Every time I hear a story about someone having a horrible first-dive experience my heart dies a little.
Unfortunately, these stories are more common than they should be. Last week, two girls stayed with us. One of them was diving, but her friend was not. She explained that she had a bad experience in Koh Tao (Thailand) for her Discover Scuba Dive (introduction dive which may or may not lead up to the Open Water Diver Course). Basically she got paired up with a couple of people that were already certified but hadn’t been diving in a while. They treated her as one of them, thereby glossing over some essential dive theory (like equalizing your ears!) before going into the water and practicing some skills, for which she obviously needed a bit more time than the others since it was her first time using scuba. Naturally she felt rushed, decided to push through anyway, did the skills with some difficulty and then proceeded with the dive.
Because no one told her how to equalize her ears she stayed behind while the rest of the group and the instructor descended further. Fortunately she had the sense not to keep going down to catch up, thereby destroying her eardrums, but to stay where she was until she somehow managed to equalize. By that time the group was already gone and she swam around until she found another instructor, who told her to ascend (alone!) and swim back to the boat (alone!).
What should have been a relaxed, safe, comfortable introduction to scuba diving was a frightening, rushed and panicky experience instead. She decided scuba diving would not be for her and never wanted to try again.
There are so many things wrong with this story that I don’t even know where to start. The major points, however, seem to be the lack of information and the fact that she felt rushed through the skills. These issues are so easy to avoid, just by making sure the instructor provides enough information and by making sure there is enough time to meet each individual’s needs.
So after some talking she decided she wanted to try again. This time one-on-one, with a full briefing including some basic dive theory and all at her own pace. She was brilliant! Did the skills effortlessly, was relaxed, did a 70-minute dive following the skill-practice and absolutely loved it.
The biggest compliment an instructor can get
Unfortunately she did not have enough time to complete the full Open Water Course, but just before she left she gave me the biggest compliment a dive instructor can get: “Thanks, you made diving not-suck”.
This is why I teach. Granted, diving might not be for everyone, but at least everyone should have a first experience with proper explanation, without being rushed and pushed beyond their level of comfort. Every time someone gets turned away from diving because of a shitty first experience I just want to run up to the responsible instructor and shake them until their mask falls off their face.
Diving doesn’t suck. Although it might not always be comfortable, your first experience should be fun, safe, and relaxed. That’s what I try to do: make diving not-suck. Actually, I try to do more: I try to make diving awesome.
How was your first dive experience? Why was it awesome? Why did it suck? Did you try again? Let me know in the comments!