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The next best thing to flying – going scuba diving under the surface of Samui’s sea!

The next best thing to flying – going scuba diving under the surface of Samui’s sea!Ever since Man first gazed up at the stars, he’s longed to be able to soar freely into the sky. This is now possible, of course. But piloting your own light aircraft is beyond most people’s means. Whereas the alternative, ‘flying’ under the surface of the sea, is not.


Scuba opens the door to an underwater kingdom, providing a far wider range of experiences and sensations than snorkelling ever can. It’s an out-of-body sensation: a Zen-like experience as you glide through the water, listening to your heartbeat and watching your breath taking shapes with the bubbles. Fortunately it’s really easy to find an introduction to this just about everywhere on the island.


There are starter courses which simply let you get the hang of things – usually a day-trip out to one of the islands. There’s no theory involved: you’ll do a couple of shallow-water dives, have lunch thrown in, and after a pleasant trip head back again. Although, if correctly documented, this will count as one of your dives to qualify for a recognised dive certification.


For this you need to get yourself on a basic course which expands your experience, and shows you how to set-up and use the equipment. It won’t take up a lot of your time – usually over a period of three or four days. During this time you’ll have successfully completed four dives out at sea, under controlled conditions. Note that there are several training agencies, the main ones being the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and Scuba Schools International (SSI). The information here relates to the morecommonly- found PADI.


You’ll start off this Open Water Diver certificate (OWD) in a swimming pool (but not if you’ve completed an introductory course as above) usually with a couple of other beginners and a qualified instructor. This will cover the basics and last up to an hour. And then it’ll be followed up by time in the classroom, covering the theory of what you’ve been doing. There are eligibility conditions:P104-2 you don’t actually need to be able to swim to experience and learn to use the equipment, although some schools are stricter about this than others.But to qualify for the OWD you’ll need to prove you can swim at least 200 metres and also tread water for 10 minutes.


Also, age can sometimes be a concern, and some schools won’t accept novices over a certain age. Likewise if you have any health issues, such as asthma or heart problems or show signs of being a heavy smoker! But once you’ve satisfied the requirements and obtained your OWD, it’ll qualify you to dive anywhere in the world with a dive partner or a professional, up to a depth of 18 meters (60 feet). And then, if you wish, you can go on to the Advanced Open Water Diver training (AOWD), refining these skills and allowing you to explore a broader variety of diving techniques and experiences, to a maximum depth of 30 metres (100 ft.).


Of course, if you’re already at this stage, you don’t need to know this. Nor do you need to be told that you can progress on to being a Divemaster, a Master Scuba Diver, or even on to technical specialisations or rescue.We take a look at why Dr Frogs’ superb restaurant continues to excel!


There are many dive schools on Samui, and your best bet is to spend time online, checking TripAdvisor or Facebook to find one which seems to suit you. Read the criticisms carefully: the most-common one is that the groups are too large. The smaller schools don’t own their own boats but have contracts with local boatmen. This obviously increases costs and the usual way to offset this is to cram as many students as possible into the boat. For the same reason, be careful with anyone advertising lower dive or training prices: the chances are they’re similarly cutting corners to remain competitive with the bigger companies and attract custom.


However, if this is all new to you, then it might come as a surprise to find out that the best dive spots are quite a long way from Samui. Closer to Koh Tao you’ll find outstanding dive locations such as Sail Rock, Twins, Chumpon Pinnacle or Shark Island – now you’ll understand why some of the less-reputable outfits try to cut the costs of getting you there!


Prices vary from one company to another, and also quite often according to the season. But as a general rule of thumb, expect to pay around 6,000 baht for the one-day introduction to scuba, and more for the longer and more-detailed PADI certified OWC, probably between 18,000 and 20,000 baht. But, having successfully qualified, you’ll be totally ‘under the moon’!


Rob De Wet


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