Learning to Dive in Koh Tao: A Guide for Scaredy-Cats

Diving is pretty much synonymous with Koh Tao, and not a day goes past where you aren’t questioned about your particular involvement in the Cult of Dive.

Oli signed up on day one, back in June 2014 and loved it. He ‘dove’ straight into the advanced course straight after his initial open water and when we came back the second time, made plans to complete the necessary steps to go from ‘zero to hero’. In layman’s terms (aka my terms, this is the moniker given to people going from zero dive experience to instructor level. In truth, it’s obviously not quite as simple as the tagline suggests, and with good reason too. There are rules, regulations, and exams. Yep, you have homework to do and exams.

If you are embarking on a dive course for the first time, then this is comforting. I mean, would you want someone to be teaching you whose only experience was learning to backflip into the water? Nope, didn’t think so.

Anyway, this post is not about learning to become a dive instructor (which if you want, can be arranged). This post is about how this scaredy-cat and boat-phobe, learned how to dive. And loved it!

So how did I do it? Well, the old adage ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ rang through my head loudly, as did ‘mind over matter’ and ‘I’m not really here! I’m not really here!’

If you got that reference, kudos, if not see below….

Having completed my course successfully, and reflecting on how I did it and why, I do think it’s important to share my thoughts.

Here’s the truth; not everyone should learn how to dive.

I’m not saying that I regret it, or indeed that I am a natural and will be joining Oli in his Dive Master internship. But I do think there’s a definite vibe amongst travellers in Koh Tao, that learning to dive is something to be ticked off. It seems to form part of everyone’s itinerary, like seeing a ping pong show in Bangkok or drinking a bucket of Sangsom & Coke at the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan.

And that’s naive because there are a lot of things that can go wrong in the water — even in a place as safe as Koh Tao. I really enjoyed my open water course, but it was hard! Mentally and physically you are doing something completely unnatural to your body…….how often do you breathe out through your mouth? Do you know how disorientating it can be only to hear the sound of your own breathing while feeling the incredible, albeit not painful, pressure of descending deeper into the ocean.

I’m not trying to scare-monger or put anyone off. I just want to highlight a few reasons why it may not be for you, and a few why it will probably be the best experience of your life!

It’s okay not to dive on Koh Tao, there’s so much more to do and see. Check out my post on alternative things to do if you want to know more.

A Few Top Tips for Scaredy-Cats Like Me

1) Pick your Dive School With Care. I chose Roctopus, as Oli currently works for them and had an epic experience on his open water. The groups are small, the instructors approachable and have a top reputation. They also teach SSI, which for me, was important.

2) SSI or PADI? Regardless of the course you pick, you will have to demonstrate certain competencies to pass the course. The difference is (as far as I’m aware!) that PADI requires said skills to be displayed in a particular order. As someone who felt a bit nervous, this wasn’t encouraging and wouldn’t have worked for me at all. There are a few other differences too, but this was the only one I cared about.

3) Do your homework, take it seriously! Yep, there’s homework! It’s not too taxing, as long as you use your common sense and read the book…..not just the bits you need for the exam. My group were total brainiacs and we all scored 90% and upwards…..geeks.

4) Stay calm and be a dream team player! I did a reasonably good job at staying calm right up until the point where I had swallowed enough salt water to fill a swimming pool and I had a sulk. I suddenly just wanted to quit. I was tired, cold, hungry and just couldn’t be bothered with yet one more skill practice. Luckily for me, my group were amazing and totally got me out of my little pity-party. Later on, someone else in the group had a panic when she bobbed up to the surface during a safety stop. We all rallied round to make her laugh, calm her down and generally tell her it was okay.

5) Have fun. Roctopus definitely take things seriously, and there is always someone checking, double checking and triple checking that everyone is following best practice. At the same time, they love to have fun and try to make sure you do too. That includes some seriously questionable underwater dancing, and the dreaded ‘James Bond’ roll into the water.

At the end of your course, you’ll have a beautiful video to purchase if you want. Charlie from Fat Fish videography on the island is incredible and if you don’t follow him on YouTube, head on over to his channel.

Here’s the hilarious footage of my open water course…..laugh away:)

Have you ever thought about learning to dive? What was your experience? 

L x

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