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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt

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How-To

Jun 06, 2019

How to Explore the Other 70 Percent of the World

"There was wildlife, untouched, a jungle at the border of the sea, never seen by those who floated on the opaque roof." – Jacques Cousteau after his first underwater experience.

WRITTEN BY

Rocio Gajon Bunker

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Becoming a scuba diver can completely transform your life. Underwater, your everyday troubles can feel immeasurably small and you feel part of something profoundly great.

Learning to scuba dive not only changed my life, but it also became my life. After earning my scuba certification at 16, I knew I needed to become a scuba instructor. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, being a girl, being in Mexico. I had to learn English and earn enough money to buy my diving gear. The only easy part was working hard for something I loved.

Scuba diving will change the way you see things, topside and underwater. The simplest things become extraordinary, even light reflections. Diving makes you feel like a nature expert, an explorer whose every action could be narrated by Sir David Attenborough.

Divers off of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. Courtesy of PADI.

Becoming a diver can change your life out of the water as well. It can be something small like constantly checking your gas when you’re driving or big, important things like rejecting single-use plastics and carrying a reusable water bottle.

When you start finding bottle caps and plastic rubbish at the beach instead of seashells, and when you can differentiate a healthy reef from a crushed or bleaching reef you will reconsider what seafood you eat, what sunscreen you use, and choose eco-friendly tourism destinations for your vacation instead of casinos or big cities.

Click this image to start your open water diving journey, with PADI.

How to Become a Scuba Diver in 3 Easy Steps

The Author: Rocio Gajon Bunker

There are 3 steps to becoming a certified scuba diver. You need scuba certification to book a scuba diving excursion, rent scuba equipment and, perhaps most importantly, dive with confidence. It’s a bit like a driver’s license, but for scuba diving. The open water scuba certification offered by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) is the most-recognized scuba certification in the world, and the scuba program I teach.

STEP ONE: Absorb knowledge
First, you’ll learn about dive theory by studying at home or at a PADI Dive Center or Resort. You can use a book and DVD, or watch videos and complete quizzes online. You’ll learn the fundamentals of scuba diving and preview the scuba diving skills you’ll practice during your in-water training sessions.

Stingrays in Bimini. Courtesy of PADI.

STEP TWO: Get your feet wet

Next, you’ll spend time with a PADI Instructor in a pool practicing and mastering scuba skills that will help you be safe and comfortable underwater. When you feel confident, you’ll move on to step three.

STEP THREE: Take the plunge
The third step is diving in open water. Here in San Diego, we do our four checkout dives at La Jolla Shores, a flat and sandy beach. This is where I get to show students what California diving is all about. We start early to get the best of the tides, wind and swells. We do two dives each day and have lots of fun in between. We bring snacks, take pictures, talk about the marine creatures we saw and log our dives.

A Whale shark. Courtesy of PADI

Depending on where in the world you do your scuba course, you might dive from a boat, into a lake or even slide into some hot springs. No matter where you do your training, learning to dive is a transformative experience you will remember for the rest of your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

The things my students ask about most frequently are really their concerns: fear of the unknown, or uncertainty about their physical ability. I remind them diving is a safe and fun sport provided you follow all the rules, even the simple ones. Listen carefully to the dive briefings so you know what to expect underwater and what to do in case of an emergency. Lastly, always plan your dive and dive your plan.

A Diver with a school of wrasse in Malaysia. Courtesy of PADI

Here are a few of the most common questions I get asked about scuba diving:

Do I need a dive buddy to sign up for a scuba class?

One of the most important scuba safety guidelines is always dive with a buddy, but you don’t need to sign up for a scuba class with a partner. Depending on the size of the class, the instructor might pair you up with another student or a dive professional such as a PADI Divemaster. Once certified, you can join dive clubs to meet people with a ton of experience who will welcome you to the sport and share their knowledge. After all, we were all new divers once.

Do I need to be a good swimmer?
If you are an avid snorkeler, chances are that you will be a great diver. Also, diving is a very accessible sport. It’s not uncommon for people with paraplegia, amputations and other physical challenges to become certified divers.

Every freediving and scuba diving student must demonstrate they can continuously swim 200 metres/yards, or swim 300 metres/yards wearing a mask, fins and breathing from a snorkel. It makes sense, right? After being in the water for an extended period, we need the ability to get back to the boat or shore safely. During your PADI Open Water Diver course, you’ll also complete a 10-minute surface float in water too deep to stand up in. This is possibly the most relaxing test you will ever take.

Divers in the kelp forests off of Anacapa Island in California’s Channel Islands. Courtesy of PADI.

What if I have medical issues?
Completing a medical questionnaire is part of signing up for a PADI scuba diving class. People with certain medical conditions must get a doctor’s approval to learn to dive. It’s better to be safe than sorry. If you have concerns, ask a PADI Dive Center for a copy of the questionnaire so you can review it with your doctor. If your physician isn’t familiar with scuba diving and its effect on the body, they can consult with a medically-trained diving professional at Divers Alert Network.

How often do I need to dive to keep my certification current?

Your scuba certification never expires; however, it’s important to keep your diving skills sharp. Let’s say you haven’t been diving in six months or more; it’s better to do a quick scuba refresher in the pool rather than discover you forgot how to clear water from your mask when you’re in the middle of a dive.

What if I see a shark?
As every diver knows, if you see a shark you must immediately reach for your camera and prepare to take an awesome shot because you are the luckiest diver ever! Sharks are strong and elegant swimmers, but also very shy. In fact, most are terrified of humans and their noisy bubbles. Sharks are the keepers of the reef and seeing sharks during a dive is a sign of a healthy reef and an eco-friendly diving community.

Divers observing black tip reef sharks in the Bahamas. Courtesy of PADI.

Nearly every dive spot in the ocean has a local shark population. Here in San Diego, our dive sites are home to seven gill sharks, leopard sharks, horn sharks, angel sharks, swell sharks and guitarfish (a type of shark). Most don’t grow larger than 1.2 metres/4 feet long.

How is freediving different from snorkelling and skin diving?
Snorkelling is all about observing the reef from above. You wear a snorkelling mask and smaller fins and it’s a very relaxing experience.

Click this image to start your open water diving journey, with PADI.

Freediving requires skill and proper training. The PADI Freediver course can help you develop the knowledge and techniques to maximize your time underwater on a single breath. It’s a graceful sport that lets you get much closer to nature than scuba or snorkelling, but it can’t be done for long periods because your body needs rest from the stress of breath holds.

Oh, the places you’ll go…
Becoming a scuba diver has paid off beyond anything I could have imagined when I was young. They say when you have a job you love, you’ll never work again. Thanks to the dedication, commitment, sacrifice and passion, the tides brought me to San Diego, California where I work as a PADI dive instructor and instructor trainer. It is also where I met and married the love of my life and dive buddy, Jeff Bunker.

The underwater world is a beautiful realm hidden from the masses who are content to float on the opaque roof. When you need to forget all the stress of a long week, when you are feeling overwhelmed, remember there is a place where our problems don’t matter. For those who crave an escape from mundane, terrestrial life, scuba diving is the ultimate getaway.

Starting the dive in Grand Cayman. Courtesy of PADI.

You can follow Rocio Gajon Bunker on Instagram here, or to get started with your new diving journey, click here.

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How-To

Sep 28, 2019

Learn How to Climb Like Alex Honnold (but with a rope!)

With the success of Free Solo and climbing's admission into the 2020 Olympics, interest in this sport has never been higher, so here are 5 simple steps to do it for yourself.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

You’ve just finished watching Alex Honnold’s Free Solo on El Capitan. Your hands are sweaty from holding onto the armrest so tight, your jaw is sore from clenching your teeth together, and you feel slightly nauseous from the knot that has formed in the pit of your stomach. But despite all the physical symptoms of anxiety you are experiencing, you still feel that aching urge for an experience. It doesn’t need to be exactly what Honnold is doing… a rope and belay partner would be nice! But you are curious. You start by googling “Rock Climbing”. Then “Yosemite”. Then “Yosemite Rock Climbing”. You soon realize you are in way over your head.

So, how do you start? How do you get into rock climbing?

Hopefully, this guide will help you figure out where to start.

Step 1: Find a local climbing gym

Google “rock climbing gym in _(your hometown)_”. Find a friend who also wants to try it out, and go! Don’t bother buying any gear yet. You can rent it there.

When you arrive at the climbing gym, make sure to express to the gym employee that it is your first time, that you have no idea what you are doing, but you are excited to learn! They will most likely be able to point you towards a class, clinic, or private lesson that will teach you how to tie into the rope for safety, how to belay, and several simple climbing techniques.

Your first time climbing (before you take a class) will most likely be a bit of an ego hit. The gym employee will most likely give you a pair of rental climbing shoes and lead you towards the easier bouldering routes. These routes are shorter walls over padded flooring. You don’t need a rope for bouldering, which makes it more accessible to beginners. However, due to the walls being shorter, the routes are often set to be more challenging. They are often more powerful and require better technique than roped routes. For this reason, your first time climbing might be difficult. But don’t be discouraged! This is how it goes for everyone.

Step 2: Take a clinic

Your local gym will most likely host various classes and clinics throughout the week to teach belay skills, climbing techniques, and strength training. Sign up for a belay class, take a technique clinic, and go from there!

Step 3: Buy some gear

Climbing gear can be bought in phases. Phase one is the beginner gear kit – shoes, chalk, and a chalk bag.
Go to your local gear shop – preferably a climbing-specific shop if there is one near you, get an employee to help you, and try on as many different brands, sizes, and models as you can. Every style of climbing shoe will fit your foot differently, which is why it is important to try on different styles and sizes to make sure you get the right one for your foot shape and size.

Phase two of climbing gear is buying a harness, belay device, and locking carabiner. Do this after you have taken a belay clinic, so you know how to safely tie in and use the ropes at the gym, and how to use a belay device.

Next stop, El Capitan!

Phase three will happen once you start leading and climbing outside. You might start out by just buying a rope and a set of quickdraws, but as you develop your climbing skills, you will slowly start buying more gear. Helmet, more shoes, a new carabiner, a rope bag, more shoes again, daisy chain, a new backpack… and eventually you will start building a trad rack, and your simple life as you know it will be over and all you will think about is climbing.

Step 4: Get a membership to the gym (and hopefully make friends while you are there)

The best way to get good at a new sport? – Do it a lot!
Get a climbing gym membership and go 4-5 days a week. Boulder, top rope, lead, whatever you want to do while there… just go! Try all the routes – not just the ones that you can easily finish – but all of them. Challenge yourself to step outside of your V0-V2 comfort zone and hop on a V4 or V5. Watch how other climbers move their bodies and position their feet to make the moves, and copy them. You might learn some cool techniques that make the routes easier and more fun.

While at the climbing gym, try to make some friends! Maybe post in a local climbing Facebook page that you are a newer climber looking for belay partners at the climbing gym, and possibly looking to learn how to climb outside as well. Most climbing communities are very friendly, and people are often stoked to take out new climbers and show them the ropes (pun intended)!

Step 5: Go outside!

Now that you have found a solid group of friends to climb with, get outside!

Next stop, El Capitan!

Cover Photo: The author, Brook Hess. Photo by Gillian Ellison.

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