After having dreamed about getting my PADI Open Water Diver certification for years, and getting so close – only to have a damn hurricane ruin my chances of completing the final dives – it took SEVEN years to finally cross off the bucket list item. While I did take the opportunity to participate in various ‘discovery dives’ while visiting both the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef in Australia, I was never fully certified. I kicked myself when I lived in New Zealand in 2012 because I was a mere 2-hours away from some of the best diving that the country has to offer – the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve. Upon returning to Canada at Christmas, I knew that I would be making a trip down to the Caribbean with the sole intention of finally completing my PADI Open Water Diver certification, no matter what it took.
My mother approached me in the middle of January with the idea of going to the Dominican Republic for her birthday – February 7 – and since I was still unemployed, I agreed. I figured this would be the perfect time to complete my certification, and get away from the horrible Canadian winter that we’ve been having. Upon the trip being booked I took the first steps to getting my certification… again.
I signed onto PADI.com and registered for the eLearning course – since all the theory I had completed on my trip to Cabo San Lucas in 2006, was now null and void. Over the following four days I completed the course – finishing my final exam with a 97%.
Once I arrived in the Dominican Republic, I found the dive shop on the resort’s property and immediately signed up for their PADI Open Water Diver certification course. Before I knew it, I was squeezing myself into a wet suit and getting myself in the pool. I put the regulator in my mouth and put my head under the water. I heard the familiar Darth Vader-esque sound of my breathing underwater and with the help of my instructor, spent the following few hours running through the same skills that I had mastered 7 years prior.
A couple days later I found myself in a minibus making my way over to another hotel, where I would be catching a boat and going out into the Atlantic Ocean to perform the first two of my four open water dives – this was the stage I had not quite gotten to those many years ago. I got all geared up with my wetsuit and BCD on – and before I knew it I was heading down the beach and onto a dive boat. After a good fifteen minutes of navigating out way through the extremely rough waters the captain cut the engine and hooked the boat up to our dive line.
This was it.
With my flippers on I awkwardly shuffled over to the doorway, held onto my mask and regulator with my left hand and my weight belt with my right and took a giant step forward.
The water splashed around me and I started floating. I made my way over to the instructor who was holding onto the dive line. He briefed me on the skills we would be performing on that particular dive. We gave each other the final signals and before I knew it I was deflating my BCD and slowly submerging under the water. We slowly made our way down to a depth of twelve meters and that’s when I had the same familiar completely in-awe feeling that I felt on my previous dives in Australia’s open waters. I saw many beautiful fish and corals swimming about around me and I couldn’t help but feeling a peaceful calm wash over me.
That day was a success – I easily completed my tasks, such as taking off my mask and clearing it, achieving neutral buoyancy (where you’re neither floating upwards nor touching the ocean floor), and proving that I knew what to do, should I run out of air mid-dive.
I booked my two following dives to be done on Isla Saona, about an hour and half from Punta Cana. Isla Saona is on the Caribbean Sea, where the waters are crystal clear and a lot calmer than the ocean. A few days later I made the day trip out to Isla Saona where I was to complete my PADI Open Water Diver certification. I – along with a father and son from Germany – were to be completing our certification. So once again, like the previous day of diving, we were going to complete a number of dives during the day where we would prove that we had the necessary skills.
Once we got into the water, though, everything came pretty naturally. After swimming alongside stingrays, lionfish, trumpet fish, sea stars, beautiful coral and even a massive hermit crab during three dives, I was overjoyed to finally have completed my PADI Open Water Diver certification.
It took seven long years, two attempts, a hurricane evacuation, two discovery dives on some of the world’s best reefs … but I finally got it. I can finally say that I am a PADI Open Water Diver and I can finally cross off number 8 from my bucket list. Hurray!!!