One of my big goals in the last couple of years was to get scuba diving certified. Having the money and the time at the same time made it something I just talked about for literally three years. I decided this year I would put the money aside and just book the classes far in advance. I kind of have to make myself do things I want to do sometimes, procrastination is not my friend.
Anyways, I live in central Florida, so what better place to get scuba certified than in the Keys? We booked the classes at Rainbow Reef Dive Center, booked a hotel, and that was that. Since we planned so far in advance we intended to stay 5 nights and do some snorkeling, maybe a boat tour (I haven’t been on a glass-bottom boat since I lived in California many moons ago), and hopefully do some paddleboarding. True to form for me, nothing worked out as planned. However, we DID get certified, which was the main goal so happiness and joy. Planning ahead has never been a huge thing for me; a quick change of plans can be taken in stride.
The first thing I learned about scuba diving? The equipment is HEAVY when you aren’t in the water. Like I’m going to have to start doing a ton of squats to safely walk around with it. The second thing I found difficult that I thought would be easy was simply putting your face in the water and breathing. My first reaction was – I can’t do this. But it got easy quickly. By the time we were done getting certified I was already looking for where we could go do our first dive.
To get scuba certified you need to first take online classes. You can take them on site too, but I didn’t want to waste Key time. Some of the classes are pretty technical (math and what was basically word problems) and some of the classes just talked about equipment. There’s a pretty fair mix. The classes take several hours, so if you go this route be sure to start a week or two before you go.
After passing the exam and filling out some online forms, you can get to the (more) fun stuff. It’s typically two days, with two pool dives each day and five open water dives split between the two days. You practice everything you are going to do in the open water portion in the pool first. Logical. Something I didn’t read in the classes – you need to be able to tread water for 10 minutes the first day of pool dives and swim 200 yards the second day. The instructor kept us occupied during the water tread so it didn’t get boring. The 200-yard swim wasn’t bad since it was in the pool. I did see another class do theirs in the lagoon – soo happy I didn’t have to deal with the salt and the chop. It’s still very doable because you can swim any way you want, you just aren’t allowed to drown. Fair enough.
We picked the Keys to get scuba certified (it’s a four-and-a-half-hour drive for us) to see that beautiful blue, clear water. Of course, it was super windy with 4-5 foot swells and all of the boats were canceled. As was everything else water-related. So. We did our open water dives in an extremely murky lagoon, with visibility so poor I thought I kicked the bottom only to find out it was just my own fins hitting each other. It’s a learning curve, what can I say? We didn’t see a single fish or anything else, but we did get certified. The instructor we had was absolutely amazing and to be honest we were so busy learning that not having anything to look at and get distracted by may not have been such a bad thing.
The boats weren’t canceled until right before we finished our first day’s pool dives so we ended up doing all of the pool dives in one day. There wasn’t time to schedule an alternate. I kind of appreciated doing all of the pool dives first. I felt more prepared to do the open water dives, though I can see the advantage of splitting them up. Padi only allows you to do 3 open water classes in a day so an extra day was added and we did three the first day and 1 the second. It was a lot to learn fast!
There were no skill tests in the final dive, just practicing buoyancy and making sure you knew how much air you had when asked and such. It was basically a swim around the bottom of the lagoon. It was fun and relaxing to know I didn’t have to take off my mask underwater or do some other test. This was the swim where I decided I needed to plan my next dive! Even being unable to see much it was just strangely relaxing to just swim around for 20 minutes concentrating on how my breathing affected my depth.
I still want to see that clear blue water though, and maybe even some ocean life, so we’re planning on going back for our advanced scuba open water cert in a few months. Wish me luck with the weather!
Here’s what you need to know to play tourist:
100 Ocean Drive
Key Largo, FL 33037