Scuba diving in the desert

I held off on doing this post because I was hoping for some really nice pictures of me in my scuba gear. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of myself, and the people who were supposed to send me some pictures haven’t followed through on that. So, I decided to stop putting it off and just get this posted.

Earlier this year, my friend (and Scuba buddy), Gina, and I decided to purchase a Cobone deal for getting our PADI Open Water Diver Certification. Cobone, for those of you who don’t know, is a discount promotional program similar to Groupon.

I first completed the knowledge portion of the license through PADI eLearning classes in April. There were seven sections (including the introduction) and within each section there were several mini quizzes and then a section quiz. After passing all the sections, I took a final cumulative exam. My only thing I have to say about the eLearning course is that, for me, it is hard to understand what is important or how the information really connects until I apply the knowledge. Even though logically I knew it was teaching me critically important information, at the time it basically felt like hours of mind-numbingly boring irrelevant information.

After passing the final exam, I was ready to begin the in-water training. We are lucky to live right near the Black Pearl Dive Center in Al Ain, which is located inside the Rugby Club (where I just happen to also have a gym membership). 

Rugby club pool

Our dive instructor was an Italian guy named Mattia. He was easy going, funny, and patient. He was exactly what we needed since, as we all know, teachers don’t always make the best students, which was evident as soon as I was required to put into use the information that I had learned from the eLearning classes. It made me realize that maybe I should have been paying a little bit more attention.

Our first two pool dives were done on April 30 by compressing them into one longer session. The pool water didn’t look very good, but as Mat pointed out to us, the ocean is probably dirtier. We learned basic skills like how to put on the equipment (so much heavier than ever imagined!),  control buoyancy, gear removal and replacement, hand signals, and mask removal and replacement. The hardest part was probably the mask removal and replacement just because it is hard not to feel like you are drowning as you have to clear the mask. 

When I got home that night and checked my email, there was an email from the Rugby Club (that had been sent earlier in the afternoon) notifying members that the pool would be closed for a few days for cleaning. This explained the greenish hue of the pool and the serious allergy reaction that I had for the next two days.

Pool dives 3-5 were compressed into one long session again at the Rugby Club pool one week later (once my allergic reaction had gone away, and I was able to breath normally again). On a positive note, this time the pool water seemed much clearer. Unfortunately this also meant that a lot more people were in the pool, so we had to be cautious of them swimming over us. During this session we practiced the previously taught skills and learned new things like emergency procedures and different ways of ascending and descending.

At one point, I was pulling Gina from behind as we practiced what to do if your buddy is too exhausted to swim for themselves. We could hear our dive instructor yelling from the other end of the pool, “Gina! Your breath, your breath!” I asked Gina, “Are you forgetting to breathe or something?” At this point other people in the pool area are starting to look at us. That is when I look past Gina’s head (and her considerable amount of hair) and see that her bikini top isn’t where is should be. Apparently Mat was actually yelling, “Gina! Your breast! Your breast!” Considering the conservative country that we live in, I probably would have been a bit more taken aback about a bikini malfunction than Gina was. She just readjusted everything and went on as normal. Got to love that girl.

Gina had gotten herself kind of worked up the previous session about clearing her mask. As I mentioned, it does feel like you are drowning even though logically you know you aren’t. She had psyched herself out so much over knowing that she would have to master being able to do it that she was getting more and more panicky. After several attempts, she was finally able to do it! When we came back up to the surface, our instructor practically looked like he was going to cry. He said, “this is what makes being a teacher totally worth it. It is like the feeling of pride I had when I watched my daughter walk for the first time.”  We threatened to start calling him daddy after that emotional display.

With our confined dives completed, the next step was to hit the open water. On the weekend of May 17, we headed to Dubai to complete our open water dives. The launching point for our dives was the Jumeirah Beach Hotel with the Burj Al Arab as our backdrop.

Burj Al ArabOn the first day, we joined a young couple that were also completing their certification with our instructor. This couple brought along their friends who are already certified just for fun. (*side note* it was these friends who took pictures with their underwater camera and failed to send any copies to me despite our instructor sending a reminder. This is my way of tattling). So, the six of us plus our instructor made our way down to the Persian Gulf (Arabian Gulf) in our full gear. I thought I was going to die of heat stroke by the time we made it down to the water. Gina and I kept only half jokingly asking where our Scuba Boys were at so they could carry our equipment. Perhaps the UAE laziness is starting to rub off on me.

We combined open water dives 1 and 2 on the first day. These dives were awesome. There is a sunken shipwreck that they have purposely created to create a reef like environment for the sea creatures. All of this meant that there was a ton to look at while still being taught the skills needed for the PADI certification.

On the second day, weather conditions prevented us from going out on the boat as planned. We were given the option of postponing dives 3 and 4 for a different weekend, or completing the skills in the marina area. I decided to get it finished up and convinced Gina that would be for the best. We had already paid for lodging in Dubai, and I was worried about not being able to get back to Dubai to finish the course before the summer holiday.

It was not ideal conditions at all. We practiced jumping from a boat, which was fun. But otherwise, it was difficult to see or do anything in the murky water. We worked on our remaining skills like swimming with a compass, safety stops, and tracking our dive times/depth with a dive computer.

After we made it back to shore, we had to take another test like the one given during the eLearning course. We had our pictures snapped for our scuba license cards, and we completed our dive books to record all of our dives. Then we were finished! Just like that Gina and I were certified as PADI open water divers. We can begin exploring the great open waters down to a depth of 18 meters (60 feet). However, even though I am certified, I don’t feel comfortable going without our instructor, Mat, by my side. Especially now that I have gone the whole summer without diving, I feel like I have forgotten everything. Well, everything except for the weight belt. For some reason I have had several dreams lately about putting on the weight belt needed to go scuba diving. Hopefully once we get back to the UAE, my scuba buddy and I can go diving again with Mat. It is going to take many more dives before I actually feel qualified to go diving without someone watching me to make sure I do everything right.

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