It’s not a simple choice although many would suggest that the obvious path would be to enroll immediately in some type of next level training course. While that may meet the expectations and needs of some divers, others are less inclined to re-enter a structured program requiring class attendance and weekend diving activities that fit a strict curriculum so soon after soldiering through a regimen of Boyle’s Law, mask clearing, and skills learning with not much emphasis on the pure fun aspects of breathing underwater.
Reality is a tough mistress and there’s no escaping the absolute need for first time diving students to be made minimally competent in academics and scuba skills within the typically brief window allowed during most entry-level dive courses. Although good instructors will do their best to ensure that elements of fun are included, they also must keep a diligent eye on cramming a lot of newly learned (and not too natural) behavior into four or five dives in site conditions that may be dark, cold, or simply boring. That’s the hard facts of teaching students to dive anywhere but regions where more optimal local sites are available.
So you just proudly stowed your c-card in your logbook, you liked your initial exposure to diving and want to do more. What next?
There are several options you may want to consider:
1. Enroll in a continuing education program, e.g. advanced diver or photography, perhaps.
2. Join a local dive club or store sponsored dive group for nearby regional dives.
3. Sign up for a tropical dive resort vacation in accessible areas like the Caribbean or Bahamas.
4. Take the plunge into a specialized liveaboard diving vacation that will provide maximum diving opportunities.
Of course, any choice you might make will be the right one if it meets your personal expectations and budget. And you absolutely need to stay within the limitations of your existing experience. Don’t think that you are ready to go off to the Galapagos or Coco Island with the minimal dives you did in entry level training. But let’s make sure your decision is reached with as much information as possible.
I’ve always viewed the entry level c-card as a learner’s permit for the new diver to now use to gain experience and additional “field time” as he adds bottom time to his logbook. If you passed your entry-level course but had some problems mastering academics or skills, then going the route of structured advanced training may well be the best avenue since it will provide the opportunity to make mistakes under the supervision of an instructor’s watchful eye. This way any gaffes can be turned into positive learning experiences instead of potentially stressful or crisis-inducing incidents.
If the certification process was something you were comfortable with and you feel that you attained not only competence but confidence in your ability, you might be well served by getting involved in club or store sponsored dives where you’ll have the chance to do some diving purely for fun and build your practical experience along the way. These types of activities also afford the chance to dive with others more experienced who can act as informal mentors and make diving more enjoyable. And hey, the social elements of a weekend diving can be great fun, too. That’s part of the sport that should never be overlooked.
One of the best ways I can think of to combine a great vacation in a wonderful setting with diving is to go to a specialized dive resort. Here you will enjoy the traditional luxuries of tropical island settings, food, and hotels with a daily dose of diving that can be exactly matched to your comfort zone. Dive resorts are used to servicing neophytes and making their transition in the sport an easy and exciting experience. It’s a no-brainer: they want you to have fun and come back again.
Resorts provide dive sites and staff matched to your ability. And as you dive two or three times a day you will be astounded at how quickly your own skills and confidence develop. Most dive vacations allow for at least a dozen dives or so. That’s more than twice the number typically offered if you signed up for most advanced classes. You might begin the week on a protected shallow reef and finish your trip diving the more demanding sites as your experience grows.
The apex of the dive vacation pyramid can be found by signing up for a liveaboard vessel as your resort home for a week. This offers even more diving opportunities and you can log up to two dozen dives in sites less frequented by land-based operations. You’ll refine buoyancy control, surface entries and exits, setting up and breaking down your gear, interpreting your dive computer… all in a “real world” situation. And modern liveaboards offer amenities and living accommodations that rival many island hotels. You’ll dive your ass off, get pampered by a doting staff, and feel like a budding Cousteau at voyage’s end.
You can further your diving education effectively through experience that can be just as meaningful initially as jumping right into an advanced course that may not provide as much practical time in the water. Local dives, resort vacations or a liveaboard dive vessel will build experience, competence and confidence in a unique social environment. The path to total enjoyment of the sport has many forks. Plan your route to meet your expectations not just to add c-cards to your wallet.
Whether you choose the next dive course level, a weekend with the locals for a beach dive, or opt for a fast jet to a palm frond-framed sandy beach somewhere in Margaritaville… remember it’s all good experience and will make you a better diver. It’s your sport: enjoy it on your terms!