Where’s Wallis? Doing an open water diving qualification in Sydney

Diving. From my limited experience I have a love-hate relationship with diving. Whilst I absolutely love the idea of exploring the ocean depths and seeing all the amazing nature, I also hate the idea of not being able to surface whenever I want to. I understand that this is irrational, since you have a whole tank of air on your back, and most likely multiple people with you who also have air, but I think it’s instinctive to find it uncomfortable being fully submerged in water.

I’ve tried it twice before. One unsuccessful, murky, cold altitude dive in a volcanic lake on my 25th birthday in Guatemala, and one more successful taster dive when on a sailing trip in the Whitsunday Islands.

Lago De Atitlan
Lago De Atitlan
Wings Sailng Adventures in the Whitsundays, Australia
Wings Sailng Adventures in the Whitsundays, Australia

Whilst on previous travels I’ve been tempted by open water courses, but have never wanted to dedicate 4 days of my itinerary and several hundred $$$s to it. So when I found out I could get the open water qualification done in one weekend in Sydney, with the dive shop literally 5 minutes from where I live, there wasn’t much excuse not to get it done.

Dive Centre = Pro Dive Coogee

Cost = $299 AUD

Course = Open Water Qualification

Certifying Body = SSI 

Note I was confused about ’SSI’ previously as I believed that ‘PADI’ was the qualification. It is used almost synonymously with the Open Water qualification since most people do their Open Water course with the PADI Certifying Body, however, you can do a Open Water course with multiple organisations and upon completion be certified to dive to 18m.

Pro Dive Coogee
Pro Dive Coogee

It was a full on weekend!! 6.30pm – 10pm Friday, 7.30am – 6.30pm Saturday and Sunday.

In order to fit the course into one weekend, we had to do a heap of online theory in advance. To put a positive spin on me being poorly and housebound all of the Australia Day long weekend, it meant I was able to power through the 6 or so hours of online training.

Friday night:

On one of the hottest Sydney nights on record, we crammed into a small classroom at the rear of the Pro-Dive shop (not before cramming myself into a wetsuit to check for size for the weekend!!)


We were given a briefing about ProDive as a business, SSI as a Certifying Body, and did some more theory. Then we had an exam. I don’t think I’ve done an exam for a few years now! 

Not to sound cocky, but these sorts of exams are usually pretty simple…multiple choice, and a huge cross section of the population ‘has to’ be able to pass in order to do the course…I’ve met a few divers who seem a few corals short of a reef let’s put it that way.

But it was actually pretty damn hard. I may have shot myself in the foot somewhat by being over pro-active (shock) and doing my online theory 2 weeks in advance of the course, whereas most people do it the night before.


I was back at the shop what felt like like a few hours later at 7.30am. We set off promptly and drove to Victoria Park Pool. My first time there, it was very similar to Prince Alfred Pool but has a 3mtr deep end, so is a good starting spot for diving. 

It was a 40+ degree day in Sydney, and as religiously as I applied suncream I couldn’t prevent a little forehead burn due to hours bobbing about on the surface. 

First we did a swimming test, 200m with no stopping. Next we did a few hours of ‘skills’, things to get you ready for incidents that could happen in the ocean (losing your air, losing your mask etc). 

The first time we went down to the bottom of the deep end I couldn’t get one of my ears to ‘equalise’ (pop). I tried for a while and it was just hurting. The instructor came to the surface with me and said “Well if you can’t equalise then you can’t do the rest of the course”. Fair, but ouch. I had visions of having to call Ben to get picked up and just failing the diving course at the first hurdle 😦 

Thankfully after a couple of minutes of resting my ears on the surface I was able to equalise, and didn’t have any issues for the rest of the weekend. Pheewy.

There were 18 people doing the course in total, and 3 instructors, so a 6:1 ratio which was pretty good. Our instructor was very good, he was a fellow accountant, so of course I trusted him 😉 

Learning navigation from Instructor Phill
Learning navigation from Instructor Phill

We left the pool about 2pm and drove to Malabar where we were doing our first ‘real’ dive. I felt far happier just swimming around the ocean than filling my mask up with water and all that jazz. For all the more experienced divers out there…how often have you actually had your mask come off during a dive?

We saw a little Octopus, and just as I was about to get out I saw a Wobbegong shark! It was weaving between all the swimmers, and just made me realise how much of the time there must be creatures below us in the ocean that we’re totally oblivious to!

Wobbegong. I like them because they're almost leopard print!
Wobbegong. I like them because they’re almost leopard print!

It is amazing how quickly you get cold in the water though. Your body loses heat 25 times faster in water than air (boom 1 mark for the exam). So even though it was high 30s outside in the late afternoon, I was shivering by the end of the dive.

We had 5mm wetsuits. When I was in Iceland we went to the Silfra Fissure (between 2 of the tectonic plates!) where the water is only a few degrees even in summer, so we’d worn dry suits. They had to continuously remind everyone “Do NOT pee in your wetsuit” because apparently every trip someone does…and it’s embarrassing for everyone when you take the dry suit off and have a big old wet patch. No-one wants to sit next to you on the minibus home that’s for sure!

Dry suit chic
Dry suit chic

After trudging back to the van with our gear, disassembling said gear, driving back to the shop, and helping them unload, it was 6.30pm. Time for some fish and chips and a good snooze.


We were all told to be back at the shop for 7.30am. One of the potential dive sites was Gordon’s Bay, which is also 5 minutes down the hill from mine. I wondered why we couldn’t just meet at the dive site but discovered:

a) The site was only confirmed last minute dependent on currents and conditions on the day;

b) They want to get you to the shop to sell sell sell!

Whilst the safety and quality was in no way compromised by doing a cheap(er) course, the experience was perhaps a little by all the sales. I completely get it, that from a business perspective if you are offering a course at cost, or with little margin, then you want to peddle the things you will actually make money on (i.e. gear and follow on dive packages), but when we STILL hadn’t left the shop by 9.30am I was somewhat, to say the least, raging!!

So. Much. FAFF
So. Much. FAFF

Luckily that was abated when we got to our dive site for the day, Camp Cove. Somewhere I’ve actually never been before, despite cycling Watson’s Bay hill next to it over 50 times

Camp Cove
Camp Cove

We did 3 dives on Sunday. The first involved repeating the pool skills but in the ocean. It also included something that will rank high on my list of unpleasant life experiences:

We had to fully remove our googles, 3 metres under water, and swim 10m BLIND!!! It gave me the tiniest insight into how terrifying it must be to be vision impaired, and how vulnerable you feel. Given my poor sight I was wearing contacts, so couldn’t really open my eyes underwater, so I just had to cling to my buddy’s arm (who also was mask-less) and pray for the best!!

The second dive we finished off all our skills, then did our ‘deep dive’ to 11m. This was dark, cold and murky. Living in Australia I’m certain there are better places to dive than Sydney harbour, but none more convenient right now.

When we were at our deepest my mind did get the better of me a couple of times, as I thought how I had no option but to continue with the group, even as I felt very nervous. I think if I had bright colour and fish to distract me I would feel far happier and not over-think it at all, so now I just have to go and put the qualification into practice on the barrier reef!

Some of the class :)
Some of the class 🙂

We got back to the shop and then had to do a tonne of paperwork before finally being release, newly certified, about 6.30pm Sunday evening. 

The ideal place to spend a heatwave weekend!! 😀

Feeling of success after the final dive!
Feeling of success after the final dive!


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