Doing your PADI open water when you’re nervous. Tips and Advice for anxious first time divers.
Updated: Jul 7, 2020
I have always wanted to do my PADI open water diving qualification. I adore snorkelling (in fact it’s my favourite thing ever) and I am happy free diving. But, for five whole years I put it off and turned down world class diving (whilst in Fiji, Malaysia, Thailand, Iceland to name a few) because I didn't have my open water diving certification . All because I was simply too scared. I was nervous that I wasn't smart enough to pick up the theory and that I wouldn't understand how to use the complicated looking equipment. I also can get a bit of claustrophobia, and didn't like the idea of not being able to go up to the surface when I felt the need. It was top of my gap year “to do list” and then in the next years to do and so on. Opportunities arose, I met a wonderful instructor in Malaysia that I trusted to help me through my nerves, but was too busy with work commitments to find the time. Then I met my boyfriend Lee, a Divemaster with 700+ dives- and it became increasingly more of a priority, and a real shame that I couldn't join him on his favourite hobby.
So whilst in Australia, on a roadtrip with a few days to play with, Lee took me to a Dive Centre that he throughly recommended. After hearing horror stories from Lee about the rare bad dive centres and having experienced first hand dive centre troubles whilst travelling, finding a dive centre that was so highly recommended was exciting! Lee could vouch that they were great, so I took the plunge (pun intended) after much persuasion and after being gifted the course by my lovely mum, I very nervously, very apprehensively booked in officially for my open water…
The first stage: Theory.
I took the e-learning option, as I know that I wanted the time to really go into things at my own relaxed pace, to ensure that I understood everything properly. I started two nights before my practical course started. I read online that normally it took between 8-12 hours. I started by going through every single detail on the slides. Big mistake! PADI recommends that you go to the “knowledge review” sections FIRST, which are the exam questions at the end of each chapter, to check if you know the stuff in the section, before you actually read it. If you know the answers you can move on to the next chapter. If you don’t, you go back through it all thoroughly and check you understand. The course is created for all levels i.e. starting with “this is a mask". Great for those who haven’t done much snorkelling, but a bit slow if you've been around the ocean a lot. So I stubbornly went through every single word on every single slide, and spent 2.5 hours on Night 1, 8.00-23.30 of Day 2 intensively going over the slides and then did my final exam at 5am on Day 3, with a Practical start at 8am that same day. It was exhausting and although I wish I had followed the advice from PADI to start with the knowledge reviews and go back through what I didn't understand, leaving a lot of time to be comfortable with all the important theory is a really good idea. I took much longer than I could have- but I was also happy that I felt comfortable with what I had learnt.
Once the open water theory is completed and passed, you’re allowed to progress to the practical skills. This occurs over 2 days, either in a pool or a confined water space (quarries are common, or netted beaches in my case.)
Scott taking time to help me get comfortable and set up
When I turned up I was so, so incredibly nervous and overthinking absolutely everything, so much so that even as a strong swimmer and water baby that I even panicked and wondered if I could tread water for 10 minutes. I did my course with Underwater Safaris, on Lee’s recommendation. As soon as I got there, and met the team, I instantly felt comfortable with the two instructors, Jasper and Scott who were so down to earth and relaxed.
We went through equipment, and started skills at a slow pace, making me feel comfortable that I had the time to understand everything before we moved on. You progress very very slowly from shallow water for a few hours, to deeper water (a max of 18 metres) at the end of the open water course. I never felt claustrophobic or even noticed the distance between me and the surface, thanks to the slow introduction to depth- it wasn't a shock when I looked up and was 16 metres down at the end of the last dive.
The Goggle Clear.
I’ll get to the point. I had heard stories about this skill that you need to master when diving. It’s the ability to clear your mask of water when down diving. I wear contacts- and I had heard that this was horrible feeling, hard to master, made you panic, hurt etc etc. It was one of my key excuses for delaying my open water certification. So from an extremely nervous contact lenses wearer, I can indeed confirm that IT IS EASY!!!!! I couldn't believe my eyes (!) when Jasper showed us how to clear our masks and we had a go underwater (in the extreme shallows to start with!) You feel water trickle in, which feels odd to start with, keep your eyes closed if you have lenses in, face up to the surface, open the bottom of the mask very slightly, blow air out of your nose quickly, and TAH-DAR! All the water is pushed out by the air coming from your nose. Sounds horrendously complicated, when it’s actually so so easy. Your eyes might sting for 5 seconds but thats IT! It was after this skill that I got the best feeling, that this really wasn't half as scary as I’d thought. Practicing a lot also really helps, and it already felt second nature to clear my mask.
Taking the whole mask off is slightly more tricky- and does require slightly more “zen”. The feeling of bubbles going over your nose underwater is a bit strange. But a really really important thing to remember for EVERYTHING with diving, is if you remain calm and think clearly whilst clearing your mask, like most things diving, when you remain calm and focus, it's easy. The worst thing you can do whilst diving is panic. Remain zen, and you’ll quickly learn you can work things out problem free. :)
The whole 2 days went pain free, and at the end of the second day after completing all of our skills, and doing 4 dives, me and my whole group of fellow students got our Open Water Qualification!! Some people were stronger on some skills, and learning together you all get lots of opportunity to practice and develop together.
So if you’re nervous about diving, worried you can’t do it for any reason, I can confirm that it’s really not that scary! Find a good dive centre, and talk to them, air your worries. I now have my open water and I am relieved that I finally plucked up enough courage, because now I love diving and I’m excited that I don't have to turn down adventures anymore!
Underwater Safaris in particular were a brilliant choice. Jasper and Scott are absolutely amazing. They are a massive credit, to the also absolutely lovely, Underwater Safaris. Dive Instructors can be self righteous, and bolshy (I have met many whilst travelling!) but Jasper and Scott are super relaxed, down to earth and made me feel so comfortable asking lots of questions and going over things I didn’t understand. There is nothing better than taking something that seems very scary, serious and important - and turning it into something approachable and manageable, even for a nervous dumb-ass like me!
My Top Tips for doing your Open Water:
Research the dive centre before signing up. I felt a million times more comfortable knowing that I was being taught the right things, with good equipment. It also helped so much to thoroughly enjoy the teaching styles of my instructor, who was calm with superman-like patience that didn't make me feel stupid or rushed at any point.
Give yourself a good amount of time with E-Learning. Don’t log in in multiple windows and don’t forget to do the end of chapter exams.
Always ask if you don't understand something or if you are in anyway uncomfortable. Your instructor will be able to explain, or help to put you at ease. They might also be able to show you another way to do something, that you’re more comfortable with!
Having a friend, boyfriend, mum or dad, waiting at the shore with a towel and water is such great moral support, especially if you’re a bit nervous. Otherwise, talk to your fellow divers, who will probably share your nerves.
Take your own time to understand things. The course isn't designed to be rushed, and you pass when you understand and can do the skills. So chill in the knowledge that you’ll go at your pace.
Be prepared to be pretty tired! Carrying equipment and diving is exhausting stuff, so eat properly, drink lots of water and get a good nights sleep.
Try and enjoy it. During your training dives, you will undoubtedly see some amazing things underwater- so take some pressure off yourself, focus on doing things correctly, but also enjoy!
P.S. I don't normally do this, but a seriously big THANK YOU to Underwater Safaris, who really did manage my nervousness so well. (Frank is so lovely!) Thank you to Lee for standing at the shore supporting me with a hot coffee ready and waiting (most of the time...) and also my mum who rightly pushed me and allowed me to do it!