The number one thing I wanted to do in Indonesia: Get Scuba Certified.
So when we took our very sketchy boat from Kuta, Lombok to the tiny island of Gili Trawangan, getting scuba certified was my priority. One of our travel buddies recommended Blue Marlin Dive School. A few days before our arrival, I shot them an email to make a reservation for Moritz (who would be getting his Open Water Advanced) and myself.
I’m so glad we had guidance on where to go because dive schools on Gili Trawangan dot the coastline. Luckily, Blue Marlin was everything I could have wanted in a dive school – friendly staff, an amazing instructor, social, safe, and they are passionate about ocean conservation. Getting Scuba Open Water Certified is a three full-day process, so you want to be somewhere that welcomes you and makes you feel comfortable.
Every morning, I’d wake up early with the-first-day-of-school butterflies. Moritz and I would ride our bikes along the dirt road from the middle of the island and unload our baskets at the dive school. There, I was greeted by my instructor – Deris. Deris is the type of person who’s never met a stranger. In between laughing and cracking jokes, he’d explain all of the skills I needed to do in detail throughout the school day… and then sneak me a wristband for free drinks at a party that night.
What to Expect
- Dive Theory: You’ll be given some hefty reading material to browse through as you go along. Your dive school might also couple this information with a video if you’re cramming it into a few days. Dive theory can be dull but it helped me remember the reasoning behind all of the skills I learned to keep me safe
- Confined Diving Practice: Before you set sail at sea, you have to learn a few skills in confined water. Your instructor will first explain what the skill is, then demonstrate, and then observe you doing it. This way, you’re never caught off guard or unprepared. It’s straightforward, and generally easy so long as you can stay calm and focus. This allows you to get comfortable completing skills before having to do it for-real in the ocean. Blue Marlin has a (slightly murky) pool, but some dive schools will do this in a shallow, calm part of wherever your open water practice will take place. I disliked this the most… mostly because from the pool I could see and feel the tug of the ocean. I didn’t come all the way to Indonesia to spend time in a crowded pool, did I?
- Open Water Practice: Finally, after all those hours spent with your nose in a book and wrinkling in the pool, you’re set free to explore the ocean. This is phenomenal. I loved learning the underwater symbols for different types of fish, and my instructor was forced to get creative when pointing out “two octopus are mating over there.” Here, you’ll repeat many of the skills you’ve practiced in the pool. Although it’s likely that you’ll never actually have to breathe out of an alternate air supply outside of the course, replace a mask that’s been knocked off, or complete an emergency ascent, it’s good to be prepared and develop an idea of what the procedure feels like should you have to do those things.
- Final Exam: Yes, there is an exam. Luckily it’s very easy and I will judge anyone who fails it. Your instructor will go over any questions that you’ve missed. One staff member said, “The test is made for an American ten-year-old.” Emphasis on the Americaaaan. Offensive or not, ten-year-olds from all nations should be able to complete the exam with ease.
- Other: Don’t be afraid to ask questions or repeat a skill. It’s likely your instructor is used to all types of learners. The first day of my training, two people could barely swim and the instructor had to literally hold them by their tanks and drag them for an entire open water dive. Needless to say they didn’t come back the next day… but as long as you can swim and stay calm, you’ll be fine.
Why Should You Get Certified?
- You experience a whole new world. 72% of the planet is covered in water so if you don’t take a peek underwater every once in a while, you’ll miss out on seeing a huge chunk of it. On some of the greatest reefs, you’ll spot more wildlife in five minutes than you would anywhere on land. Why Ariel traded in her tail for some stumpy pair of legs is beyond me.
- Travel destinations you’d never otherwise consider suddenly pop up on your radar. Exmouth, Western Australia would have been infinitely more incredible had I been scuba certified while visiting there. The Ningaloo Reef is comparable to the Great Barrier, and I only scratched the surface of it as a snorkeler when I visited. There are so many towns that are known are sub-mediocre above sea level, and absolutely incredible below.
- Anyone can do it. There’s some debate over whether scuba diving should be considered a sport. After all, it doesn’t take much athletic ability to float weightlessly like an astronaut under water! People of all ages and fitness levels are able to dive safely – no training involved! There’s even an association just for divers with disabilities. This of course also means that you’ll meet people from all corners of the earth who share a passion for the ocean.
- You can conduct your own dives. One of the other students in my class had already completed over four dives elsewhere before starting her course. It was frustrating for her to have to repeat the same pre-dive safety course before every guided dive and waste so much time in the pool. As a PADI certified diver, you’ll be able to rent gear dive with a fellow certified dive buddy, and join guided dives without going through the hassle of spending extra time and money getting prepped.
- Experience aquatic Zen. Snorkels are basically just large saltwater straws if we’re going to be honest with ourselves. Bobbing around on the surface blowing more water than Free Willy is neither peaceful nor relaxing… and it freaks out the fish you came to see. When you scuba dive, all of the flopping, suffocating, choking chaos goes away. The silence of hearing nothing but the sound of your own (Darth Vader-like) breath is something humans rarely get to experience thanks to the noisy world we live in. Pair this serene quietness with being enveloped in nature, and you have absolute peace!
Although I tried to hide it, I was a little nervous my first time diving. I feared that I’d forget about the number one rule of scuba diving: never hold your breath, and imagined my lungs popping like overfilled balloons. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to equalize (clearing your ears so that you don’t feel painful amounts of pressure) or that I’d feel pain in my teeth from underwater air expansion.
So when I breathed underwater in the ocean for the first time, my first thoughts were… wait this is it? What was I scared of?
It felt so peaceful! Focusing on breathing was so familiar – something I’ve done hundreds of times during yoga.
Throughout my stay, I completed five dives in total – along the sites of Halik, Bounty Wreck, Secret Reef, Turbo, and Hans. On my second dive, I saw over twenty sea turtles within the span of an hour! Other celebrity appearances? Morey eels, lion fish, cuttlefish (love those guys!), massive starfish, trigger fish, and a barracuda!
And finally, I was able to take the plunge with my new favourite dive buddy. Moritz has been pushing me to get certified since we met, and it’s something I’ve put on countless “New Years Resolution” lists. So it’s fulfilling to have yet another hobby to share together.