31 August 2006

Want To Dive But Don't Know How To Swim?!

Before I started diving, casual conversations with people who know a bit about diving led me to believe that you don't really need to know how to swim in order to dive. Fact or fiction? Now that I have some experience let's deliberate.

Let's talk about the gear
The human body is naturally positively buoyant when the lungs are filled and muscles are relaxed. Notice how you tend to float especially well in salt water. As technology developed, man built gear to help control their buoyancy.

Your exposure suit, in most cases here your wetsuit, is made of neoprene and other fabrics. Neoprene is kind of like rubber, and so it floats. Your mask, although has some positively buoyant materials, generally doesn't float because of the hard denser materials used to make it strong (so it doesn't break if you happen to put it through some rough handling). Your fins are likely to be neutrally/positively buoyant because they need to be slightly rubberized to ease your finning, but negatively buoyant fins are also available.

Your BC (Buoyancy Control Device), as the name would indicate helps to control your buoyancy. So it can be both positively or negatively buoyant depending on how much air you fill it with. Your air tank, of course will sink. Your weight belt & weights are there for the sole purpose of helping you sink. Other random accesories are negligable.

Now if you really think about it, it's much easier to float than it is to sink. You would have a hard time descending if not for the weights, so if you're having problems staying afloat, just drop them. That's why they're made to come loose with ease.

So technically, swimming isn't a prerequisite to diving. The most important thing is to not panic. As long as you can think straight, you're not going to drown.

Does this mean you can dive if you don't know how to swim?
Swimming and diving use different techniques, so you don't really need to know how to swim in order to dive. But food for thought - people who don't know how to swim are generally more afraid of huge volumes of water than people who know how to swim. The psychological factor cannot be avoided. When unexpected events take place while a person is in the water, a non-swimmer is more likely to panic.

You'll also notice how many non-swimmers are hydrophobic. This means it takes them a lot more time and effort to get comfortable in the water. I know of some people at least 5ft tall who won't even dare to get into a 4ft pool of water. Forcing it will only take the fun out of diving. Furthermore, it's not only your life that is at stake. When you panic, your inability to think rationally might cost someone else his/her life.

I've seen some people who made it through their open water diver course, PADI certified. But it was only because they forced themselves through. And one major contributing factor is that they had a nice patient instructor around to make them feel secure. What happens after getting their certification? They're unlikely to find security in diving with other divers. And divematers won't always be so accommodating to be right by their side all the way through the dive. Are they going to have their own personal instructor/divemaster follow them on every dive? It just wouldn't make sense.

Mervs' conclusion
Diving is supposed to be fun, but the fun disappears when your mind is constantly troubled by the fear of drowning. Knowing how to swim gives you peace of mind so that you can focus on having fun. So put in some effort to learn to swim before diving. And if water scares you, avoid diving altogether. Stick to National Geographic, Animal Planet & Discovery Channel.

29 August 2006

The Next Dive Trip

To all readers who are already diving, or interested to pick this up as a recreational activity:-

I will be scheduling another 4d3n dive trip next year April, probably12th - 15th. My main purpose is to take the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course. As requested by some of you, I will also arrange an open water diver course at the same time for those who want to start diving.

Those interested are advised to book yourselves during these dates, and start saving up. It'll cost RM1,500, more or less, depending on which island/resort we pick.

If possible, we're going to fly with AirAsia based on their next promotion rates as soon as they become available so please let me know if you're joining so that I can give you updates.

Those who have expressed an interest so far:
Chee How
Chui Yin
Do let me know if you're name isn't already in the list and I'll put it in!

Updates will be available here from time to time, and I will also keep you updated through email and telephone.

A Moment of Reflection

The time and money spent completing the open water course was a huge eye-opener for me. With all the new knowledge comes new curiousity and interests. There's so much more to find out and experience in this amazing world of diving.

It's not just about going beneath the water's surface and exploring a brand new world. It's not just about doing something few others do. What I've come to realize is that for me, it's also about the time off from work; the vacations away from the city; the opportunities to meet new people from different parts of the world, with different interests and different backgrounds; the excuse to travel to places I wouldn't normally travel to if not for diving; the hobby to balance my social life and career.

That's more than enough to get me excited. I can't wait for my family trip to Perhentian next weekend. Although we only plan to snorkel there (because no one else in my family dives), I couldn't possibly pass up an opportunity to dive. So I'm probably going to make one dive on the first afternoon, and join them again for snorkelling the next day. I just hope it doesn't cost me too much.

Anxiously awaiting the rest of my life as a diver...

28 August 2006

Redang - 24-28 August 2006

The 4 days 3 nights visit to Coral Redang was simply amazing. It's my 3rd visit to Redang, but this trip was amazing because of my newfound passion - diving!

Day-1 - The boat transfer was scheduled to depart Merang Jetty at 10.30am. But we didn't make it to the jetty until 11.10am, so as you'd guess, we missed the boat. We were still fortunate that there was another boat willing to ferry our lot without charge, but we still had to wait for another car load who was also late because they got lost. Apparently they ended up at the wrong end of Terengganu. Can't even begin to imagine how that happened.

It was 12.50pm by the time we left the jetty. The 1 hour boat ride was pretty much on schedule so we got there just before 2pm. There was no way we could still make 2 shore dives on day-1 as originally planned. Since we only had time for 1 dive that afternoon, Chewy told us to check-in, get some lunch (but we already ate while waiting), rest a little and meet at the dive centre at 3.30pm.

Note: All dives & details of dives will be blogged separately. You may view them here.

After the dive, we basically washed up for dinner. We planned to have drinks for after-dinner entertainment. Andy, SY and I each brought a bottle of liquor for that purpose. We even went to the extra trouble of carrying along soda, coke and ribena as mixers. But instead of that, SY and I decided to join Joanna for mahjong at the next door resort - Redang Pelangi. Vincent and Joanna seem very well-known all over the island. They have friends everywhere, which was in a way beneficial for us. We were up till about 3am, where I lost RM128. That's more than I've ever lost in one sitting.

Day-2 began with breakfast at 8am. We were due at the dive centre at 10am. Our 2nd dive was also a shore dive so we didn't have to follow the boat's schedule. We were back around noon and had a quick lunch, a short break, and it was time for our 3rd dive - our first boat dive. There was a short break after that and we were back out at sea for our 4th dive the same afternoon. Time flies when you're having fun, and the afternoon came to an end before we wanted it to.

Dinner was as usual, but there was the added weight of having to sit for the 50 MCQ test which we had been procrastinating since the classes ended. We all got through it, although some took longer than others. With that complete, we officially graduated from diving101. The evening went on with some mild conversation over whisky and chips with Andy and Federica, and ended early as we were all pooped.

Chewy awarded us our temporary PADI Open Water Diver Certification cards during breakfast of day-3 and we were off to our first dive as graduates - dive 5. Nothing much was planned for the afternoon because our package only included 5 dives, and everyone else was too tired to accompany me out to sea again at additional cost. So we walked over to Redang Bay for a nice cold ABC during the hot weather. It wasn't fantastic, but it was perfect for the temperature.

A nice long afternoon nap followed, and when Chui Yin got back from her afternoon snorkelling trip (as well as trying out my fins), we went out to snorkel around the nearby reefs again. It was just for the heck of using up the last few shots in the u/w camera SY and I rented the same morning. Caught glimpses of 2ft black tip reef sharks... but I was snapping away with the camera without switching it on... yes I know I'm an idiot!

The evening ended at 4am with another round of mahjong with Joanna, thinking I could win back some of which I had lost 2 nights earlier. As it turned out, I actually lost twice as much that night. So total losses came to RM360. That was expensive entertainment. Oh well, we all had fun, except that now I'm so much more broke than I was originally. Hahaha. But it was still fun! :)

Other things to note for this trip:

The resort was nice, better than the other two I've visited previously. They have a swimming pool which I only swam in once, to cool down before a dive. The rooms were average, squeezing a 3rd bed in wasn't too much of a problem, and it didn't get crowded either. There were only some basics in there, i.e. toilet & shower, safe, hangers, dressing table and chairs. But they did have comfortable beds, clean sheets & towels.

Other than that, the food was actually pretty good. All meals were served buffet style and the selection was quite pleasant too. Coffee, tea & sky juice were available for beverages, but orange juice was only available during breakfast.

The crowd you get at this resort were mostly Ang Moh, so the staff were also more polite and well-mannered than most resorts you'll find in Malaysia.

21 August 2006

As The Story Goes, The Money Flows...

Here's the initial budget before signing up:
RM800 for the course
RM600++ for the 3d2n island trip for open water dives
Total = RM1,400-RM1,500.

And here's the actual cost:
RM800 for the course
RM700 for 3d2n island trip (Coral Redang)
Extra 1d1n complimentary stay at the resort (no dive), courtesy of Andy (worth RM220).
Transport - expecting about RM100

And then there's the extras which I owe to my impulsive spending:

Atomic Aquatic Subframe Mask (red/black)

RP: RM330.00 DP: RM240.00

Gull Stable Snorkel (black)
RP: RM93.00 DP: RM70.00

SeaPro Eco Booties (size 8 black)

RP: RM80.00 DP: RM60.00

Atomic Aquatic Open-Heel Split Fins (red/black)

RP: RM499.00 DP: RM399.00

Bare 2mm Ignite Shorty (men size S red/black)

RP: RM319.00 DP: RM250.00

Akona Mesh Duffel (black)

RP: RM81.00 DP: RM63.00

Total spent on gear so far:
Retail Total: RM1,402.00
Discounted Total: RM1,082.00.

So now you can understand why I'm a little less generous when I go out.

I know I know! I make it sound like an expensive hobby. But if you're not so sure you really want to do this long-term, you can still go for the course, get your certification, and then plan dives using rented equipment. You can expect rental to add up to under RM100/day. This will definitely work out cheaper if you only dive once in a blue moon.

I, on the other hand, have set a target of 3 dive trips per year - 2 local trips & 1 foreign. The 2 local ones can be done over weekends along the East Coast, while the foreign one will probably be over a course of 4 to 5 days. With any luck, I could probably accomplish 10-15 dives a year. And thus the rational for investing in the basic gear.

Completed Theory & Confined Waters

5 modules of theory were covered over 3 classroom sessions, which totaled about 6 hours. Most of the time spent in the classroom was to watch VCD programs provided by PADI. They're very informative and not at all boring... there's even a touch of humour here and there.

The first major area covered was about the basic equipment we come to use during dives, such as the mask, snorkel, fins, exposure suits and the likes. They explain the concepts as well as features available in the market today. They also further discuss on bouyancy control device (BCD), regulators, weights and tanks. It was most interesting to learn how all this stuff works together to allow one to enjoy the wonders of the underwater world.

After the basic introductions of equipment, they elaborate on using the gear safely. Other safety issues are covered too. They then go on to describe different diving conditions, as well as things to expect as we enter a life of diving. Much of it fascinates me, which is why this has become such a passion at such an early stage. Just reading the text and talking to divers about this has got me all excited about doing it.

Upon completing the theory, we then moved onto the confined water (swimming pool) sessions. Main objective here is for us to get practical experience on setting up the scuba gear and then actually using it. At first, it looks really complicated. But after the 2nd or 3rd time assembling and disassembling the gear, it's pretty much child's play. But still, care should always be taken not to screw it up cos it could cost you more than just money.

Also learnt in the pool are the numerous safety procedures to go through before entering the water, before descending, while at the bottom, before ascending, and in case of emergencies. Although a bit tedious to follow, it's all for our own good so no complaints from me there. Besides, the essence and joy of diving still remains.

They say that breathing your first breath underwater is completely exhilarating. For me, it wasn't anything to shout about, but it wasn't boring either. It does take a bit of getting used to because you can only breathe through your mouth, and the air is quite dry. The mouth and throat tends to dry up which can cause you to choke too, but the important thing here is to not panic but continue to breathe.

Motion underwater is very different too. Everything is 'slower'. Balancing is harder. Turning is tougher. But you get used to these. Also, verbal communication is impossible - so we use predefined hand signals. Vision is slightly impaired due to perspective, and the mask tends to fog up - so we use salive/toothpaste/anti-fog, or a simple mask rinse while underwater.

Some of you may have reservations about diving because you can't swim. Here's the thing, with all the gear on, it's actually harder to sink than it is to float. We end up using weights to get us to sink to the bottom. Without weights, we might as well just go snorkelling.

With all the added gear and safety training, you seriously don't have to worry too much about drowning. Just make sure you pay attention to your training, choose a good dive buddy, and don't panic, and diving can be real fun.

17 August 2006

Getting Started

Since our earlier trip to Redang in May'06, SY and I have been pretty interested in taking up a course on SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Aparatus - thank god they shortened it to just scuba). I didn't expect it to be so soon, but barely 2 months later we found ourselves signing up for the PADI Open Water Diver course.

Of course it doesn't really matter which dive centre you sign up with, as long as you're comfortable with their location, their instructor, and most importantly their pricing, go for it. SY and I signed up under Dragonet which is located in Uptown D'sara Utama, just up the street from a popular mamak hangout - Dharoos. It's a pretty simple set up on the first floor, but it serves its purpose well.

The course we're taking pretty much introduces us to the world of scuba. In order to get our Open Water Diver certification, we'll need to complete 5 modules in a classroom, 5 modules in confined waters, & a minimum of 4 open water dives. The price - RM1,500, which also includes a 3 days 2 night stay at Coral Redang. SY also managed to get a friend from work to join us - Andy, an expat all the way from Switzerland.

So here we are, at the beginning of a journey... destination unknown.