SharpVacations: Dive Around the WorldSubmitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Wednesday 13th October 2010
- Why get certified?
- How to get certified.
- Where to dive.
With the remote reaches of the globe more accessible than ever, there are few "epic" adventures that have not been checked off of humanity’s Extreme Sports To-Do List. Forty people have stood on Mount Everest’s summit in just one day, both poles have been conquered many times over and the Amazonian basin is now teeming with mining and logging roads. Closer to home, thousands of people have hiked the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails; some motivated trekkers have done all three! Besides space travel, which is now becoming a possibility (with serious bucks), the least explored frontier belongs to the Earth’s oceans.
SCUBA, short for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, allows just about anybody to experience the incredible underwater world, so just like you see on the Discovery Channel, with a little training, you will be able to breathe underwater and safely swim with the fishes. As added incentive, the SCUBA diving community is a great way to meet many new travel-addicted friends. And best of all? It’s serious fun.
Who can learn. Any SharpMan in decent physical shape, who can swim, has not experienced serious ear problems when flying and is not absolutely terrified of the water can learn to dive. However, even easy dives are demanding, so SCUBA is a sport to be taken seriously. Before you put too much effort into earning your certification (also know as a "C-Card"), get a doctor’s OK.
The basics. Your first step is to sign up for a Basic Open Water class. There are several certification agencies, but PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) is the largest and most globally recognized, which is very important if you want to have your certification recognized internationally.
The Basic Open Water course PADI offers is divided into three phases, all of which can be completed in two weekends, if necessary:
Phase I: ACADEMIC (Classroom)
Phase II: CONFINED WATER (Pool)
Phase III: OPEN WATER (Lake or Ocean)
Even if you weren’t the best student in school, no SharpMan need be turned concerned about the "classroom" phase. The PADI training materials are easy to understand and your instructor will guide you through every step. Read the book before coming to class because you will review everything in class, watch instructional videos and then take quizzes on each section, or module.
Where to learn. Many dive shops offer various types of SCUBA certification classes. Often Phase I and II are often packaged together. It is common for Phase III to involve an additional cost and a separately scheduled class, but most shops offer several options with varying prices. If travel plans have cut your time short, you can receive a referral from your Phase I and II instructor and then complete your dives with another PADI professional at your destination.
Time required. Traditional classes generally meet once or twice a week for several hours over a four to six week period. This time frame helps students to best digest the materials, although the number of classes required may be tough for some people to fit into their schedules.
As mentioned above, your quickest certification options are the "weekend" or "executive" classes, where you spend approximately eight hours on both Saturday and Sunday reviewing the book material, taking the tests, and completing your pool skills.
Your final step, Phase III, requires that you complete four open water certification dives over two days. Safety is the main concern, so several instructors and "divemasters" dive with students (unless you have a very small class). You will first practice and then be tested on the basic SCUBA skills you learned in class and in the pool, but now in a new, larger environment out in the ocean or local lake. Don't be surprised if a fish or two wants to join in on your class.
Moolah required. The cost of getting certified varies, depending on your area and the number of dive shops available. Generally, a Phase I and II Weekend Course should be under $150. If you live by an ocean or lake where the final phase can be completed easily, you’ll save big bucks.
Check with local dive shops that offer training for additional details on required gear and pricing. Often, you will need to provide your own mask, snorkel, fins and booties. If your dive shop supplies this gear, consider purchasing high quality gear (fitted to your face and body) anyway, as you will likely need them on your future dives and may feel more comfortable in your own gear for you certification.
Certification, at last. After completing the three phases, you are considered "certified" and may SCUBA dive just about anywhere in the world. Upon graduating, your instructor will send out the required forms (plus two passport-sized photos of you), and within several weeks your certification card will arrive in the mail. The card is good for life, though if you lapse in your diving, you might want to take a refresher course. You will need this card to rent or purchase SCUBA equipment, fill air tanks or go on dive trips. If you have an immediate trip planned, your instructor can provide a temporary card.
More certification? Dozens of specialty ratings and advance certifications can be earned the more you dive and the more your skills progress. However, once you are certified, you and your dive buddy can go just about anywhere there is water.
The planet is two-thirds water. Here are ten top dive destinations that could keep you underwater for the rest of your life:
Hawaii, United States
Besides world-class surfing, incredible food, lava-bed hiking and a host of other activities found in Hawaii, diving with sea turtles and giant manta rays is a SCUBA experience worth flying for. Dolphins and whales are also common visitors to the deep water surrounding the Hawaiian Islands, not to mention over 600 species of fish found in the reefs. The water and air temperature are comfortable throughout the year.
Southern California, United States
Diving California’s Channel Islands requires a wet suit even in the summer (the water is chilly!), but the amount of sea life is incredible. In the fall, fresh lobster can be prepared right on your charter boat. Life doesn’t get much better. All levels of SCUBA ability will enjoy the Channel Islands. Numerous outfitters operate out of Santa Barbara, California.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Be prepared for a workout. To see the famous marine iguanas, you must stay in the shallows and deal with a lot of surge; however, these bottom-feeders are generally easy to approach. Sea lions, sea turtles, penguins and sharks round out Darwin’s show. Diving the Galapagos is tough and not for weak swimmers, but the underwater life is well worth the trip. All diving is on live-aboard trips (you sleep, eat and dive from a charter vessel).
Micronesia is best known for its wrecks, rays and incredible abundance and size of undersea life. Imagine seeing dense schools of glistening runners numbering in the thousands, or a clam that weighs over 900 pounds!
Over 85 wrecks from World War II air and seas battles have developed spectacular reefs that make Truk ("Chuk" to locals) the world’s greatest wreck diving site. Diving Truk is usually a live-aboard trip (to get maximum dive time) and since most wrecks are at 60 to 100 feet, divers should have some extra underwater experience before setting off. The outer atolls are worth a side trip as well.
Palau is Micronesia’s super versatile dive destination. It has just about everything a diver could ever ask for. Visibility is incredible, reaching upwards of 200 feet and the water stays just over 80 degrees. Palau’s famed giant drop-offs are always fun, as well. You are swimming along at 30 feet deep and all of a sudden the bottom drops out to over 1000 feet deep. Ooooops. Both land-based and live-aboard options are available for Palau.
Many SCUBA divers combine several Micronesian hotspots in one trip, but there is so much terrain, it would take several months of serious diving to cover all of this area of the ocean. If you have the time, Yap is another Micronesia hotspot close to Palau. Yap’s Mil Channel is one of the best places to see the gentle giant mantas, but the islands are also known for healthy reefs and lots of fish.
Diving with dolphins in the Bahamas is on the short list of the world’s greatest SCUBA vacations. Grand Bahama Island is home to the Underwater Explorers Society, which offers dolphin dives where rescued dolphins released back to the wild enjoy interacting with humans. The Bahamas also feature the famous blue holes, inland holes of very blue water that connect to the ocean through underground channels.
The Cayman Islands are the Caribbean’s most famed dive destination. Visibility is almost always amazing and there are hundreds of great sites to choose from. The wall-diving is among the best in the world, but the most popular attraction is the chance to splash around with the stingrays at Sand Bar and Stingray City found in the 10- to 15-foot waters of Grand Cayman’s North Sound. The stingrays seem to love the human interaction and will even eat right out of your hand!
Cairns, Northern Queensland is Australia’s dive capitol. With the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea, you can find any kind of trip you are looking for. Live-aboard trips are very reasonable due to abundant competition, and you can get in at least a half-dozen dives per day, and more at night.
For extreme thrills, head to South Australia and get in a shark cage for an up-close look at the famed Great White. These terribly efficient eating machines will amaze you as they rip through the chunks of chum with ultimate ease. Plan on a few cage-rattling encounters, and be sure to keep all fingers and fins safely inside the bars.
Wherever your travels take you, remember that SCUBA diving is almost always an option. As the old saying goes, the worst day diving is better than the best day working.This article last updated on Wednesday 13th October 2010