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Craig Leyenaar

ISSUE 10 ARCHIVE - THE OVERCROWDED PLANET GUIDE TO DIVING IN SOUTH EAST ASIA

Craig Leyenaar

There are certain things that need to be checked off to say you have 'done' S.E. Asia. The night boat to one of the islands that makes you feel like you will never be clean again; getting ripped off by tuk-tuk drivers; the time you 'almost' had sex with a lady boy and, of course; becoming a scuba diver. Having listened to the advice of the many people who have taken the plunge ahead of you, you should find yourself arriving at the mecca of diving in S.E. Asia that is Koh Tao.
Ocean Visions
Craig being helpful Once there you will be assaulted by welcoming committees from all the fabulous dive shops; don't get distracted by all the '5 stars' and 'golden palms'; get the lay of the land by talking to those in the know. Head to the nearest bar, the "Safety Stop" (this will seem very witty in a few days) and find someone wearing a T-shirt with a fish and the word 'diving' on it, usually accessorised by a cigarette and can of beer, this is an instructor. They will quickly get you up to speed on all the dive shops in the area and happily answer all your questions. As a discerning traveller it's important that you ignore any advice they give you and look around yourself. The bargaining skills you have honed throughout the rest of Asia will serve you well here. Price is your number one priority; don't worry about service, safety standards or the instructor.
Craig struggles getting attention from the ladies and is probably still a virgin

Opening Up the Open Water Course

So you are now signed up and have written the word 'no' more times than you can count. You should have a rather large book in your hands. It has the word 'Manual' on the cover. Look after this book: if it is damaged the second-hand book store won't let you swap it. Eventually you will end up wet, so keep in mind that diving is considered a physical sport in some cultures. Keep your energy levels up: luckily, your instructor will help by putting on a video each morning to give you time for a little snooze. You are not missing much; it is all about colour co-ordination and its role in the course has never really been properly explained.

A few general tips to make things run a bit more smoothly: Always show up an hour late, extremely hung over and having completed no knowledge reviews. Girls, remember to sleep with your instructors and always remember you are on holiday and shouldn't be expected to do anything. At all. This is good preparation for diving in general. By the end of the course, just make sure you know at least two versions of B.W.R.A.F., both containing blatant stereotyping and sexual innuendoes; endlessly discuss air consumption and most importantly; leave with no idea what a fin pivot is or what it is supposed to be used for. Now you should take some time off and think about what you have learned.
More Craig

Back in Black

You have passed a rigorous training regime conducted by an organisation that is only known by its acronym. An organization that is reminiscent of James Bond's nemesis S.P.E.C.T.R.E. which makes you Bond, as you discovered when you learned the back-roll entry. And now you have taken the requisite three or four years to meditate and reflect on your course and it is time to go diving again.

As an Open Water Diver you want to just leap straight in even if the only time you have gotten your hair wet since your course was when your cap slipped during a shower. Unfortunately it is not that easy. Dive shops are the evil henchmen of the acronym-wielding international dive organisations of the world. They are out to take your hardearned money through various intricate scams.
Nautilus Lifeline
The dive shop will try and soften you up before you have even tried on a pair of fins, looking for a weakness that they can exploit. You will be working to counter-manipulate them into taking you diving without too many unnecessary questions. The goal is to get into the water without having to show your cert card. Attractive women are the best at this for some reason. For most people, you will have to answer a few questions. Throughout this intense interrogation just keep repeating "I have my (insert acronym here), I know how to dive. I have my (insert acronym here), I know how to dive." They will twist your words and try to make you doubt yourself and your abilities as a qualified diver. Mention those two versions of B.W.R.A.F. wisely they are your secret weapon. Do not mention that you might need some help to set up your own equipment as this can give the wrong impression. Many an experienced diver has no idea and the dive shop will usually do this for you. However, you will be up against the shop's greatest weapon: for men it comes clad in a string bikini and for women, a pair of board shorts. Yes, The Instructor is back. Against this onslaught you will generally find yourself falling for one of two schemes or, if you are really unlucky, both:

First they will suggest a "Refresher". It has many names, but whatever they call it try to avoid it at all costs. It exists purely to prevent you from doing the real dives that you came there to do and occurs in the worst reef in the area or, if you are really unlucky, a swimming pool. Sold on the premise that it is a way to ease you back into diving so you feel comfortable, it will instead eat...your...soul. You will be taught how to breathe again as well as how to move your legs, skills that you used to think you knew how to do. The refresher is there to make you understand that it is impossible to go diving just for fun. You will be indoctrinated into believing that every dive needs to be with an instructor, and only after reading out of a giant book and answering questions about courses you apparently still have to do. Once this happens you are lost forever in the realm of 'continuing education' and whether you manage to dodge the Refresher or not, a greater peril still awaits...
"I want to dive the wreck." "Sorry, you have to be Advanced." "I want to dive the Pinnacle." "Sorry, you have to be Advanced." The Advanced Course is hard to avoid as there are few ways around it, except to go to Indonesia where they would throw a tank on a dog if it had the money. You will learn that the most important skills are spread over a series of courses, cleverly disguised beneath layers of chaff. As these skills by themselves are not enticing enough to customers they made sure that the Open Water Course would only allow you to dive the most boring of dive sites. You will be sold on becoming a Night Diver, Wreck Diver, Underwater Photographer and eventually a Specialty Diver. No, this does not make you special. You will get another card though.

If, by some miracle, you avoid both these scams then enjoy your dive. Just remember that you are a Diver but if you need some help there are certain things you can do to fit in. In some elitist shops you will be expected to set up your own gear. If you are hazy on the exact order just go for it and pretend that you were testing the rescue skills of the DM. To gain experience quickly, find out where the best sites are in the world and go and dive them. Even if you are only down for a few minutes before running out of air you will be respected for having dived them. At each new diving location, compare it to the best dive you have ever done and question whether you should even bother diving here. No mantas, no whale sharks? What's the point? If you didn't get one during your Open Water Course then buy an underwater camera as soon as possible. Take it with you on every dive; for the best photos you need to be stable, so ignore everyone and everything else in the water and grab hold of anything you can to support yourself. There is usually a reef or another diver handy for this purpose. Whenever you surface moan about how short the dive was as you still have fifty bar left. These techniques should help you quickly get accepted into the diving world.

Now you know it all, so don't fall for those scams, be what everyone wants to be; an Open Water Diver and proud of it. If you are one of the poor, lost souls who couldn't avoid the spider's web then don't despair: they will run out of courses eventually. Probably.
KLJ Diver Travel

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