Completing my Open Water Scuba Diving Course with Dragon Dive Komodo was my first foray into the underwater world. Indeed, Komodo National Park is often considered one of the world’s best dive locations, and two days was enough to fall in love; in love with the bizarre and unique life I discovered there; in love with the vibrant corals and the energy of the fish; and in love with scuba diving, the sensation of observing a world we don’t belong in, where few people ever get to experience. Now, a certified Open Water Diver, I’ve been given the keys to access this world for the rest of my life.
Requirements for Open Water Diver Qualification
Dragon Dive Komodo is an officially-licensed SSI dive centre, which means the requirements are standardised and the qualification recognised internationally. SSI qualifications are equivalent to, and interchangeable with, PADI qualifications.
To become an Open Water Diver, you must:
⁃ Complete a theory course, and pass the subsequent test.
⁃ Complete a series of skill-based lessons in shallow water.
⁃ Complete 4 open water dives.
In the Pool
When first learning to dive, breathing underwater feels unnatural. Simple tasks such as taking your breathing regulator from your mouth, or removing and replacing your mask, can seem very intimidating. Some dive centres practice these skills in the shallow water of the sea, but I felt more comfortable learning in the controlled environment of the specially-designed Dragon Dive swimming pool.
One-half of the pool was shallow; we could kneel on the bottom, watch a demonstration from the instructor, and then practice ourselves. It was reassuring to see the surface just above us; were we to have panicked, we simply had to stand up. Once more confident, we headed into the other half of the pool, which dropped away to 3 metres, and performed the skills again.
After a single afternoon in the pool, we were prepared! If we lost our breathing regulator, we could recover it. If we ran out of air, we could ask our buddy for help. If our mask became flooded, we knew how to expel that water! From now on, the remaining two days would be spent diving in the ocean proper, an exhilarating prospect.
I was given access to the online course, so had covered the theory before arrival. Reading and watching the videos took several hours until my brain was overloaded with new information, but I felt more equipped to go scuba diving afterwards. Mini-tests at the end of each chapter ensured I had understood correctly.
When I arrived, Manu, my driving instructor, covered the more important parts again, and clarified any areas I found confusing.
I passed the test (wahoo!) which meant it was time to go diving!
Open Water Diving
From Labuan Bajo, gateway to the National Park, it was a picturesque 1-hour boat journey coursing between the myriad of islands to reach the dive sites each morning. Not a bad daily commute! In fact, on Dragon Dive’s spacious wooden boat, this was a comfortable and enjoyable part of the day. I would lounge on the sundeck with a book, have a chat and a coffee with some of the other travellers stoked to be diving here (doughnut, banana, tea and coffee station kept topped up throughout the day), or just gaze out at the tropical islands and inviting waters, and contemplate how lucky I was to be here!
We did 2 dives on Day 2, to a maximum depth of 12 metres, and 2 on Day 3, down to 18 metres, each dive lasting approximately one hour. We learned some new skills, practiced some of what had been covered in the pool, but the focus was on having fun!
Until you have seen the underwater world with your own eyes, I don’t think you can possibly imagine just how much life there is down there, and how beautiful everything is. Fish, of all colours, patterns, shapes and sizes, dart about in every direction, weaving between corals, which are just as varied as the fish. And this was happening all around me, a 360-degree panorama of frantic activity as far as the eye could see (which was a stunning 30-40 metres visibility). I felt as though I had been shrunk, and dropped into an aquarium; everything seemed too perfect to be completely natural.
It was the big animals that really got my heart racing. I was told we would see sharks, turtles and manta rays, though I didn’t allow myself to get my hopes up. It seemed a bold promise.
On the second dive, I jumped from the boat, and dipped my face into the water. Below, I watched the enormous shadowy figure of a shark stealthily gliding in the depths. We descended down, knowing there was a shark somewhere around us. For a very relaxed sport, my heart was beating pretty fast and adrenaline surging through my body, as I thought of the shark’s fearsome reputation. Somewhere in the distance, I could hear the ‘Jaws’ soundtrack.
Related: Komodo Liveaboard Diving
An even bigger shark appeared and swam mere metres from me. I was hypnotised with awe by its confident, brutish swagger through the water. Unlike the other fish which seemed oblivious to me, the shark knew we were there. And he also knew he was the boss.
On the same dive, we saw 4 Giant Turtles. Despite their size, about 2-3x larger than I had expected, they are the most graceful of creatures. I watched intently as one took off from a bed of coral with a single step, and drifted slowly up through the water column, as an angel might ascend to heaven.
On my final dive, just as I was running low on air, a manta ray swooped in above me, its 4-meter wingspan casting a shadow over me. At last, I had seen sharks, turtles and manta rays, the bold promise of my instructor fulfilled. I broke the surface with a huge grin; it had been another epic dive, and I was now a qualified open water diver. My joy was bittersweet; I didn’t know when I’d next go diving, but already, I couldn’t wait!
Related: Best Scuba Diving in Indonesia
Bonus Trip: Walking with Komodo Dragons
I couldn’t go to Komodo National Park and explore the amazing wildlife of the water, yet miss out on one of the most incredible creatures of the animal kingdom above land. Of course, the Komodo Islands, are home to the Komodo Dragon, the world’s largest reptile. Dragon Dive added this trip into the daily schedule, once enough people showed interest.
We landed on Rinca Island, and were met with a guide wielding a long stick, which admittedly, didn’t seem like the most effective defence against these beasts, capable of growing to 3 metres, with deadly bacteria in their saliva.
As we hiked across the dry landscape, the dragons were easy to spot. Firstly, they really are massive, and secondly, with no predators, they have nothing to hide from, and they seemed happy plodding through in the open. We hiked for one hour, and saw 15 komodo dragons, a dragon nest, and even a fight between two mating males. It was incredible to see their size, and the confidence with which they roamed.
Dragon Dive Komodo Prices (as of September 2017)
Discover Scuba Diving Course – $90
Open Water Diver – $450
Advanced Open Water Diver – $455
Once you are a certified Open Water Diver, you can enjoy;
2 dives – $120
3 dives – $130
For more information on Dragon Dive Komodo, check out their:
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Dragon Dive Hostel
While in Labuan Bajo I stayed in the newly-opened Dragon Dive Hostel, which was so colourful it looked as though a rainbow had exploded!
After a day spent diving, the Dragon Dive Hostel was the perfect place to return to; less than a minute’s walk to the beach, and the night market (which serves Flores’ traditional Ikan Bakar – Grilled Fish). Clean, comfortable rooms centre around a swimming pool, a bar where you can enjoy a chilled Bintang and savour the live reggae music which pumped out most evenings, or pool tables to challenge your mates when you weren’t diving. It was a dream place to chill out and is something I highly recommend.
Dragon Dive Hostel Prices
Dorm Room – $17 per night.
To check latest prices, you can check: Booking.com
Related: Where to Stay in Labuan Bajo
Komodo National Park’s reputation for world-class diving is well-deserved. And best of all, you don’t have to be an expert to access it; even if you’ve never dived before, like me, you can complete your Open Water Diver course and share the same waters as sharks, giant turtles, manta rays, and colourful corals and fish, all on your first day. By the time you finish, I’m sure you too will have fallen in love with the wonderful underwater world.