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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

Jun 18, 2019

Five Ways to Improve Your Underwater Photography

Fly, float and roll with these tips to capture your sublime subjects underwater.

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WRITTEN BY

Prathibha Easwaran

Most of us spend too much time in our day worrying about things in our life that are happening on land. Then there are those of us whose imagination trails off to what lies beneath the vast blue extents we humans refer to as ‘water bodies’. When nearly seventy percent of the earth is covered with water, it’s hard to ignore the world beneath that could be explored. When peering out over a large body of water, whether it be the ocean, a sea, a lake or a river, one can not really comprehend what might lie beneath the waves. All faiths that have ever come upon the earth have considered water as holy and account for its healing characteristics. Many have taken inspiration from its fluidity. For those of us passionate about underwater photography, we venture below to capture a glimpse of a moment within this alien world. With experience, we learn the techniques to return to land with the snapshot of a lifetime.

“Remaining steady might seem a laughable.”

The way life thrives underwater, with the slow dances of kelp, the tickling in your ears by fish crunching on coral, the distant call of a whale, all in the sublime silence borne by the pressure of the water, is quite the contrast to the world we live on land. The land is engulfed with loud motors, machines and human chatter. On the contrary, the water is home to peaceful silence which brings us divers a calming sensation of awe and wonder.

Of course, it is sad to note that most of our trash is directed to large water bodies, polluting what’s left of Earth’s beauty. Turtles with straws stuck in their nostrils and whales swallowing hundreds of plastic cups, nets, bottles and much more are not new to us, yet we let this atrocity continue as we can’t hear the cries of the beings underwater.

“You never know when a stone you’ve been staring at was actually a local resident in camouflage!”

With advanced technology so readily available, almost every vacationer brings along their trusty action cam. Although available in many models, the most popular by far is the GoPro. After all, there’s no better way to relive a memory than via a video or picture. Whether you are working with a GoPro or another brand, the following tips can help you make the most out of your undersea memories.

1. Be Steady

With a current against your elbow, and breathing with your mouth closed, remaining “steady” might seem a laughable suggestion! However, it is possible, this skill just takes time and practice to hone. No matter how well an action cam is designed to stabilize, it always helps to consciously be graceful and steady with your movements.

When shooting video, make a game out of it, try to feel the flow and movement of the water. Feel your pulse synch with the current.

When shooting photography focus on slowly exhaling, whilst keeping an eye on the viewfinder and subject of your shot.

You might consider it to be a smart idea to invest in a camera mount for action cams. Something that you attach to your head or chest, but the latter don’t provide much control over what one captures. Instead, especially for beginners, consider the wrist mount. If you’re comfortable holding it with your fingers, then that’s an option too, but be sure to attach it to a water-float. We don’t want memories forever lost down in the depths of the ocean.

2. Roll… Continuously. 

Keep that camera on. This is a good tip for a beginner cinematographer. Try to perfect your movements, but keep capturing marine life as you do it. You never know when a stone you’ve been staring at was actually a local resident in camouflage! Of course, when using this strategy, be prepared with an extra battery.

If you’re on a holiday and need extra batteries, worry not, almost every dive shop and local diving community has camera outlets. Even our phones can double as underwater cameras if dressed in the appropriate housing. Just make sure that you test your gear in a controlled environment before taking it into large areas of water.

3. Fly and Float

If you’ve ever gone SCUBA diving before, I’m sure you understand the weightlessness one feels whilst underwater. Use this to your advantage and drift around. Whilst diving, alternate distances between yourself and your subject, switch up the perspectives. Shoot through plants, corals and rock structures, just make sure you don’t drift too far away from your dive buddy.

If in a pool, practice by trying to shoot midway through the surface of the water with the help of a dome. Alternatively, shoot from the floor, use water toys, or even your buddy’s legs. The number of perspectives you can capture is endless! Move around and try to frame around your subject in a way that seems aesthetically appealing to you.

4. Lighting

Lighting is hard enough to perfect on land, let alone underwater, but practice can improve your results over time. Good visibility and the sun are your best friends while shooting underwater. According to the Tyndall effect, with its gorgeous shimmers, water bends light to create different shapes and patterns, teasing the lens. If you run out of daylight, or go on a night dive, the next option is to carry a waterproof light during your shoot.

5. What to shoot?

The ocean is so vast, that it’s not unusual to be caught by the beauty of a shot that has nothing but just blue within it. Often such a shot is quite breathtaking, with the sunlight streaking into the abyss, the underbelly of the water shimmering down onto the sea bed. The lack of a subject is substituted by the subject instead being the beauty within the frame. Usually, whilst in the ocean, the major subjects are divers, boats and aquatic flora-fauna. Observe the behavior of beings and try to capture their presence by framing their movements.

In a pool, the best way to avoid empty shots is to be prepared with props, a friend or both. Try creating a story with your shots. Focus on the different elements and use any light to your advantage.

Everything underwater is slow, but if you stay in control of your own movements, this slow motion can be translated into graceful content.

Ready to take the extra step? Edit your pictures and videos.

First of all, understand that upon descending into the water, a loss of colour is inevitable. Reds turn to browns for example. Fortunately, there are solutions, such as shooting with a red filter. If not, one may also choose to add the same effect in post-production when you’re back in front of your computer.

Sound mixing can really enhance the cinematics of your footage. The sounds captured from beneath the ocean by divers is usually the sound of their breathing, motors of boats, a distant call of a sea creature and maybe the crunching of corals by fish. Consider adding these sounds in small doses, with careful volumes to the edit for full effect.

Every score has the goal of enhancing the experience of your audience. Dulled out tones, muffled sounds and slow music usually achieves the purpose. You might also add informative voice overs if you’d like to share the thoughts you had during a dive.

There are many methods to optimize your underwater memories, and those above are just a few for beginners to get their feet wet. Something new is learnt on every dive, so get out there, practice and experience those magical undersea moments.

 

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