Both Hayley and I have always wanted to learn to dive and knew, at some point, we would learn so that when we “one day” went to Australia we could dive the Great barrier Reef. This was all before the plans of travelling and property investing but something that we never really got around to doing. Thankfully we didn’t do it in the UK and opted for Koh Tao diving instead. Koh Tao is a small island in Thailand where you can get your certification for a bargain price, and learn to dive in tropical warm waters with beautiful sea life.
After talking to what must have been 7 or 8 diving schools we settled on Pimp My Dive based on reviews, their shop looked very well maintained, the gear look brand new and the staff were friendly and welcoming.
Day 1 – Back to school
The first day starts at 5PM where they explain how the next 3 days will be run and what you are going to be learning and putting into practice. Next you sit down to watch two hours of video divided into five sections:
Section 1) Shows you all the equipment that you will be using.
Section 2) Explains how to use the equipment.
Section 3) Explains how your body is affected by diving, what injuries can occur and how to prevent them.
Section 4) Details how to plan your dives and calculate how long you can stay underwater.
Section 5) Details the underwater world, its plants, inhabitants and diving etiquette.
Two hours may sound like a long time but it passes very quickly and remains interesting by not going into laborious details. Once the video is finished you are given your “home work”, read chapters 1,2 and 3 of the SSI Open Water Driver book. This took us about 4 hours including answering all the questions.
Day 2 – Getting the gear on
The day starts with your instructor going through the first three chapters of the book with you and ensuring you fully understand everything. Our instructor Wolfgang complimented us and said “no one has every remembered so much, you really must have studied hard last night”. If only this was true at school ☺.
Reviewing the book went on until lunch time, so after a bite to eat Wolfgang sat us down to explain exactly what we was going to do in the water and the skills we were going to practice. One thing we really noticed with Pimp My Dive is their focus on safety, ensuring everyone knows exactly what’s going on at all times and every one understands 100%.
Once Wolfgang was happy that we knew what we would be doing in the water it was time to be taught how all the gear went together. First he put his gear together, and then advised as we did ours. Next it was time to get into the wetsuit, put on the SCUBA (self contain
ed underwater breathing apparatus) and preform the buddy checks, which can be remember using the below acronym:
Bruce Willis Always Ruins Films
B – Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) – does it inflate and deflate
W – Weights – can they easily be removed with the right hand.
A – Air – can you breath through your primary and backup regulator.
R – Restraints – are all the restraints (buckles) on your BCD tightened.
F – Final checks – do you have your mask and flippers and are your ready.
Firstly we put the breathing regulator into our mouth and then put our face in the water and breathed for a minute to make sure we was comfortable. Next we had to do doing exactly the same but without the mask on. This may sound easy but having your nose blocked for you makes only breathing through your month easy, once the mask is removed you really have to concentrate. It will become clear why we had to practice this later.
Once we were both happy we swam out to an area about 1.5 meters deep and went down on to our knees. This was the first time you are fully underwater and breathing, it’s a bit strange, I said I was OK to Wolfgang but I was slightly scared, even though I could just stand up and be OK. I decided I was just anxious and after a few more minutes I was absolutely fine. Turns out Hayley felt exactly the same at first so I felt a little bit less of a wimp.
Next was practicing skills. Firstly we took the regulator out of our mouth and replaced it. We did this twice using both methods for removing the water out of the regulator: a strong exhale and by pushing the purge button. Next we took the regulator out and threw it over our shoulder, found it again and purged.
Knowing what to do if your mask fills with water is important so the next stage was practising to clear our masks. We did this firstly by letting water into eye level and then clearing and secondly we had to completely remove our mask, replace it and then clear the water. Remember we practiced breathing without a mask on the surface, well this is why. This skill is the hardest thing to master on the Open Water course and we aced it first time, which made Wolfgang really happy.
*Upon resurfacing Wolfgang talked us through the next set of skills, the safety skills. This entailed simulating the feeling of being out of air by Wolfgang turning off our air whilst under water, scary. Simulating what to do if we do run out of air, both breathing of the same SCUBA system and finally removing the entire SCUBA system from your back underwater and putting it back on again.
Once we had finished all the skills we went for a 15 minute swim / dive in the shallow waters so we could practice neutral buoyance (staying at a steady depth) ready for our first proper dive tomorrow to 12 meters where we will have to do the regulator and mask skills again (but 12 meters down!).
Day 3 – First dive
So this is where the proper diving begins but first we spent the morning reviewing chapter 4 in the book to make sure we fully understood how to plan and log our dives and not be down too long and get decompression sickness. If you dive too deep for too long the nitrogen that your body absorbs during the dive cannot escape your body fast enough, causing decompress sickness. You can overcome this by incorporating decompression stops in to the dive but this is classed as “technical diving”, not “recreational” or “fun” diving.
At 11AM we jumped on the boat and set off for Koh Nangyuan, which is a very small island off the coast of Koh Tao and home to some of the best diving (below). We stopped at a dive sight called Japanese Gardens, put on our gear, did the ‘Bruce Willis’ buddy checks and jumped in. We swam to where it was shallow and descended to about three meters, Wolfgang made sure we was OK and we set off exploring the immense coral reef.
We got very lucky and managed to see a Hawksbill Turtle and followed it for about 30 minutes watching it glide through the water with the sun rays piercing through the water, memory for life. Wolfgang then showed us the disappearing Christmas Tree Worm. They are beautiful little Christmas trees of all colours that retract back into the rock the instant you make a noise near them. The next big sighting was a Trigger fish that will attack you if you enter it’s territory. We also saw a large Barracuda and Cleaner Fish that you see in spas, they are the tiny fish that eat dead skin and one of them kept nibbling by ear! We were down a total of 55 minutes reaching a maximum depth of 7 meters. Getting back on the boat afterwards is quite an effort, you have been weightless for nearly and hour and then have to haul 15 kg up a small ladder.
The second dive site was called the Twins, we went to a depth of 12 meters where you can see a much better selection of fish. Unlike the Japanese Gardens where we swam in shallow water, this time we descended straight down holding on to a fixed rope so that we could control our decent and make sure we equalised the pressure in our ears, much like when you take of in an aeroplane.
This was one area where Hayley was slightly nervous because she finds it difficult to equalize her ears. Once we was down and Hayley had her ears in check we started to explore. The fish this deep are really amazing, Angle Fish, Crescent Fish, Longfin Batfish , Longfin Bannerfish, Parrot fish, Lined Butterfly fish, white eyed Moray Eel and best of all a family of Saddleback Anemonefish (Nemo’s). There was a mother, farther and tiny baby, Wolfgang said the family have lived in the same piece of kelp for well over two years. As we got closer the dad fish swam out and sized up to Wolfgang, it really was amazing and I wish we had the GoPro!
Once all the sight seeing was done we had to practice the skills (at 12 meters deep). The regulator skills are very easy, it was the removing the mask that we was slightly nervous about. Once I had removed my mask it took me three controlled breaths to ensure I was ok, I then started to put the mask back on, cleared it and breathed a sigh of relief. Now the skills were completed we start our accent to the boat, stopping at five meters for three minutes as a safety precaution. Once back on the boat we packed up our equipment and headed back to shore. What an amazing first few dives.
Day 4 – The Exam and 2 more dives
Today was judgment day, we had a 50 question multiple choice exam to take and had to achieve 80% or more. Fortunately we smashed it. I scored 96% and Hayley 98%. Wolfgang was delighted and we started talking about the dives that we were going to be doing that day. We were really excited and already thinking about doing our advanced course, but one step at a time.
We grabbed the boat at 11AM and headed back to Japanese Gardens but once we entered the water took off in a different direction, descending down to 6 meters by rope and swimming along the bottom as it slowly drops down to a total depth of 15 meters. One thing that we really noticed is that you do not feel any different the deeper you go even though you are breathing twice the amount of air. We were blessed with fantastic visibility and looking up you could see the boats and sun far above. Amazing.
The final dive was by far the most spectacular. The dive site was called White Rock and is one of Wolfgang’s Favourites. We dived down to 16 meters and enjoyed seeing hundreds of fish, many of which we had not seen on previous dives. We had the GoPro so we will let the video tell the story.
If you want to learn to dive there can’t be a better place than Koh Tao. The island is home to only 2000 people, it is a tranquil paradise and does not carry a premium. At the time of writing we paid around £180 each for the 3.5 day course and cannot recommend Pimp My Dive enough. As we said before we must have talked to 7 or 8 dive shops and Pimp My Dive just shone through. Our instructor Wolfgang was the icing on the cake, what a fantastic guy.
Now the only question is how long can we hold off until we are back doing our advanced course. This will include diving to 30 meters, learning to navigate and doing a night dive.