Taking your first breaths underwater is nerve-racking.
The thought of being under 30 feet of water is a concept that might make you nervous and agitated - maybe even as you read this. If you're uneasy about your first time diving, no worries! 99.9% of all rookie divers feel some element of stress before their dive.
As a PADI dive instructor, it's my job to make sure every diver I work with is comfortable in the water. My teaching methods are focused around slowly introducing diving safety, practicing skills and spending ample time swimming with turtles and fish. If you have jitters or anxiety about your upcoming dive, here's 5 wisdom tidbits to help you manage your nerves and prepare yourself for your intro dive.
1) The most important aspect of learning to dive, is going on your introductory dive with a certified, insured, and highly rated instructor.
Did you know you can verify if your scuba instructor is certified or eligible to teach diving? Well, you can!
For PADI, you can use the PADI Pro Chek app, and search the instructor's license number in the PADI system to verify your instructor's credentials. You can check out mine by entering the number 388479 into the PADI Pro Chek app. When you do this, you should see a similar screen as below.
When you see the green checkboxes all marked positive, this means the instructor is active, professionally trained, has renewed their PADI fees and has their insurance paid. The PADI membership and insurance, isn't cheap - so a dive professional who has these paid up, is a serious practicing professional.
Also, check out your dive instructor's online reviews on TripAdvisor, Facebook, Yelp and Google to see what previous rookie divers have said about the instructor, their teaching style, the gear they use, and any feedback on their patience and professionalism.
2) Learn in a location that has ideal conditions.
Depending on where you live, you might learn how to dive in a cold quarry, a mountain lake, an abandon missile silo, a frigid ocean or if you live near a tropical coast, you can dive in water that is warm and clear.
Wherever you learn to dive, ideally you want high visibility and calm waters. Maui provides both of these, where you can take your first scuba dive in turquoise waters, with little waves lapping the sandy beaches. You can also find local water bodies near you, where you can enter the water via shore or a boat, and not have to manage high waves or surge. Ideally, the biggest waves you want to handle are similar as below - tiny, tiny rollers, making the entry and exit of your first dive easy.
Visibility is vital when learning, because not being able to see several feet in front of you, will only increase your anxiety and chances of freaking out.
When learning to dive, you will hear divers ask, "How's the viz?" This simply means how was the visibility, which is answered in feet. Typically, an okay day in Maui is 30-50 feet. But then there's great days of 60-100 feet, and epic days of 100+ feet of visibility.
Visibility is effected by the daily weather, recent storms, agriculture runoff, coral spawning and large swells. Visibility can also be different on a dive, where you start near shore in lower viz, and then find yourself in amazing viz a few minutes later in deeper waters.
Depending on where you learn to dive, ask around at your local dive shops where's the best dive site for a newbie to learn the fundamentals, and experience diving for the first time. Make sure you ask them "How's the viz?" which will help you find common ground quickly in the dive community.
3) Don't dive in a large group.
Whenever I've taught large groups, typically families of 8 or more divers, is when the chances of panic increases – greatly.
There is NO reason to put yourself under additional pressure when learning to dive. Families have a way of causing, agitating, and amplifying stress. So...ideally learning to dive with too many of your loved ones might not be the wisest of ideas.
Also, in a large group there might be one or a few members who aren't thrilled about the idea of diving. They are likely merely tagging along to not disappoint others, or caving to peer pressure.
This is a bad, bad idea. Run away from it!
Your first scuba dive experience, should be in a small group of 4 people maximum. Ideally an introductory dive should be you, your partner, and the instructor. When diving in a small group, you can realize how much control the instructor has over your equipment, and have plenty of time to practice skills - without being in a crowd where the instructor is jumping from person to person.
4) Learn in baby steps.
Diving, like most things is more mental than physical. Your brain means well, but after you're breathing underwater for about a minute, your brain is going to tell you to surface because you're underwater.
All good instructors know this, and many still remember their first dive. Instructors understand the rewiring occuring in your noggin – this is why they teach in baby steps, to gradually introduce a skill and slowly build upon it.
For your first dive, instructors will have you practice breathing deeply on dry-land, then breathing from your regulator. Then once you get in the water, you will snorkel with your regulator, showing your brain everything is okay.
Then you will descend to a shallow depth, practicing your breathing skills from your regulator under pressure. Once you're comfortable, the instructor will slowly guide you out a little deeper, and gradually get you more and more comfortable blowing bubbles underwater. Throughout your first dive, your instructor will be close by, and asking you if you're okay.
5) Have fun and relax.
The final piece of wisdom is to enjoy yourself. Understand that if you've taken the advice above, your qualified instructor is going to work with you and slowly introduce you into the world of scuba diving, while helping you manage any anxiety along the way.
Scuba diving is a phenomenal activity and sport. The vast majority of first time divers exit the water in an alter state of bliss, euphoria and awe. The ocean, even with all the environmental concerns and problems is still a beautiful landscape where you will hover along reefs swimming with fish and absorbing the memorable moments of spending time beneath the surface.