Scuba diving certification: At home or in the tropics?
April 6, 2014 12:30 AM   Subscribe

We're planning to get scuba certified. Is it reasonable/recommended to do the first part of the certification (classroom and pool work) near home and then do the ocean dives when we're in the tropics?

My fiance and I are likely headed to Bali and Lombok for our honeymoon, and are considering doing some scuba diving, and if we're going to spend some time learning, it seems like it would make sense to get an open water certification so we could do it again on vacation if we like it. We do have a limited time on the trip, so we were thinking of doing the academic coursework and pool sessions near home and doing the ocean dives once in Lombok -- that way we don't have to spend our honeymoon inside training in a pool.

However, when I emailed a few dive shops on the Gili Islands to inquire, they said that doing the classroom and poolwork before-hand is possible but not recommended because it's better to have the same instructor for the whole time so they can get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses. I don't know enough about scuba instruction to know if that's a valid point, or if they're just trying to maximize their business.

For those who have taken a scuba certification class, my question is which of the following options would be most ideal (both in terms of effective learning and in maximizing vacation fun)?

Option A: Take full class in Bali (would take 3-4 days, and take some time away from other fun activities) - it sounds like we could do the classroom part online beforehand

Option B: Take classroom and pool parts here in California, and then do the ocean dives in Bali (more expensive, but would only take 2 days in Bali so seems like an idea balance; dive shops recommending against it)

Option C: Take full class in California, and then do fun dives in Bali (I'm shivering at the idea of ocean dives in Northern California)

Option D: Do a more limited certification (like the PADI Scuba Diver) that takes less time, but only certifies you to swim under the supervision of an instructor.

Also, if anyone has recommendations on SSI vs. PADI, I'd love to hear them.

Thanks! I've done all the reading on the options, but some recommendations from folks with real experience would be wonderful.
posted by purplevelvet to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I did the padi course in Lombok (on gili trawangan) and would recommend doing it there. The open water course does not leave you so confident that you want to just take off next time, IMO. Doing it on location means that you very gradually progress from pool to a range of dives with the same gear and the same ppl who know how confident you aware, or not, with things like buoyancy. You can be open water certified and still not great with that. So I'd want my instructor to know where I was at.

Re:wasting time- if doesn't take that much time and some of it is theoretical to degrees that you don't need when diving with modern equipment with more experienced divers- using v old school time keepers and compasses, for example. My feeling was that to actually use that level of knowledge I'd need it thoroughly reinforced with many more practice dives. Doing the course with your actual instructors helps clarify that, too.

Do note that the diving in Lombok proper is not suitable for beginners. The islands (gili t etc) are great for learning though. Warm and with easy currents.
posted by jojobobo at 12:42 AM on April 6, 2014

To clarify- because some of the course content is a bit redundant for the average fun diver, it helps to have an instructor there to either explain the tricky bits or tell you not to agonize over how much time, for example, you have to wait before doing a repeat dive at altitude. If I ever dive at altitude, you can bet I am looking that shit up, not depending on my padi course from 2011. So I'm glad my instructor agreed that I could relax on that bit, and I'm glad they were there in person to run through it (and to hammer the really important bits).
posted by jojobobo at 12:49 AM on April 6, 2014

Diving in Indonesia is super amazing, and you won't want to waste any of your dive time doing the skills and drills that are part of class. I would highly recommend you suck it up and do the whole course in CA. If it turns out you're okay with the cold, get in as much practice as possible before your trip, so that you will be more comfortable in the water and can spend your dives focused on looking for cool stuff, not flailing around uncomfortable with your buoyancy.

Also, there's some super cool stuff off the California coast that you just don't see in the tropics -- giant invertebrates, plus the mammals (don't think I've been on a CA dive without a least one sea lion, seal, or otter). As a bonus, warm water diving will seem insanely easy afterwards.

I did my initial training with a PADI shop in MI, and later stuff with SSI (Bamboo Reef in SF, mostly happy with them, feel free to memail about specifics if this is one of the shops you're considering). The curriculum is basically the same, and you'll be able to use either card. Mostly you want to find an instructor that's a good fit for you.
posted by ktkt at 2:06 AM on April 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I did my classroom training at home, in a pool, then hit the tropics. Worked out great, didn't waste vacation time and strongly recommend that route!
posted by slateyness at 4:48 AM on April 6, 2014

I personally did the entire course in the frigid Northeast (I'm NAUI certified, btw), but I knew plenty of people who took the same course prior to a vacation and finished up with the Open Water dives on their trip. There's no compelling reason you shouldn't do Option B, in my opinion. Don't waste time on a beautiful trip in the classroom. You can always do more advanced coursework with your local dive operation if you want to go that route later.

As a new diver, many of your core skills (neutral buoyancy, improved air consumption, for example), are only going to develop with time and experience. If you keep in mind that you're just going to need to log the hours to really get good at diving (I think I was on dive 40-something before I really felt like I "got it"), you can take it easy, follow the dive-master's instruction and guidance, and enjoy the dive component of your vacation. You will not be able to do more advanced dives, but, frankly, it's such a wonderful hobby that your early dives (though stressful because of the newness!) will be exciting and beautiful even though you're a beginner.

PADI vs. SSI -- I'm sure scuba boards are filled with debates over the merits of the various organizations. I only "chose" NAUI because my local dive shop was a NAUI shop. My regular dive buddy is certified SSI and I would say each of our educations were equivalent from what I could tell. Many of the differences appear to be in the different classes you can take and certifications you earn prior to divemaster. I personally did not go past NAUI Advanced Diver with a Nitrox certification, and I've been diving with great success all over the world.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by MyFrozenYear at 6:41 AM on April 6, 2014

I vote C. Good to get practice dives in before the fun trip. Wet suits may be ok for N Cali at this time of year, but if not, dry suits will be fine for above freezing temps.
posted by Jacen at 8:24 AM on April 6, 2014

I'm an experienced diver with 150 hours and PADI (basic and nitrox) and NAUI (advanced) certifications. I recommend either B or C, as it gives you more time in Bali, and still gets you the full cert.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:00 AM on April 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for c and another vote for I just got from google, they are non-profit (padi is for profit) and definitely more focused on diver safety. Have fun!
posted by sexyrobot at 9:49 AM on April 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you checked to see if any local classes have trips scheduled to Bali as part of their certification program? Anything's possible.

I've been PADI certified for years, and I think there's a valid point to option A, with a blend of the instructors knowing you better AND wanting more of your money, but in the interests of time C would be the best option.

You'd just have to make sure ahead of time that the dive shop you go to in Bali is willing and certified to complete your training.
posted by matty at 10:25 AM on April 6, 2014

Option C is the best I would say, as an experienced diver. As for padi vs naui meh... Either is safety and training focused. But do it all now, while you focus on it, while you aren't in a very limited timespan and a whirlwind bit of life ... I would even say not only option C buy be sure to fit in a couple extra dives (doesn't have to be ocean, quarry dives are excellent!) That way not only do you have the cert but also a LOT of confidence too!!!

Congrats on your impending nuptials!
posted by chasles at 10:34 AM on April 6, 2014

What is the time frame? Are you three months out from your wedding, or a year? Option C would be a more attractive option if the open water dives could be timed for, say, September instead of April. The kelp forests down in Monterey are really cool- there is still lots of neat stuff to see even if the dive site isn't a tropical reef.
posted by ambrosia at 1:04 PM on April 6, 2014

Just want to chime in about the CA diving for your open water certification. I did my OW cert dives in a PA quarry in April and it was 53 degrees at the surface, down in the 40s where you had to do your mask/equipment drills. It was incredibly unpleasant, especially because you can only wear a wetsuit at that level of certification (dry suits require another class). It was so cold that I honestly questioned the wisdom of learning to dive at the time. By day two I'd acclimated somewhat, but it was brief dives with my classmates just to get it over with. There was no compelling reason for it and I'd learned no unique skills from those dives that I couldn't have gotten at a tropical destination.

Do your final cert dives in Bali. They'll still have a stress component, but the warm water, calm ocean, and beautiful wildlife will help you fall in love with the hobby for life.
posted by MyFrozenYear at 3:15 PM on April 6, 2014

Also, no matter which option you go with, I'd highly recommend you spend some time with the "What If?" series of posts on Scuba Board (best time would probably be right around when you start or finish your class). It's a wonderful resource for filling in many of the gaps in a standard first course, which just due to time limits, can't possibly cover everything.
posted by ktkt at 9:12 PM on April 6, 2014

I did option C before going to the Maldives in the cold northeast (well, it was cold because I had to do it in April/May). Which was kinda neat, because then I also got dry-suit certified. Definitely recommend that option, and if you have time, do a couple extra dives at home before your trip so you become more comfortable with what you're doing. And yeah, once you get into warm water, you'll be a lot more confident in your abilities and have a lot more fun!
posted by Grither at 5:24 AM on April 7, 2014

Yeah, I'd do it before you leave too. You don't want to spend your time in tropics clearing your masks and doing buddy ascents. The conditions at home will make you appreciate the tropical diving that much more, and you'll be that much more comfortable in good conditions when you know you can handle bad ones (or, at least, less good ones).

The visibility on my second cert dive in San Diego was so bad they had us hold hands on the bottom so no one got lost, and when I hit the water in Fiji a month later, I was blown away. Even with a few dives under my belt, I spent a lot of time fiddling with my buoyancy and gear. It's best to get as much diving done as you can before you go so you're more comfortable under water.

A good diving outfit will ask you about your experience beforehand anyway, so they'll know who and what to watch out for. If you have any concerns about your skills while you're in Bali, tell your dive master, and they can keep an eye on you.
posted by natabat at 1:33 PM on April 7, 2014

« Older Learning to tell good jokes   |   recover a stored password in android chrome Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.