Learning How to Scuba Dive

Electric blue and green fish swimming in the reefs of FijiLearning to dive is something I’ve always found excuses to not learn how to do. Something always comes up. I don’t have the money, I don’t have anyone to go with, I’m too busy, I’ll learn when I get to Thailand, etc., etc. The list goes on and on.

Traveling Fiji with Gary from Everything-Everywhere, I was finally pushed, prodded, and cajoled by him to go scuba diving. “If you don’t do it, I’ll make fun of you on Twitter,” he said. With the thought of public embarrassment and the promise he’d come on my first dive, I relented. I was going to learn to scuba dive.

Making our way down the island chain, we found a dive shop on the island of Waya Lai Lai. The dive master, John, had been diving for 13 years and the surrounding area had some of the best diving in the Yasawa Islands. There was no better time or place to learn.

Dive day came, and the instructors took Gary, a French girl, and me on a shallow dive across from the island. They taught us how to breathe, equalize our ears, put on our gear, and what to do in an emergency. I took a deep breath, asked not to get the bends, grabbed the instructor’s hand, and began to descend.

Scuba diving instructor giving a thumbs upWe began the dive on the surface, and I felt I was there for ages. I felt like I was descending. Then I stopped and looked around. Whoa! I was underwater. I looked at my gauge. I was five meters underwater! We continued diving down, reaching a depth of about nine meters. The area had some good coral, but the fish were small, though their colors were amazing. And then, before I knew it, it was over. The air was gone, and it was time to come up.

Reaching the surface, I was grinning from ear to ear. “Can we go again?” I asked. And there it was. I was hooked. Back on the shore, I went to John and said simply, “You were right. I loved it. I’ll do the PADI course.”

Later that afternoon, we went out on our second dive. My new dive buddy was Irina, a wily Portuguese girl who had also decided to learn on the spur of the moment. John took us out and taught us some dive skills. I was most nervous about taking off our regulators underwater. I’m still worried I’m going to get the bends.

In order to get a PADI open-water license, you need to do four dives. Besides getting over my fear of breathing underwater, it turned out I was going to get over my fear of sharks. Once while in Belize, we went to a reef filled with nurse sharks. I refused to get in. I don’t do sharks. They scare me. Even if they are harmless. And what was dive number three? Shark feeding.

Nomadic Matt learning how to scuba dive in FijiTurned out the sharks weren’t my biggest problem. About 10 meters down, Irina tried to kill me. Maybe it was all the Latin ghetto booty jokes her friend Paco and I were making on the boat ride over. Maybe it was a dive lover’s quarrel. But about 10 meters down, a fin flapped in my face and out came my breathing regulator. I felt myself start to panic, but remembering my skills, I quickly found my backup unit and put it in my mouth. John lunged over to my side to help me out. After a few minutes relaxing and calming down, we moved on.

Down at 20 meters, it’s easy to see why everyone loves to dive. Snorkeling has nothing on diving. The amount of fish you see, the beautiful coral, the amazing colors. I got to see Nemo up close and personal. And those reef sharks? Turns out they really are harmless.

Fiji allowed me to cross off one of my travel goals. I don’t know what I was afraid of before. Diving’s easy. All you need to do is breathe in and out. The likelihood of anything going wrong is slim to none. I was always up before my air ran out, and as long as you stay calm, you’ll be alright.

Diving in Fiji is cheap. My first “discover scuba” dive cost $99 Fijian dollars. When I got my open-water dive, it was only $550 Fijian dollars and included four dives. Most one-tank dives in Fiji are around $130 Fijian dollars. At Waya Lai Lai, if you dive more than twice, John drops the price down to $55 Fijian dollars per dive. That’s about $30 USD for a dive! Talk about cheap! In fact, if you do learn to dive, make sure you do it in a place like Fiji, Thailand, or Bali as they’re cheap and have some of the best diving in the world. You’ll pay half as much as you would in places like the U.S., Australia, or the Caribbean.

Swimming and scuba diving underwater in the Yasawa Islands

If you haven’t learned to scuba dive, you should. As much as I wanted to learn, I always found an excuse because I was just scared. It turns out diving isn’t that scary, and it’s really easy to breathe under water. Go scuba dive. If I can get over my fear, you can too.

  1. Yep, it’s that quick and easy. My foray into scuba was similar about three years ago in the Maldives. And thanks to Gary’s recs, I think I’m now eschewing a Fiji honeymoon for a Borneo one instead!

  2. Abe

    Great article! I have only snorkeled, would love to scuba. Have you seen Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort? Sure it cost more but looks amazing.

  3. My dive experience was similar to yours but did it off Isla Rosario, near Cartagena, Colombia. It was a spontaneous decision based on convenience: the opportunity was there, I had some extra money, why not? And, wow, was it ever worth it. You’re so right when you say snorkeling has nothing on diving. The two don’t even compare. Being immersed, so to speak, in the environment makes for a surreal experience, like flying in a dream.

    My course was a “flash course”, or 30 mins of instruction and then diving without the certification course. It wouldn’t have allowed for open water diving, but it didn’t matter. The corals and fish were breathtaking where we were.

  4. I have the scuba course books sitting on my shelf. No reason not to read it and go find a course. I know I will probably have to do it alone, and that is a fear for some reason. Thanks for the article!

  5. Well done Matt, so glad to hear you loved it!

    Just one note – you CAN learn to dive cheaply in the Caribbean – at Utila in Honduras I paid US$249 for my open water course, and that included 4 nights free waterfront accommodation, and two more free dives after I’d finished my course. And the diving in Utila is amazing, it’s one of the few places in the world you can reliably see whale sharks at the right time of year.

    It’s also a really great fun place to hang out, it’s a very friendly island.

    • Andrew

      I just quit my job with an NGO in El Salvador. I have three weeks free until my flight at the end of the month back to the United States. I’m interested in getting certified in Diving. Any recommendations for Honduras? I don’t want to go to Mexico since my house and friends are all in San Salvador. I would like to take advantage of my time and diving sounds amazing.

      Any tips for good companies to take a course with that is safe and would allowe me to dive internationally in the future?

  6. Last summer I also got my PADI in Malaysia. I had never thought I would like it that much ’cause I’m not that much of a water person.
    But you’re totally right, once you’re over the fear of breading under water it’s amazing and time has never flown so fast.

    Geoff is totally right, Honduras is supposed to be the cheapest place on earth to get your PADI.

  7. Congratulations Matt! It’s always so liberating to push past a fear.

    I want to scuba dive but I am afraid as well. I don’t know why, I was swimming before I was even walking but it still scares me. I think learning to surf has given me such a respect for the ocean that it has created some irrational fears. Something about being dragged under the water and not knowing which way is up or if you will get a next breath makes you realize how truly dangerous the ocean can be.

    I hope I can get over my fears like you did because it’s such a beautiful world and I would love to experience it without a snorkel mask.

  8. I really appreciate this one, Matt. I’m utterly terrified of sharks…even pictures of them. But reading this is encouraging. I love swimming, so maybe I’ll get up the courage to go diving someday soon. Thanks.

  9. That is really cool that you could overcome your fear and go scuba diving. I’m going to try to remember that when I am going bungy jumping next week…. because I’m definitely more than a bit scared but at the same time know it will be worth it.

  10. I definitely recommend learning to dive in a place like Fiji or Thailand, not only for the cost savings, but also for the comfort and what you’ll see. I got certified in Monterey, California. The instructors were excellent but the water was freezing! Not only that, but it was so murky that you couldn’t see anything, making you wonder why on earth everyone raves about diving. Several years later I started diving in Thailand -what a difference! Not only is the water clear and warm, but the colors of the fish, coral, sea horses, are incredible. That’s where I got hooked on diving.

    You’re right, once you start it’s hard to stop. Enjoy!

  11. This really takes me down the memory lane Matt – from when I had a month vacation in Australia in Des/Jan. Quite exotic to a Norwegian you know – because:

    1: It was winter and -20C back in Norway
    2: It was the most colourful under water adventure I’ve ever had.

    Happy weekend :-)

  12. Good for you, Matt, for conquering your fears. It’s funny to think that someone that travels alone and that is as adventurous as you are is afraid of anything. I love your site, by the way – I found you through Twitter and have been reading your posts all day long.

  13. Good for you Matt!

    I’ve been diving once before in Malaysia (also a cheap and awesome place to dive) and struggled with the breathing at first. But once I got that sorted and under I was hooked too!

    I want to dive the Great Barrier Reef whilst here in Oz but am a bit concerned about the price.

  14. I really enjoyed this post! If you get a chance give Borneo a try, Sipadan is really amazing and the muck diving in Mabul is pretty terrific as well!

  15. I hear you loud and clear. I tried a tandem dive in Brazil and am hooked. Since you mention Thailand, I might do my PADI course there. The other plan was Utila (Honduras). And I’m a really weak swimmer! Go figure. Hope you straightened out latina gal. :)

  16. Matt, Glad you enjoyed the experience and you have opened a whole new world of possible adventure travel. I have some notes on editing photo’s taken underwater which you may find useful. Pls could you email me and I’ll send them to you.

  17. “If you don’t do it, I’ll make fun of you on Twitter,” he said.

    That’s too funny! Surely a good enough reason to stop making excuses and just go diving.

  18. Theresa

    Both Jeff and I got certified while traveling this past year. We did the course with Turtle Bay Divers in the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia. I’d highly recommend doing it there (inexpensive, great instructors, amazing diving). A few weeks later we went diving off Ko Phi Phi and that was spectacular. (Though we dove in during the middle of a huge storm, which I have to say was a bit scary. Underwater all was calm though.) In March, we’re heading to Colombia, and diving is definitely on the itinerary. Congrats for conquering your fear. I too wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but I’m addicted now. It’s simply awesome.

  19. Great post. I have been scuba diving a few times in California and the Caribbean coast of Mexico. I’m not certified, but have done enough training that I know the signals, ascent/descent techniques and emergency/contingency procedures.

    Each time I’ve gone in Mexico they let me do/go where I want, not super deep but 40-50 feet and enough to see the best parts. So long as they see I don’t freak out underwater they’re happy to let me explore and accompany me along side watching me and the gear.

    I love the 3D world and underwater life. amazes me everytime.

  20. Reading this has made me crazy excited for when we learn. We started to do our open water here at home but I was in an accident and couldn’t continue.

    Now we’re planning to learn on either Koh Tao or one of the surrounding islands when we make it to Thailand, can’t wait!

    Congrats on ticking something off the list!

    • NomadicMatt

      Koh Tao will be the cheapest place to learn to dive but it doesn’t have the best diving in the country. Learn there and then go dive in the Similian Islands or down by the Malaysian border.

  21. Congratulations, Matt. I just discovered your blog, and I’m already enjoying and learning from the your articles here. I remember my own certification dive, we used to practice scuba diving in a swimming pool. It’s standard practice, I guess, before you hit open water, still all that gear looks unnatural in a swimming pool. I hope you’ll pursue your newly-found love for diving, looking forward to reading posts from great dive spots in your blog.

  22. Cherie

    Hi Matt….loved your article. I volunteered in a dive shop in Brisbane for 6 months and loved it. I learned so much about the dive industry, and at the end of the 6 months, the instructors wanted to teach me to dive….for free. Being over 50 I was a little apprehensive but was considering it when I found that being asthmatic, I was not allowed to dive. So, although diving has always fascinated me, I will probably never go diving, and although the offer is always there, I am skeptical about even going for a medical. Guess I dont wish to be told no. Now, I just enjoy watching movies of the underwater world made by others who have experienced what I can’t.
    So anyone who has enjoyed diving, I would like to read about your experiences on here….good or bad.;)

  23. Once you get your PADI Open Water , you’re hooked alright! Sipadan Island of Sabah, East Coast is the best place to dive ever!.Just did it last week, you will know why its in the world top 5 only if you visit.

  24. I have been into diving form a number of years and I have been to Costa Rica, Belize(San Padro Island), Tortola BVI, Cozemel, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, U352, North Carolina), USS Oristikany(Pensicola) Hait. I want to dive more exotic places and this sounds like an inroad to my idea of pleasure. I’m a retired Aferican American Male that love to blow bubbles. Be in touch.

  25. LEE


  26. Barb

    I am a mom of four boys ranging from 14 to 9 years of age. I recently conquered my fear of being underwater by diving in Great Guana Key, Bahamas. (short ferry ride from Marsh Harbour and one of the best reefs in the world) My three oldest boys, Max, Sam, and Tom also got certified, which gave me the courage to do it as well. So proud of my boys. If you have never been to Great Guana Key-check it out. A small beautiful, tropical island- true paradise. Troy at Dive Guana- awesome! Accommodations at Beach Dream was a fabulous home away from home. Great beach, beautiful waters, and amazing sunsets.

  27. Barb

    Kuddos to you Matt for getting certified. Amazing what you see down there. We spotted eagle rays, sea turtles, parrot fish etc. I am sure my boys are hooked!

  28. my thing with scuba diving is more medical, since hard as I’ve tried, can’t for the life of me equalize, so the most I’ve gone down is @ 5 meters:-(

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