After all the fun diving in Saba I thought it would be fun to do Scuba in the Philippines. I hear all over there is great diving all over the country. I had thought about doing my Open Water in Saba while I was there, but decided I wanted to save the money at the time, and thought it would be fun to do with Jenn. Plus I had to fly and had hiking I wanted to do so 2 Discovery Scuba Dives is all I got. But fast forward 6 months and here I am looking at scuba classes.
Overwhelmingly Eco Dive Center in Culver City has the best rating on Yelp. Hollywood Divers also had a good rating. Looking at the two sites the biggest difference I see is how they do the Open Water dives. Eco does 2 days of dives split over 2 weeks on boats they hire. Hollywood Divers on the other hand has you ferry out to Catalina and does all of their work from there over a single weekend. The clincher to me was that Eco goes out to Anacapa sometimes, and I could just see the Hollywood Divers just doing the Casino dive spot for all 6 tanks. Not as interesting. So with Jenn interested we enrolled with Eco to do our Open Water the two weekends before we leave.
Before entering the pool you have to do about 6-8 hours of online coursework. Eco like many places is moving towards SDI for their recreational divers instead of Padi or Naui. I asked about it and they said dive centers everywhere take SDI and it costs less and has less bureaucratic paperwork. Sure enough my google searches return the same statements. A quick call to my once dive instructor father also echos this, that all of these certifications are more or less the same, that what matters more is just being able to show that you’ve completed the needed skills and have the needed hours. SDI’s online coursework is done pretty well. Their website could use polish, but at the core it’s quite competent, tracking your tests and when you fail a test re-asking in a new way the same question, making sure that the questions are understood before allowing the student to move on. I think this is better than a pen and paper test could do.
Our first lesson was a mix of classroom and pool the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Already exhausted from the crazy holiday trip north to see Jenn’s family we show up at 11am. Our instructor Nick Fash (God how much I wish there was an extra ‘L’ in his last name!) is really entertaining. A scruffy thin Brit minus the accent, he manages to find ways of making dry topics entertaining. A quick joke often made with a jolly smile and warm smile. I can hear the other instructors talking, some like Leo who we would see for the next 3 days of instruction as well talks with like a stoned surfer. Others sound monotone and sleep inducing. I’m glad we were lucky to have Nick.
The others in our class are Molly a retired woman who coaches girl’s soccer, a family of Boeing engineers, and Amy a woman who wants to go diving with sharks but is having trouble with the breathing under water part of scuba. Jenn and I feel like slackers, we didn’t print our classwork results, nor do we have nice dive log binders. Hey we known the book material well though.
After going over various things its to the pool to go pool diving! We suit up and jump in for some swim tests and then into the gear for the basics. I’ve done all this before and I’m completely comfortable. I did so much snorkeling as a kid, and am comfortable going down quite a ways on a single breath so this is even easier, I just have to float there and watch my gauges, no need to worry about running out of breath. For Jenn though it’s foreign. I knew she’d done a surf lesson and was enamored. I didn’t know how few times she’d actually been to the ocean. This wasn’t a small step, but a giant leap for her. I was asking too much. I could see she was tense and when she stood up and said she didn’t know if she could do this all I could do was to reassure her it would be ok.
The first lesson was touch. Within just a few minutes we were being asked to floor and clear our masks. I’d done this before and knew what to expect but Jenn didn’t. It’s tough and weird. It’s claustrophobic. It’s uncomfortable. That was nearly the end. Nick was amazing though showing her it could be done, having her do each test one small step at a time. Instead of immediately dropping the regulator and doing a recovery he had it just take it out of her mouth, then out and a bit further, and further until it was at arms length. I think without such good instruction that would have been the end.
By the end of the lesson Jenn had no problem doing the mask clear and regulator recovery. The next day would be even harder, we would be doing it in the Ocean.