

Scuba Diving Travels
Travel to Playa del Carmen for excellent scuba diving for you and the family

Not that anybody needs more reasons to go to amazing locations, but many of the world’s greatest and best known dive destinations are surrounded by white, sandy beaches, turquoise water and warm sunny climate.  Some other great locations might be inland, a bit colder, but with amazing dive opportunities. You’ll never know until you start diving and start exploring the 70% of the planet’s surface that is covered in water.

 

Get away from it all

underwater cell phone
enjoy the quiet of disconnecting from the world while scuba diving

There is no cellphone reception, no wifi, or any of the many things that contribute to our daily stress. For me personally, I love the fact that when I am under water, all my troubles stay on the surface along with my phone. Nobody can call me, text or email me.

 

Be an advocate for environmental conservation

environmental conservation scuba diving

As you have probably noticed, our planet is not doing great at the moment. There’s too many people, too much pollution, overfishing, plastics in the ocean choking the life out of it. As a diver, you will be part of the elite group of people who will advocate for conservation, who will help clean up even if just a small patch of a beach, remove garbage if you spot it during a dive (which could save a turtle’s life), remove ghost nets and fishing lines from reefs and wrecks, saving the lives of countless animals and feeling super good about doing your part to protect our fragile planet.

 

Get healthy and exercise

Did you know that even the laziest drift dive will burn between 300-600+ calories per hour?  That’s because when we dive, we are exercising several muscle groups.  Being in good shape obviously is a good thing, and getting in shape will certainly improve your diving, but the great thing about scuba diving is that divers come in all shape and sizes. Of course, you should check  with your doctor before enrolling in any scuba diving course or starting any form of physical activity if you have questions about your health.

 

Get up close and personal with the world’s ocean inhabitants

I remember my first night dive about 30 years ago, and I was looking into a small crevice on the coral when I spotted the first shark I ever saw in real life.  That moment changed my life forever.  I was always passionate about sharks as a kid, but seeing one in full color, close enough to touch (mind you, WE SHOULD NEVER EVER EVER TOUCH ANYTHING), gave me a whole new outlook on these animals. Now every time I go diving (even after 10,000+ dives) coming across a shark, a turtle, a sting ray, a small hermit crab or a giant lobster reminds me of how lucky we as divers are that we can enjoy these places and meet their colorful local inhabitants.

 

It helps you live in the moment

Once you’re in the water all of your troubles stay on the surface. You need only think about you, your buddy and enjoying the moment you are spending surrounded by beauty. One of the very first things you will learn in your SDI Open Water Scuba Diver course is to relax and enjoy breathing under water.  This will make everything else in your dives a whole lot simpler and you will enjoy it a whole lot more.

When you only need to worry about what is going on right around you it becomes so easy to live in the moment.

Because you want to!

Our daily lives on the surface are stressful.  You have 10,000 different things to worry about. But when you are scuba diving, all that goes away.  Becoming a diver will help you get rid of some of your daily stress, will help you become more confident, and will help you enjoy your life and our planet a whole lot more.   So join us and sign up for the SDI Open Water Scuba Diver course and start living life to the fullest!

 

[i] http://www.dema.org/associations/1017/files/Diving%20Fast%20Facts-2013.pdf

cave diving warning sign
By erik

How to Choose a Cave or Technical Diving Instructor

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.
By erik

10 Reasons Why You Should Become A Diver

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.

earth is covered in water

  • 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”?).

 

Scuba Diving friends

 

  • 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!Family Diving together

 

  • 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.

Diving is Fun and Safe

 

  • 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).

Colorful tropical coral reef

  • 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!

Learn to dive. Become an astronaut

 

  • 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!

Scuba Diving turns you into Aquaman

  • 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.

 

Enjoy diving, and see you under the water!

playa del carmen dive center
By erik

How to Choose the Right Dive Center in Playa del Carmen

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.

 

Sidemount Diving Playa del Carmen
By erik

Sidemount Diving – the whole story

Sidemount Diving – the whole story

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…

horrible sidemount  Terrible sidemountwtf sidemount bad sidemount

 

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.

sidmeount instructor sidmeount instructor good sidemount

 

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!

 

For more information on sidemount, recreational, cave and technical diver training, visit our websites Beyond Diving- Playa del Carmen and  Cave Diving in Mexico.