We’re here in Koh Tao, a small island off Thailand’s east coast. In the last decade or so it has established itself as a major diving hub, issuing many thousands of scuba certifications each year. Not only is the water warm and clear, but the price is right: a two tank dive with all equipment costs about $42, compared with more than double that in most places. So, I spent the last week getting my PADI Advanced Open Water certification.
I first got my open water certification way back in 1996. To be honest, I don’t remember much of anything I learned in the course, but I think it was a lot of theory related to physiology, the effects of pressure on the body, dissolved nitrogen and things like that. I was expecting more of the same in the advanced course.
Instead, the PADI Advanced Diving Manual teaches you things like this:
“When you arrive [at the boat], ask for permission to board and and wait until a crew member invites you aboard.”
“…the big difference between terrestrial and aquatic environments is that on land, organisms are surrounded by air, and underwater they’re surrounded by water.”
Uh, thanks for clarifying that.
Luckily we weren’t required to do too much with the manual. Most of it was common knowledge or common sense; there was very little new information.
The advanced course was more about spending time in the water. My instructor was fantastic, and apparently a bit of a legend on the island (he has logged more than 7,000 dives!). For each dive we focused on just one thing, for example, fine-tuning your buoyancy techniques, or navigation skills. Usually when I go diving my mind is filled with a thousand things: am I breathing properly? Where is the divemaster? Don’t accidentally touch that sea urchin or that fire coral. How much air do I have left? And so on and so forth. By perfecting certain aspects of diving, one at a time, and just spending a lot more time in the water, the course really does make you a better diver.
We saw barracuda, blue spotted string rays, moray eels, puffer fish, lion fish, box fish, and all kinds of other good stuff (no sharks though, hopefully next time). But the best part of the course was egg yoke ping pong. If you take a raw egg down 30 meters and crack it open, the white dissolves into the water, but the pressure of 30 meters of water makes the yoke remain in tact. You can actually toss it back and forth and swat at it (gently of course) in an underwater game of ping pong. Whoever destroys the egg yoke loses. How come I never saw that on Mr. Wizard as a kid??