How not to start your life of diving

by Poi on April 25, 2012

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One of the things I was most excited about while planning our trip to the Philippines was the chance to go diving again.  I completed my open water course this January and have not been diving once since. That meant I had four dives logged in my book, all of which were part of the open water course.

The Philippines is known for having some of the best dive sites in the world and I was really looking forward to getting in the water.  Unfortunately diving isn’t the cheapest hobby so Kirsty told me I was only allowed to go diving twice… Reading reviews I settled on Malapascua island and Moal Boal, the last two locations on our trip.

However, during our whale shark interaction trip one of the guys mentioned he had been diving in Donsol the day before and seen manta rays and whale sharks, now that does sound appealing.  It just so happened our guide that day had his own dive shop and was already taking a couple of people out the following day. I agreed to join them and signed up later that day letting Bobby, my guide turned divemaster, know that I had only just done my open water and these would be my first real dives, it didn’t seem to bother him.

The next morning we met at 7am, had a quick briefing mainly explaining how he had renamed all the dive sites to include his name, set up our equipment and headed out on the boat.

My dive companions included two chaps in their twenties who had a lot of diving experience all over the world and a couple living in Singapore who I overheard mention they had over sixty dives logged each over a number of years. I was very much the novice on this trip.

Philippines diving, Donsol

Going in!

The first dive began with a backwards role entry about 4 feet high, my first such entry.  No problems there, it’s nicer entering the water head first.  We descended down to around 10 meters in very clear water before swimming away from the boat towards ‘Bobbys Wall’ a gorgeous coral wall that immediately outdid anything I had seen on Koh Tao.  What I wasn’t expecting however was the current, Bobby had mentioned very briefly there is sometimes a very small current but this was different.

I stayed close to the wall to try and avoid getting swept away but it was still very strong.  As the dive progressed the current frequently changed, one moment we would all be drifting uncontrollably and the next fighting against it and barely moving.  There were up and down currents to contend with too.  At some points I would be floating along upside down and had no way to control it.

By the time we made it back to the boat I was exhausted, more mentally than anything after dealing with situations I have never experienced before.  My more experienced companions even commented straight away on the difficulty of the currents which re-confirmed my suspicions that this probably wasn’t the dive I should have been doing so soon after my open water course.

Despite checking my depth gauge during the dive it didn’t occur to me that I had exceeded my 18 metre limit by nearly 10 metres.  All round it had been quite an exciting but challenging dive and the next one Bobby had planned sounded even harder.

It was not only I who admitted to being nervous in the group. We would be diving ‘Manta Boal’ where the current could get even stronger than our last dive.  So much so that we would be using hooks to hold ourselves to the bottom in order to wait and hopefully see the manta rays and if we were especially lucky, whale sharks.

Diving Manta Bowl, Donsol

Down and out.

The plan was to sit at around 12m where it was apparently sometimes good enough to see what we had come for but when that didn’t work out we headed down to 20m (there goes my depth limit again).  Other than a rough 20m head on swim between two sheltered areas the current wasn’t much of an issue this time.  However, I remained quite nervous throughout the dive expecting to swept away at any moment and my air consumption was showing it.

We drifted back out into the current and I searched for somewhere suitable to hook in and wait.  After a few moments holding on I began to relax  and we spent about 15 minutes out in the open on the look out for something coming towards us.  Unfortunately it seemed none of the big boys were out to play and I was running low on air so we had to begin our accent.

Climbing back onto the boat we told the snorkelers on board of our disappointment at seeing nothing but although I was disappointed I definitely felt like I had achieved something that day.  Dealing with the currents was a completely new experience and on the whole I was just happy to be diving again and have my first dives  after open water under my belt.

It was definitely a baptism of fire and despite diving lots more during our time in the Philippines I faced nothing nearly as hard.  An instructor  we met later in our trip who used to work in Donsol looked horrified when I told her they were my first dives since getting certified.

It may not have been the best route to take so early on in my diving life but it definitely made me a better diver in the long run and now my air consumption is awesome 😉



{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures April 25, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Diving is one the best things in life! Welcome to the club!!!


Poi Deeble-Rogers April 26, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Thanks Andi


Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) April 25, 2012 at 9:13 pm

One of the things I most want to do when my husband and I set out on our RTW trip is to finally try scuba diving! I don’t think we’re planning to head out to the Philippines, but after hearing your story, I know that I’ll want to get much more diving experience under my belt before attempting the dives you did… My heart was racing just reading your account!


Poi Deeble-Rogers April 26, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Make sure you do better than we did. It took us far too long to start diving and all I think about now is the diving sites we missed along the way. If you do think about heading to the Philippines give us a shout because Kirsty did her open water course there with a very good dive shop. Blog post coming soon!


Steph (@20 Years Hence) April 27, 2012 at 9:06 pm

I think the first SEA country we’re going to hit is Vietnam, so I’d like to try getting certified in Nha Trang, and then if we like (and I can’t see how we wouldn’t!), we’ll do some diving in Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia as well!

If we do make it to the Philippines, I will be sure to get in touch, but I’m looking forward to your post about Kirsty’s certification!


Poi May 1, 2012 at 10:20 am

Thats the best way, get it done as soon as possible. I remember Nha Trang having lots of dive shops so learning there shouldn’t be a problem.


Audrey | That Backpacker April 26, 2012 at 10:31 am

Yikes, those currents sound strong. That’s one way to gain experience fast!


Poi Deeble-Rogers April 26, 2012 at 3:28 pm

It is, but not a way I’d recommend.


John April 27, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Excellent post. May ia sk you what is the average budget needed for such course ? And is Philippines better than Thailand regarding diving ? just curious here as I have been travelling many times in SE of Asia but never had a chance to dive ….


Poi May 1, 2012 at 11:06 am

My course on Koh Tao cost $310 while Kirsty paid $450 in the Philippines. It’s a big price difference but the service and diving was much better.

Although the Philippines diving was great Thailand has a lot more to offer than just Koh Tao.


Island Hopes April 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Having experienced what you did- not being able to control my bouyancy due to the currents, I must say that your dive buddies have little respect for the ocean if they let you dive in those conditions having just completed your open water.

Experience is absolutely necessary to stay calm and collected- diving is only safe if the diver is able to keep control of his senses.


Poi May 1, 2012 at 11:10 am

I don’t blame the dive buddies but more the instructor who I made clear to about my lack of experience. My dive buddies had never dived the area before and didn’t know the conditions.


Ben April 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Ahaha looks like not much has changed in Philippines, if it makes you feel any better when I was in Coron they took a guy out with us wreck diving on his 2nd open water dive


Poi May 1, 2012 at 11:11 am

Wow, that’s certainly not something most people get to see on their second ever dive. Can;t say it;s the best way to go about things though…


Chrissy Travels May 17, 2012 at 8:45 pm

I am getting certified this week and headed to the Phillipines later this Fall. Really excited! Thanks for the tips.


Kirsty June 12, 2012 at 1:38 am

Good luck 🙂


Andrew November 27, 2012 at 9:08 am

Hey – any chance you still have Bobby’s contact details? Looking for a dive shop in Donsol… he wasn’t part of Giddy’s Place was he?


Teresa Melnyk March 26, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Hi Poi,
I did my first dive last May in Punta Cana and I am going this May to get certified. I absolutely loved the dive and yet now I feel very apprehensive. I can’t understand why because this is something I really want to do. I didn’t feel great support from the dive master who did the pool session so maybe this is why I feel afraid now. If there is anything you can say to calm my nerves I would greatly appreciate it. I’m not so much afraid of taking my respirator out as I am having to clear my mask deep in the ocean. Please help.


Kirsty March 26, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Hi Teresa, I had the exact same fears after my first pool session. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to clear the mask or I would lose it or I wouldn’t remember to breathe out. It all becomes second nature very quickly. Have a read of this post which I wrote just after completing open water.


Teresa Melnyk March 26, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Hi Kirsty,
Yes, I read your story before I sent this message. Sometimes I think I’m just psyching myself out or something. When I did my dive it was at 30 feet and I did have some ear pressure but got through it. I just wasn’t sure if I should be letting air out to go down further or if the weight belt was supposed to do the work. When I did my pool session I was still swimming like I was snorkelling. So I had to get the hang of that, which I did on the dive. My instructor seemed irritated but didn’t really tell me anything except swim a few circles around the pool. I’m hoping the open water sessions are more extensive. I just want to know “the right way to do things. “


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