A Whole New (Underwater) World

There are more dive shops in Vava’u than there are gas stations or bakeries.  It’s not hard to figure out why since divers from all over the world come here to enjoy the warm crystal blue Pacific and the colorful coral and marine life that live beneath the surface.

And because not a lot of divers make it here, the coral is pretty much undamaged from human contact and the different species of fish are amazing.

Since I have been in Tonga, I’ve been snorkeling a number of times and have immensely enjoyed the view from the surface, but I finally decided I wanted to go a bit deeper so I’ve been taking classes to get my PADI Open Water Scuba Certification.

Saturday, I took my last class and walked away with my certificate, but also a lot of great memories of life underwater.

Steve Swimming with the Fishes

For all of our classes, the ocean has been incredibly clear, but that was not the case for the last class.  We’ve had lots of rain here in the past week and the water was murky limiting the visibility underwater.

I look the class with my fellow volunteer Stan and an Australian friend named Emma.   Our instruction, Riki, who runs the Riki Tiki dive shop snapped these photos of us underwater.  (You can reach Riki at 70975.)

Stan, Emma and Steve pose underwater


Emma and Steve swim on the ocean floor

I have to confess I was nervous about taking diving lessons.   There are no recompression chambers in Tonga and it can be scary to think about being so far underwater and running out of air.

However, Riki is a great teacher and always made us feel at ease.    As part of our training, he had to turn off our air underwater, make us share air with a buddy and we had to take off our masks and air supplies while underwater.   At every step, Riki first explained at the surface what was going to happen and then once underwater, he demonstrated what we were supposed to do before he asked us to do the exercise.  It was a great confidence builder and none of us ever felt uncomfortable doing anything we were asked.

Stan gets some last minute instructions from Riki

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some problems. (Perhaps challenges would be a better word).  I had trouble getting equalized to the underwater pressure a couple of times and learned that I needed to dive down a bit slower than my friends.   

I also struggled a bit learning to take off my weight belt on the ocean floor and then putting it back on the correct way.  For the record, I always got it back on, but it took me a while to be as graceful doing it as Riki wanted.

Steve, Emma and Stan after finishing their dive

I feel very fortunate to have found an instructor as skilled as Riki here in Vava’u.  I had to miss our very first class because I was sick and Riki was great about giving me a private make-up lesson so that I could catch back up.

Now that I’m certified, I am already looking forward to my next dive.   There are so many great places to go here, the hardest part will be figuring out which one to explore first.

In case you were wondering, there are four dives shops in Vava’u, three bakeries and two gas stations.

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