Scuba diving is one those awesome hobbies that you tend to hear your friends talking about rather than doing it yourself. I have to admit that when my brother decided to take it up around 10 years ago, I actually didn’t want to do it at all. The thought of getting eaten by a shark, losing your goggles or running out of oxygen filled me with dread – I guess the James Bond movies took their toll on me at the time. Alas, 10 years on, I have realised how ridiculous my fears were.
In a bid to lead a more interesting life in Hong Kong, in August, I decided to go for my PADI Open Water licence. Did I go to the Philippines or Thailand? Well, actually I learnt and passed in Hong Kong. I know what you’re probably thinking: why Hong Kong? You’re a two-hour flight away from both countries and you prefer to scuba dive in Hong Kong’s less than satisfactory waters? Yup. Aside from the thrill of taking the 1A minibus from Choi Hung to Sai Kung, there were actually quite a few benefits of doing my PADI in Hong Kong.
Benefits of doing it in Hong Kong
First and most obvious is that you are surrounded by a ton of sea right now! Yes, the quality of the sea is not great, but if you’re looking to do a training course, the quality of the water is not of paramount importance. Although not comparable with the Great Barrier Reef or the sea off the east coast of Taiwan, if you dive in the sea around Sai Kung, you won’t be entirely disappointed. When I did my two test dives, I was very fortunate to see some starfish, crabs and even a seahorse!
Second, as an extension of the first point, Hong Kong is good for training. As many of us know, getting time off is hard won, and although training abroad may seem a good idea, to really make the most of your time diving abroad it is better to know how to dive in the first place. If your training courses are anything like PADI, getting certified involves a certain number of hours of theory as well as practice sessions in a swimming pool. Considering that you should not fly within a day before or after a dive, it is proves more economical to learn while in Hong Kong itself.
Taking the plunge
The opportunity really came about when my friend asked on Facebook whether there was anyone who was willing to learn to dive with him. Having been previously apprehensive and craving for a bit of excitement in my life, I decided to join with a degree of fear. My friend was a local who knew a diving instructor at a local school who provided the theory, pool training and sea training for HKD 3,900. Having looked online, this probably seems on the more expensive end of diving certifications, but considering it is a PADI, I was willing to pay.
Although I thought the theory sessions would be a bit dull, actually it was quite eye-opening. Forget the sharks! One of the most important things you need to remember as a diver is air density. Having not done particularly well at chemistry in school, I was quite surprised to learn that the deeper under the sea you go, the denser the air becomes. When you resurface, the air increases in density – which is problematic if you hold your breath as approaching the surface. As my instructor said, your lungs would burst like a balloon for doing such a stupid thing. Okay, noted – never do that!
Of course, with this warning and more, it made me even more scared to try out the real thing. Yes, the equipment looked heavy, and yes, I thought I would make a terrible mistake. However, trying it out in the pool was so fun. I struggled a bit with buoyancy at first, which is pretty crucial if you want to stay at a consistent depth, but I eventually got the hang of it and was soon going through the water as seamless as an otter! Wonderful!
Diving in the sea can be a bit of a difference experience. Visibility was low and things could quite easily go wrong. Though once I found my buoyancy, and after I changed my goggles, actually it was so easy and amazingly tranquil. Finally, somewhere in Hong Kong where there is no noise! It was quite remarkable what I could see under the water: there were a lot of different types of fish which we saw and even the occasional coral in bright green and red colours! We used the opportunity to circuit around and go to different depths to get a broad experience of diving. We even did role play scenarios where we took our equipment and masks off and put them back on again. An hour underwater really does fly by!
Ultimately, I felt that doing the PADI course here really helped to overcome my initial fears. I learnt how to clear my mask under the water. I learnt how to signal for help and what to do if I was in the unlikely situation of running out of oxygen. Doing all this in Hong Kong enabled me to pace myself and absorb crucial information about this really exciting hobby. Funnily enough as well, you are surprised by what you see and experience. In short though, I enjoyed learning here and I feel it is useful that we have the sea around us here to practice for those dazzling trips abroad. I don’t regret doing the course and in fact I am thinking about doing my advanced open water dive in the future!
If you are interested in doing the same course, I used Diving Express, but there are other providers around who offer PADI training and others.