▲ At Little Munseom off the Seogwipo coast, Ralf Deutsch (above right) prepares three Scuba classmates to take a giant-stride entry. Right, once wet, members wait for final instructions to descend below the surface. Photos by Danielle Richardson
“Is there anything you want to do before leaving Jeju?”
Now I find myself being asked this question more frequently as the days remaining in my contract whittle down to nothing.
My answer was to get an open-water Scuba diving certification. Exactly 10 years prior I received my first one. It was my last one-credit university course before graduation, emerging from the final dive in the frigid waters and snowy conditions of Lake Pend Oreille close to the northern Washington and Idaho state border.
That diving card never saw the daylight again nor could I locate it back home if I tried.
Solution: Get another one, since I had no current skills and can actually use it this time.
On Jeju, there are options for learning to Scuba dive if one is Korean. But, as a foreigner, there is only one choice because of the instructor’s English ability, ethical standards, experience and affiliation with a worldwide organization. All foreign Scuba divers on this island know Ralf Deutsch (of Big Blue 33 in Seogwipo) who is licensed by the National Association of Underwater Instructors.
In April, I found myself one member in a four-person class with three young giggling good-hearted European women, two dive instructing helpers and Deutsch, a long-time German resident of Jeju.
Here is a brief overview of what occurred during the five-day course.
Day 1 – April 16, Hwasun Beach
The first day was full of trial and error. It was a bit chaotic at the dive shop before we headed out to Hwasun Beach. All students had to be fitted for a wetsuit, mask with snorkel, fins, booties, hood, weight belt, and a vest called a BC, or a buoyancy compensator.
Classroom instruction was given so students could understand all parts of the gear and how to operate the cylinder and regulators, which would allow us to breathe underwater.
Most importantly, Deutsch massaged any fears of being eaten alive by sharks in Jeju waters for some panicked classmates.
In the tightly-packed van, we pressed on to Hwasun to find a lot of busy buildings. In less than a year-and-a-half, this beach has gone from wilderness to something akin to a haphazard tourist water park, cruise ship dock, and shipyard all rolled into one. The end result of this was little visibility for a Scuba diver to practice the first day’s skills. The longer the drive, the longer it was possible to pick the instructor’s mind about life on Jeju.
Day 2 – April 17, Hwasun Beach
Just like the day before, same routine. The biggest factor was trying to adjust to breathing below the surface. It’s not a natural feeling. The first thing a person wants to do when underwater is come back up and breathe natural air, not a mix of compressed oxygen and nitrogen from a cylinder tank.
Skills practiced included what happens when the regulator comes out of a diver’s mouth, how to find it if it is missing, how to clear it of water, and how to use the backup, called an octopus.
Mask clearing and how to control a BC to become weightless by controlled breathing ensued.
Days 1 and 2 were heavy on the bookwork and basic skills.
Day 3 – April 23, Little Munseom
The adventures really began. We had to load all the gear from the Seogwipo port onto a boat and it shuttled us about 10 minutes to Little Munseom. Upon arrival, we unloaded everything. There were a lot of people around on this little piece of rock. In Korean circles, it was “Skin Scuba Family Day” according to their banner.
Each diver has their own dive computer; a large watch that records vital information. For this day’s first dive upon resurfacing, mine read 23 minutes dive time, a maximum depth of 16.6 meters, and a water temperature of 14 degrees Celsius.
As a group, we survived, learning a giant-stride entry to get into the water, and soon after we went below along a descent line to the uneven seafloor. Unfortunately, I was a bit frustrated, as there were many other groups of people around in the water, and I discovered cutting in line in Korea is not only reserved for queues in the supermarkets and airports.
Equalizing the pressure in the ears was a constant worry as was trying to become familiar with all the equipment and what a person should be doing at every second. Much flailing of classmates’ arms and legs was witnessed. Eventually, up the ascent line we all went.
Day 4 – April 24, Little Munseom
During the first two-dive day, this is where many things changed.
It was possible to look around a bit and see the beauty of Jeju below the surface in the best place possible, probably in all of Korea. There are forests of kelp, endless purple corals, medium-sized fish and schools of little ones whizzing by. A misshapen jellyfish announced that it was there and that we were invading its space. Another world opened up. This one was real.
The combined underwater time was one hour, one minute. We worked on neutral buoyancy and adjusting weight belts.
Day 5 – May 5, Little Munseom
Two more dives to make it, officially, five entered in the dive logbook. A final written test before a shiny new license was issued. On this day, we did an emergency swimming ascent from 6 meters followed by a free descent sans any help from a rope.
Finally, a simulated out-of-air situation and an octopus ascent with the instructor was the final skill completed.
Not being neutrally buoyant (either too heavy resulting in sinking to the bottom, or being too light meaning rising to the surface) was a struggle for many of us during classes. On the last dive, I found myself unexpectedly surfacing when I should not have.
There is a lot to learn from Scuba diving. It, like the oceans, is almost endless. It forces you to learn about other people, yourself, the mechanics of diving, and the underwater world. Connections exist among it all.
Obviously, Scuba diving may not be important to every foreigner, but completing the last rites before exiting this island is worth it, no matter the cost.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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At Little Munseom off the Seogwipo coast, Ralf Deutsch (above right) prepares three SCUBA classmates to take a giant-stride entry. Right, once wet, members wait for final instructions to descend below the surface. Photos by Danielle Richardson
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