PADI in Thailand
I learnt to dive with PADI in Thailand in 2005 in crystal clear waters surrounded by tropical fish. It is exactly how the sport is painted by marketing men the world over – stunning and highly memorable.
I was travelling and the only option (I thought at the time*) was to train with PADI. I found this an enjoyable experience, and learned in just a few days. I used the qualification to complete around 40 dives while I was abroad.
Then I came back to the UK. Continuing diving here didn’t immediately occur to me. In fact it took a long while to sink in that there is a really active diving community in the UK. After being told by three or four different people that I should join a club and give UK diving a go I got in touch with the Oxford branch of the BSAC.
I had had a two year break, so my confidence wasn’t high and I was concerned about the water temperature (I’d learnt in 28+ degree C!!). Despite what anyone would tell me I wanted to find out for myself whether I was up to the challenge of UK waters. On my first visit to the Oxford club I was met by several of the most experienced divers I have ever met. They reassured me that the water temperature would probably not be a problem, and encouraged me to come and have a go. After a check-out pool dive I was invited to go for a shallow dive at Swanage, Dorset.
First UK Dive
Newly kitted out (well, second-hand semi-dry suit plus borrowed club kit) I plunged into the unknown – and didn’t freeze! The water in October was a pleasant 18 degrees, which in a semi-dry is absolutely fine. I think around 20 club divers were there on the day, which meant there was always someone to talk to and no shortage of buddies.
After that I had no hesitation in joining the club, and as I write I’ve been a member around a year and half, and done about 50 dives with the club (plus another 40 on holidays abroad). I’ve learned new skills appropriate to UK diving which weren’t taught in Thailand, made lots of friends and done lots of diving. I’m now training to be a Dive Leader (equivalent in the PADI system is Divemaster) – training which would be fairly expensive outside the club.
The experience I’ve had as a PADI diver joining BSAC is that no-one cares about how I learned, they just care about how I dive. To prove a point, I recently joined the club committee – and I’m not the only ex-PADI diver and I’m really enjoying being involved).
Advantages of the Club
As I see it there are several advantages to the club over the way I went diving before:
- No-one is trying to sell me anything!
- There is a wealth of experience in the club, decades and decades – there’s always someone around to answer questions.
- I’ve developed my diving skills, gaining new grades and skills without shelling out (I think one training pack cost me £30 but that is all).
- I have opportunities to learn new things (rescue management, oxygen administration, boat handling)
- I always have options for people to go diving with
- Although there are always new people coming into the club I usually get to know them and get more comfortable diving with them.Gone are the days of being stuck with a random person for a day and never seeing them ever again.
- The diving is pretty cheap – our club boats are only £20 per day (however many dives I do).
- I can test out new kit in the pool every week (I don’t buy it that often, honest)
In summary: there is nothing wrong with learning with any diving agency and there is no stigma in the club however you’ve learned. What is important is an appreciation of what experience you have, and what you might need to learn to do if you are not familiar with UK diving. I found the club environment was an excellent place to do this.
* I learnt on Koh Tao, and I’ve since discovered that there are several BSAC operations there.