Hi, my name is Annika and I am an addict. Unfortunately, the place I am staying at right now has signs all over the place saying ‘Fuel your addiction’. So what can a girl do, but give into temptation and… go diving?!

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Ever since my last Thailand trip when I took my first breath underwater I have been completely addicted to diving and it seems whomever I meet feels the same pull as soon as they go under for the first time. With a new hobby comes the unfortunate side effect that all I want to do in addition to dive is talk about diving and convert everybody around me to go diving too. So here I am, doing just that, giving you an introduction to Diving and trying to convince you to go diving too. I am almost certain you will love it, money back guarantee!

Pick a team

There are a couple of different dive organizations around the world that can teach you how to dive. The two biggest ones are SSI (Scuba Schools International) and PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), however they will basically teach you the same thing and follow the same standards set by the WRSTC (World Recreational Scuba Training Council). The difference lies in their marketing and costs which is why I personally prefer SSI.

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But with either organization you will start with an OW (Open Water) that will teach you the basics of diving and will allow you to go to 18m after completion. An AOW (Advanced Open Water) follows, teaching you basic navigation and deep diving, allowing you up to 30m afterwards. In addition, there are a whole lot of speciality classes you can take like night diving, underwater photography, drift and wreck diving. If you hold PADI certification you will be allowed to dive with an SSI dive centre and vice versa, so I would recommend picking a school you are comfortable with first and foremost, and don’t worry too much about picking the correct ‘team‘.

Back to basics

SCUBA stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. That will include a tank full of compressed air – yes, air, not oxygen, pure oxygen becomes toxic underwater, a regulator that comes in stage one and two, basically connecting your mouth to the tank, allowing you to breathe in and out, and a BCD, Buoyancy Control Device. The latter will be the hardest pieces of equipment to master, but is crucial to make you seemingly float underwater, allowing you to go up and down with your breath or hover in stillness when you are watching an awesome crocodile flathead. But not to worry, that’s what classes are for: to teach you a bit of physics, how that breathing apparatus works, and what to look out for when you are looking for that crocodile flathead.

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Location is everything

The possibilities of where you can learn how to dive are quite endless. Choose between warm and cold water, lake, sea or even pool and you are sure to find a dive school close to you wherever you live. However, I must admit that the idea to learn diving in a cold German lake never had any appeal to me. In fact I never even thought about diving until I went snorkeling in the Seychelles and saw the amazing underwater world of the Indian Ocean for the first time. Different waters will offer different things to see and unfortunately also come with different price tags. A lot of schools all over the world offer the possibility to do the theoretical part online beforehand so you can get straight in the water upon arrival. In my case I didn’t actually mind doing the classes at my school, New Heaven on Koh Tao, as it was a great way to meet other divers and we were allowed in class barefoot, fresh coconut in hand.

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In high-frequented diving areas, most schools seem to offer accommodation as well and you will get special deals if you dive & stay there. When selecting a school check that the equipment is well maintained and in good condition; as your life literally depends on it, it is not something you want to compromise on.

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I also find it really important that I like the vibe at a dive school. You will most likely spend quite some time there, so you should feel welcome. Diving is not only physically but also emotionally challenging so don’t feel shy to ask to meet your instructor beforehand and see if you get on. I got super lucky with both of mine and it made all the difference as I felt an immediate trust in them. Also check class size and ratio of instructors and divemasters to students. In my Open Waters, we were four students, one instructor and one dive master, and in my advanced course I was even luckier as I was the only student with my teacher.

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An apple a day…

…keeps the doctor away. But when it comes to diving, you may want to get a check-up from a specialist who knows the potential risks of diving and can advise you how any chronic conditions may affect you under water. While it may not look it, diving is a highly active and physically challenging sport so you should be in good health.

You absolutely cannot dive when you have a cold with blocked sinuses, so keep warm and away from airplane AC before going on a dive trip. In your theory course you will learn how to calculate the amount of time you can safely spend under water on each dive and how long you need to take breaks in between. This is non-negotiable, as is a long surface interval of a minimum of 12 hours after a single dive and at least 18 hours after multiple dives before flying.

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So you think you can dive?

You will need your OW to even get under water, but I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news – it doesn’t mean you can dive. Diving like everything takes practice, practice, and then some. After just finishing my 34th dive, I am far from mastering the art of diving yet, but here are a few things that I learned from some awesome instructors and DMs that helped me along the way:

– Neutral buoyancy is everything. To get there, it is important to get your weights right so you are neither too heavy nor too light. Have a good instructor do a weight test with you and write your weights down including water temperature and the suit you are wearing (long/short and thickness).

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– Breathe. Normal inhale and longer exhale, think yogi breath. Breathe like that as soon as you go down. Nothing made a bigger difference to my diving than getting that breath right.

– Relax and move as little as possible. Keep your arms folded or by your side, legs gently flutter-kick or frog-kick. The stiller you are, the less air you will consume, the longer you can dive.

– You will get a log book to write down your dives incl. dive site, length of dive, depth, and conditions. I used the comment section only for the marine life I would see, but have started to also make notes on my performance – how was my breathing, what weights did I use, any new tips I learned.

– Speak to your buddy and DM about any concerns and questions you may have. Divers help other divers out. I used to keep concerns about my huge air consumption to myself until I finally spoke up, met an awesome instructor who basically ended up giving me a private class on one of our dives that made all the difference to me. Thank you, Rachel!

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Diver’s wishlist

The unfortunate truth is that diving is not a cheap sport. All dive centers will have equipment for hire, but obviously nothing will beat having your own gear. Girls, I was super lucky when the wonderful people from Scubapro offered to sponsor me my very first set of equipment. Scubapro is one of the premier dive equipment companies and with their slogan ‘Deep Down you want the best’ you know what you are in for. While I love having my very own regulator and BCD, I recommend to build up your gear gradually and start here:

Mask & Anti-fog

It’s best to try on a mask in person – hold them onto your face and breath in slightly, it should create a vacuum and the mask will stick to your face. If it doesn’t it means that the mask might be too big for your face and will leak even underwater when the pressure is higher. It took me three attempts to get the right mask, but my clear view now is worth it.

All masks will need proper cleaning to remove a silicone layer they have as you will have to deal with a foggy view otherwise. Best to first clean a new mask with toothpaste about 4-5 times and afterwards to use anti-fog, and – don’t shriek – a good deal of spit before each dive!

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Mask Headband

Especially girls with longer hair may want to invest in a neoprene headband that you secure around your mask strap. No more hair getting painfully stuck between rubber straps, believe me when I say – this is a life hair safer!

Fins & booties

Another item of equipment that can make all the difference to your dive are your fins. You have a choice to get regular fins or a open heel fins & neoprene booties combo. I was excited to get the latter as they are easier to put on and easier on my feet. Booties are also awesome for walking into the water on shore dives and to move around more securely on a slippery boat.

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Wetsuit

I dare say few girls feel comfortable and sexy in a wetsuit, but even in tropical water it becomes a must as soon as you have multiple dives per day in various depths. Go for a classic long sleeve full body suit and you are also protected against the sun. It will also double act as a rashguard until you get your buoyancy under control and makes you look like a badass ninja too. Chose the thickness according to the waters you will frequent most – 3mm for South East Asia, 5mm for Mediterranean. When in doubt keep it warmer – getting cold in the water can become a real issue.

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Dive Computer

The bad news is that you will need to learn how to calculate decompression time, appropriate surface intervals, and depth in relation to dive time. The good news is that once you pass your OW you can get yourself a dive computer to do the work for you. I got Scubapro’s Mantis which looks more like a regular watch (which it is too!) than a computer mounted to my wrist and is super easy to use.

Camera

Now that you got your certification and basic gear in order it is time to enjoy your dive and learn your fishes. A fish identification book will be specific to the area you are diving in, but a good underwater camera will capture it all. I got a SeaLife micro HD+ that works for snorkeling & diving and comes with a built-in red filter for deeper dives (colors fade the deeper you go and red already disappears after 5m).

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Sunscreen

When diving apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going into the water as some chemicals can dissolve and destroy corals otherwise. To be on the (reef)safe side, try Caribbean Solutions sunscreen which is reef friendly.

Daily contact lenses

If you wear glasses or hard contact lenses as I do, go for some daily soft lenses for diving. The best thing I ever did for my diving, especially as mastering the art of mask clearing (letting water into your mask and blowing it out with your nose to clear it from fog) is so much more comfortable with soft lenses. Also, you won’t be scared to lose a really expensive lens in action.

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Any additional advice, scuba girls?! I’d be happy to add to this list. And of course, when in doubt, just remember: Keep calm and dive on.

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Thank you, Scubapro, for my amazing equipment. You made me the happiest diver ever!

All images by Annika and her awesome DM Ralph.