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- Hunter S. Thompson



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.


Rocio Gajon Bunker

Presented by image

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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Jun 24, 2019

Dealing With Dietary Restrictions In The Backcountry.

Gluten intolerance, vegan, Halal, nut allergy, dairy-free, Kosher… whatever your dietary restrictions may be, you don’t have to let it hinder your ability to get out and enjoy the backcountry!



Brooke Hess

We spoke with expedition whitewater kayaker, Ben Stookesbury, about his experience of maintaining a vegan diet on long kayaking expeditions. As a guy that needs to hike to remote rivers, nutrition, to maintain endurance is key. As Ben’s puts it “I began going after rivers that had not yet been explored, and quickly realized the endurance component of carrying a heavy kayak – sometimes days into a wild river or around unrunnable stretches of river – was the key to the mission”.

Read Next: Adventuring On A Plant-Based Diet With Ben Stookesbury

We took Ben’s advice and put together some tips for dealing with your dietary restrictions in the backcountry.

Photo: Brooke Hess

Preparation is Key

It’s easy to head to REI and buy the pre-made freeze-dried backpacker meals. They are easy to prepare, lightweight, and a quick cleanup. The cons? They are expensive, kinda gross, and most likely don’t comply with your food intolerances or restrictions! So, instead of doing that, just prepare your own meals!

Plan your meals ahead of time, so you know exactly what ingredients to shop for before you go on your trip. Crack a bunch of eggs into a nalgene for scrambled egg dinners. Portion out oatmeal, nuts, dried fruits, and chocolate chips into a ziplock for breakfasts. Make your own granola bars, jerkey, and bread for sandwiches. Know exactly what food you will eat for each meal while you are in the backcountry, and prep it accordingly.

For Stookesbury, planning and preparing his meals before a long trip “takes some focus and forethought… but it feels quite empowering to be so much more cognizant of what I am putting in my body, and obviously there is simply no longer the need to eat much of anything that has all those nasty preservatives.”

Go With Good People

Unfortunately, some people are not as accommodating of food restrictions of others. I can’t say why, but some people think of food restrictions as “picky eating” and “high maintenance”, rather than a serious medical need or a spiritual belief. The fact that you may get seriously sick from eating gluten, or go into anaphylactic shock from your food being near peanut butter might not quite register on their radar. It doesn’t mean they are a bad people, but it might mean you avoid going on long backcountry trips with them in the future.

Alternatively, there are many people out there who are WONDERFUL to plan trips with. They will go out of their way to make sure you have the food you need, and will often sacrifice their own meal plan in order to include you in the group cooking. These people are the best, and you should keep them in your contacts for future backcountry trips. Sharing food and coordinating meals with the group will save both time and weight while carrying food into the backcountry, so going with good people who don’t mind accommodating your dietary needs is key!

Photo: Brooke Hess

Make Time For Three Full Meals A Day

No NOLS-style meal plans here. Stookesbury says one of the most important parts of expeditioning is “planning the time to eat three tasty meals a day.”

Give yourself enough time in the morning to cook up a hot breakfast. Plan a one hour stop mid-day to prepare a sandwich or wrap for lunch. Give yourself enough time in the evening at camp to cook a meal of veggies, protein, and carbs. Without the ease of the freeze-dried backpacker meals, you will have to put more time into your meal prep. But don’t worry, you’ll be happy you did when you are eating a freshly-prepared meal of roasted veggies and quinoa!


Find a bar that works for you. And if you can’t – make your own!

I have spent the past year searching for the best gluten free and dairy free bars. I want the maximum amount of calories and protein, in the smallest possible package. As soon as I found one I liked, I ordered it in bulk on Amazon. I now have a stash of 50+ energy bars in my truck ready to be packed into a drybag, backpack, or ski jacket as soon as the need arises.

If you can’t find one that works with your diet, or can’t find one that you like – make your own! Any combination of dried fruits, nuts, oats, honey, and dark chocolate can make a damn good energy bar. You can find recipes online for homemade bars, then substitute various ingredients to make it work with your diet.

Stookesbury prefers the trail mix method to energy bars. “Nuts, dried fruit, and vegan chocolate is my personal substitute for an energy bar, and I call it a homemade energy bag! Keeping that ‘Power Bag’ of nuts, dried fruit, and some quality chocolate is a good way to keep your energy up and make snacking easy.”

Other popular snacking favorites include jerky, chocolate-covered almonds, cheese sticks (if you can eat dairy), and nut butters.

Photo: Brooke Hess

Be Prepared To Carry More Weight If Needed

I recently met a woman who has developed a severe allergy to all red meat, due to a bite from a Lone Star Tick. If she eats beef, pork, lamb, or any other red meat, she goes into anaphylactic shock. Even if her food is cooked in the same cast iron pan that has recently been in contact with red meat, she could go into anaphylactic shock. For these reasons, whenever she embarks on a backcountry expedition, she brings all her own cookware (and an EpiPen, just in case). She has learned to be adamant about her dietary needs on trips, and often prepares her food separate from the group. She is well aware that her food restrictions might force her to carry more weight than other members in her group, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuing her pursuit of overnight expeditions!

Photo: Brooke Hess

Examples of Day-Long Meal Plans for Various Diets:

Stookesbury’s Favorite Backcountry Vegan Meal Plan

Breakfast -150g oats, chia, flax, pumpkin seeds, hemphearts, raisins and walnuts (add a little salt).

Snack – Powerbag (nuts, dried fruit, vegan chocolate)

Lunch – Hummus, veg (arugula, beet, carrot, avo) sandwich

Dinner – 150g Rice, lentils, broccoli, onion, garlic, with or without nuts, salt, and olive oil.


TOJ’s Favorite Backcountry Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Meal Plan

Breakfast – Pre-cut kale scrambled with eggs, avocado, and vegan “cheese”

Snack – Bobo’s gluten free oat bars, apple, and dairy-free dark chocolate peanut butter cups

Lunch – Gluten free tortillas with peanut butter and jelly

Dinner – Roasted root veggies (sweet potato, beets, carrots, potato), kale, and quinoa, topped with avocado and vegan “cheese” if preferred.

Photo: Brooke Hess

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