The week I spent finally getting over my initial fears of scuba diving and getting my Open Water certification last year in Utila was one of the highlights of my life. After only a few hours in the water, I was hooked – the fish, the coral, the breathtaking underwater landscapes, the ease of floating around while neutrally buoyant…..it was pure heaven. I spent the entire last year dreaming about getting back in the water.
So of course, when I finally rocked up to Dive Mike in Playa del Carmen to get my Advanced Certification last week, I was pumped!
Why go for an Advanced Open Water certification?
Getting your AOWC is recommended (and usually required) to do any dives deeper than 60 feet, and having it also opens up more complicated and interesting dive sites to you, like shipwrecks. I am planning on doing the Blue Hole dive in Belize which has a max depth of over 100 feet, so I chose to get my advanced in Playa to prepare myself.
When I arrived at the dive shop, I met Lauren, my instructor, an American girl younger than me, and we quickly went through all the skills I learned in the Open Water course. Since it’s been a year since I last did any diving, I wanted to make sure I remembered everything! She also gave me some worksheets I’d need to complete to get the certification.
We started with a refresher dive just so I could get used to being in a water again. It was easy breezy – like riding a bike! I immediately remembered why I loved being in the water. After the first dive, it was time to get down to business.
To get the creds, you need to complete 5 specialized “adventure” dives (hey hey!) each with their own sets of info and skills to master. The first two are required – Underwater Navigation and Deep Diving – and the other three you can choose from. For those I did Drift Diving, Wreck Diving, and Peak Performance Buoyancy.
We started with this one because it was the hardest. I had to navigate a straight line and a perfect square underwater using a compass. Sounds easier than it is! The other parts were simple – swim along a reef, then swim back to where you started. Despite my tendency to get distracted by pretty fish, I passed. Woohoo!
It was on the morning of my second day of diving, during my first deep dive, that me and my group got into a reeeeeal dicey situation. Two other older guys from Chicago were heading out with us, and they all had their own gear. When we attached our tanks to our regulators (the thing you breathe from), one of the guys was mentioned that his gauge wasn’t working.
It wasn’t telling him how much air was in the tank and he thought it was malfunctioning – and since it was a digital model none of us really knew, we weren’t sure how to fix it. He assured us that it would start working once we were in the water. I was skeptical, but this guy had over 100 dives, so I assumed he knew more than me. We all jumped in and started to descend to about 70 feet.
About 3 minutes into the dive, the guy starts freaking out. He swims over to Lauren and grabs her back up regulator, shoving it in his mouth so he could breathe from her air supply. When I saw this, I knew something serious had happened! We slowly ascended, and once we finally got to the surface, I found out what.
The tank the guy had attached to his equipment didn’t have any air in it! This is something that you should obviously catch BEFORE you get in the water. As soon as you attach your regulator and turn on the air, your gauge tells you how much air you have. It’s simple, and even though I had under 10 dives, I knew that! Yikes. That could have been a lot worse!
Anyways, we decided to try the dive again, this time with full tanks, and I did the skills easily. All I had to do was note which colors we lose the ability to see first as you descend (red is the first to go!) and perform a simple task at the surface and then at the bottom to note the effects of depth on the body. It’s harder to think down there!
This was the easiest of them all! On a drift dive, all you have to do is ride the current over the reef and watch out for obstacles. On my drift dive, I spotted my first turtle! I’m hoping it is one of many more I’m going make friends with on my underwater adventures.
Diving on a shipwreck is something I’d been dreaming about for a long time. In Utila, I was able to see a small wreck at about 70 feet, but this time I got to explore a bigger shrimp boat at around 90 feet, while a school of barracuda lurked outside! We swam through a couple of rooms inside the wreck, which was really cool, and kind of creepy.
Skills-wise, I had to note the obstacles and hazards that the wreck presented (in this case, fire coral covered most of it!), choose my route through it and locate any areas that were unsafe to explore. Simple, and the dive was my favorite one to date!
Peak Performance Buoyancy
This last skill was the one I think will best serve me going forward – learning to hover perfectly underwater, slightly going up as I breathe in, sinking slightly as I exhale. Having great buoyancy lets you expend less energy as a diver so you can dive longer and helps you move almost effortlessly around dive sites. I felt like a natural, or maybe Lauren just stopped me at a good moment to go through my skills, because I hovered like a damn pro. Fuck yes!
Overall, getting the advanced certification was much, MUCH easier than the beginners course. There was so much less theory and paperwork, fewer skills to demonstrate underwater and since I was already comfortable in the water, no fears or worries that I needed to overcome. Just straight up enjoyin’ the fishies, loving every second.
After finishing the course, I had two more dives the following day in a cenote – more on that to come! And next week I’ll be in the Blue Hole, hopefully chilling with some hammerheads. There’s nothing like taking steps towards crossing off things on the old Life List!
Have you ever considered becoming an advanced diver? Does this sound like something you’d try?