Going scuba diving has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, but having lived most of my life in the Midwest, I had no idea when I would be able to make this dream a reality. I certainly didn’t imagine moving to the Cayman Islands would be the factor that ultimately pushed me to do it. But now, here I am living in the Caribbean and what an amazing place to learn how to dive! While I am quite familiar with water sports and have done my fair share of snorkeling, I really had no concept of what a PADI certification would entail. Heck, I didn’t even know what PADI meant. (cough, Professional Association of Diving Instructors, cough, cough). That being said, this blog will serve as a written account of my experience (the good, the bad, and of course, the ugly), as well as a little guidebook full of tips and tricks to navigating this experience while living or visiting Grand Cayman.
How much does it cost?
There are two parts to getting PADI certified – you first complete an online course followed by an in-person training. The price of the online course is $190 USD and the 3-day in-person training (including pool skills, four dives, and ALL the equipment) is $215 (180 CI).
Where did you get certified?
While Grand Cayman has many excellent dive school options, we signed up with Red Sail Sports, which is quite a popular choice on the island. Our instructor, Alex, was top notch and the whole experience was a very positive one from start to finish. I would definitely recommend Red Sail to anyone living in Cayman or visiting the island.
Is it really worth it?
Of course, diving is not for everyone. Many admire the ocean from afar, but I’m not sure everyone is meant to go 60 feet beneath its surface. I can only speak from my own experience and this was my take: to me diving feels like entering into a world where I am no longer human. (Wow, melodramatic much?) I am doing something that instinctually, feels impossible — breathing underwater. Everything is quiet, time slows down, and I feel more peaceful and in-the-moment than I even knew to be possible on land. What’s more, I get to see and experience all the beauty of the Caribbean sea — its shipwrecks, its coral reefs, and its diverse marine life.
Sounds great, how do I get started?
Step 1: First things first is signing up for the PADI online course (Open Water Diver)
This is completed and paid for independent from the dive school of your choosing. We decided which school we wanted before signing up but you could always do the online portion first and find your school later. The course consists of 5 sections, each with a short quiz. At the end, you take a 50 question exam which you need to score at least a 75% on. It takes anywhere from 10 to 16 hours to complete the whole course so I would not recommend leaving it until the night before… (ahem, BRYAN).
Step 2: Choose a dive school
As mentioned above, we went with Red Sail Sports but there are many schools on island that offer PADI certification. Cayman Diving School, Turtle Divers, Divetech, DNS, Ocean Frontiers, Eden Rock, and Deep Blue are just a few examples to get you started. They may vary in price slightly but you will find their overall training structure to be quite similar.
Step 3: Get training!
As I mentioned, the in-person course is 3 days in length. With Red Sail we completed most of our training at Sunset House, a restaurant and dive resort in South Sound. On the first day, we completed about 5 hours of pool training (uff-dah). On day 2 we completed 2 shore dives and on day 3 we put all our skills together with 2 boat dives.
What to expect:
Being a swimmer and water enthusiast, I have to admit I went into the training a bit over-confident. I was not totally prepared for the challenges that a PADI certification would entail. Yes, the instructors are fun and want you to enjoy the experience, but they are also preparing you for any little thing that could go wrong while diving. That being said, there are certain skills that for some people (apparently all the men in our group) are seamless and easy…but for others, (me) cause a good deal of anxiety or discomfort. Namely, when we had to completely remove our mask and put it back on underwater. Despite these challenges, walking through these emergency situations step by step definitely helped me to feel more confident and equipped in the water. Overall I would say the training is very do-able and straightforward.
WOW, tiring (but rewarding)
I would recommend not scheduling many other activities for the 3 days that you are in the training. Why? Because it TOTALLY wipes you out. All you will want to do when you finish is eat everything in sight and pass out. And actually, you feel okay doing that because on average, a scuba diver burns 400-700 calories per dive. 2 dives per day and you have yourself a pretty solid workout!
They provide everything! If you have a nice mask or fins that you use for snorkeling, you can bring them along with you. But if not, they provide mask, fins, wetsuit, and of course all the dive equipment (BCD, weights, regulators, etc).
- Day 1: 8:30 am – 4:30 pm
- Day 2: 8:00 am – 1:30 pm
- Day 3: 9:00 am – 1:00 pm
Tips and my personal advice!
Bring snacks, water, and sunscreen!
During all 3 days of training there will be small breaks, not long enough to eat lunch but long enough for a protein bar, piece of fruit, Gatorade, or maybe some cookies! But try not to bring anything that will melt as you are outside in the sun all day.
Hydrate! Before, during, and especially after
While diving you can become dehydrated quickly due to environmental factors (sun, salt, wind) as well as by breathing dry, compressed air from the tank. All of this considered, you should be hitting the water hard at any and all opportunities.
Go with a good friend or your partner
All 3 days you will have an assigned “buddy” who you do all your pre-dive checks with and many of the emergency skills. Of course, it’s okay and could even be nice to buddy up with a stranger but for me it was very comforting to have Bryan as my buddy (we get along pretty well, I guess), and it helped me get through some of the tougher skills.
If you get seasick, take non-drowsy Dramamine (even for the shore dives)
Even though we didn’t go on a boat on day 2, I felt nauseous just from being on the wavy surface for a few minutes. Another trick of the trade that our instructor shared with me is ginger. They sell ginger root tablets at the grocery store but I happened to have fresh ginger at home so I made myself a mango, banana, ginger smoothie about an hour before the boat (along with a non-drowsy Dramamine) and felt amazing the whole day.
- Seeing turtles, stingray, barracudas, a mermaid statue, and two nurse sharks!
- Overcoming a fear: I was truly scared and anxious when it came to removing my mask underwater. I had to really focus and dig deep to be able to do it at 50 feet. But not only did I do it, I did it with composure and confidence which felt pretty amazing!
- Our instructor Alex was actually the best! We couldn’t imagine a better teacher for our PADI certification
- If I wasn’t tan enough before, I definitely am now! Also, my hair is looking a lot more blonde so basically I got free highlights. I mean, this course really does pay for itself
- Burned calories without trying: As I said before, divers can burn 400-700 calories per dive and even though the equipment weighs a lot on land, in the water you are weightless. Essentially, we burned calories while being incredibly lazy underwater. What more can you ask for?
- A new appreciation for the island: If you think the island is beautiful on land, just wait until you see what it has to offer just off its shores!
Your dive certification awaits!
If you are someone who has been on the fence about getting PADI certified, I hope this article serves as the inspiration you need to take the dive! It is a certification that never expires and can be used anywhere in the world. Getting certified means becoming part of a dive community whether it be in Cayman or around the globe. It grants you access to explore a world that would otherwise remain completely unknown. Pictures and videos are nice, but wouldn’t you rather see it for yourself?