We came to the Philippines as our last stop in SE Asia with the primary focus of getting certified as open water scuba divers. We didn’t have much planned outside of that. El Nido, on the north tip of Palawan (the largest island province in the Philippines), is known for beautiful diving and picturesque scenery (have you seen the end of Bourne Legacy?), so it made perfect sense as the place to do it. Based off of several great reviews and a responsive chain of emails, we decided to embark on our adventure with Tabanka Divers. They are a Padi certified dive shop located in the heart of El Nido.
In order to enhance our experience and focus our time with Tabanka on diving technique and skills rather than course material, we completed the online Padi course in the days leading up to our arrival in El Nido. Some dive shops have their customers work through the course and take tests intermittently between the dives, but with Tabanka we had the option of diving and only diving once we got into the water, so we took it! In total we had about ten hours of “class time” before we were able to begin diving. Once we completed the course and passed our final exam onsite at Tabanka, our Spanish instructor, Paco, took us out to begin the real learning! The certification involved four “confined water” dives and four “open water” dives. Typically a confined water dive takes place in a pool while you practice skills and get comfortable breathing underwater. But here in El Nido “confined water dive” means diving in crystal clear shallow areas with turtles and schools of fish. Even the confined water dives were fun, because hey, you’re hanging out underwater!
We had been diving once before on our honeymoon in 2011, but that dive was shallow enough that there was no certification needed. This time, we went as deep as 18 meters/60 feet. To give you an idea of what a diving certification course entails, here’s a few of the memories that stuck with us following our experience:
Get comfortable with water in your eyes– many of the skills we performed were focused around not freaking out if you get water inside your goggles. If you’re not comfortable with water getting in and around your eyes and nose (like Karen), then you need to get used to it quickly! Several times we had to intentionally fill up our masks with water and then clear it underwater using only our breath, and the final confined water dive required swimming underwater without our goggles on.
Work on your charades– newsflash: when you’re underwater, you can’t speak! So, figure out how to best say what you want to say, assuming that isn’t one of the handful of hand signals that they teach you in the course. We had some hilarious encounters with one person trying to say something to another and instead just flailing their arms around unsuccessfully why the other person maintained a puzzled look on their face.
Bang on your oxygen tank– you might wonder what this is about. Well, Karen asked Paco the best way to get somebody’s attention underwater. His answer: bang on your oxygen tank! Sound is amplified and travels more quickly underwater, so this is a great tidbit to remember next time you’re diving with a friend and see something worth sharing!
Understand your BCD– the inflatable vest that every diver wears is known as a BCD (buoyancy control device). It allows you to effortlessly maintain neutral buoyancy by adding or releasing air when you’re moving through the water. Adam found himself relying too heavily on using just his breath to move up and down during the first few open water dives. He realized later that he had completely forgotten to use his BCD to control his buoyancy! Maybe that’s why he always used the most oxygen during the dives?
Don’t “swim”– the natural tendency of most people underwater is to use their arms to move around in the water. The issue in diving is that the more energy you use, the more oxygen you consume. The more oxygen you consume, the less time you’ll have underwater. You actually don’t need to use your arms at all! Just cross your arms, find your neutral buoyancy using your BCD, gently kick your fins and dive away!
But the most important piece of advice we can give any new diver (outside of remembering to breathe) is…
Take a look around– as a beginner, this can be tough to do! You’re often focusing more on your technique (am I neutrally buoyant? am I breathing too hard? oh please don’t let me break a coral or step on a stingray!) and can forget to relax and enjoy the underwater world that you’re now a part of. Just breathe easy, and allow yourself to be an animal of the sea for the day!
Getting our Padi diver certification was truly an unforgettable experience and a highlight of our journey thus far. And given the fact that Padi has certified more than 20 million certified divers worldwide, it could be an unforgettable experience for YOU, too! Come and join the squad.
Check out our diving video and more from our time in El Nido on our Kimblesinbits YouTube channel!
What has your diving experience been? If you haven’t gone diving before, is there anything holding you back? Do you want to explore another world under the sea? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!