I always thought snorkeling was “good enough.” I’m a lazy tourist. Strapping weights and an oxygen tank to my body seemed like a lot of effort. Taking a whole three-day certification course sounded daunting. So when my friend and I arrived in Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines, we went to Seaquest Dive Center and rented two snorkel masks (150 Philippine Pesos). They asked, “You sure you don’t want to dive?” and we replied in unison, “No, no, snorkeling should be good enough. We don’t know how to dive anyway…”
Moalboal is famous partially due to the ginormous sardine school residing in front of Panagsama beach, and we were going to snorkel with some sardines. We could see the schools moving through the cloudy salt water and were impressed, but had an inkling we were missing out on the full experience. When we returned our masks, the friendly dive instructors were surprised with how quickly we snorkeled for. We explained that the waves were rough so we couldn’t see that much.
At this point, they told us about an introductory dive session the next morning- it sounded ideal: only 30-45 minutes of explanation (shorter than an university lecture) and then we’d get to dive around the “house reef” and through the sardine school offshore. They offered us a discount since we were staying next door, only 2,800 Philippine Pesos each, so we said “hell yea.”
The next morning, my friend and I each got our own instructors. They strapped us into our wetsuits, booties, scuba vests, and oxygen tanks and led us to the beach. Once in the water, we learned two ways to clear the respirator under water. They also taught us two ways to clear our masks if they filled with water- important for defogging or if we had a leak 20m underwater. These were the only skills we’d need for our introductory dive, since our instructors stayed with us and monitored our pressure and buoyancy the entire dive.
We were right: yesterday we were majorly missing out. We’d entered a whole new world. The ability to look up at fishies swimming totally blew my mind. We swam through the sardines, enthralled by how their school would split up into silvery blobs but never completely break apart. It was better than a Discovery Channel special- we were in the action! And the experience was even better documented than a Discovery Special.
The best part about our mandated scuba guides was that they doubled as professional photographers and videographers. If you have an underwater camera, definitely bring it along. Make sure there’s plenty of room on your memory card because the guides recorded the entire experience- my mom will be proud, but I hope the public never sees how awkwardly my limbs flop under the sea.
When we resurfaced, my friend and I couldn’t stop raving, “Woa, now I get how people become addicted!! I want to get certified and scuba the world! WOW” Our first-time scuba experience was more than “OK” – it was superb.