[Preparing to boat dive off Hateruma Island.]
I began learning to dive in 2003 in New Jersey at the Scuba
Connection (Hillsborough NJ), where I did my book and pool work
in preparation for the PADI Open Water (OW) license. I took private
one-on-one rather than group lessons because of my schedule.
Later on, I did my checkout dives at Dutch Springs PA, a former quarry, wearing a 7mm two-piece neoprene wetsuit (14mm torso) and thick hood and gloves with no feel. The water was cold, visibility was poor and the struggle to put on all the gear and lumber down to the water's edge was memorable. There were also virtually no life-forms present in the water to distract one from the training dives.
Fortunately, diving in warmer climes is significantly less of a struggle and I have enjoyed diving in Mexico (San Carlos), Fiji (Manaluca islands), Okinawa (Hateruma and Iriomote islands) and Hawaii since then. I also have upgraded my certification to the PADI Advanced Open Water (AOW) level.
In theory, SCUBA diving is not a strenuous activity. Instead of striving for maximum speed and workrate, one normally seeks to minimize unnecessary motion, air consumption and heartrate. However, prima facie observations can be deceiving.
In practice, I have found that there is a surprising effect on athletic performance. In particular, the power I can put out on a hillclimb, as measured by a SRM professional powermeter that is built into the crank on my bicycle, drops significantly after a dive. I did some informal experimentation with switching the order of diving vs. bike training on alternate mornings and found a consistent and measurable difference.
Comfort and familiarity with equipment is very important for beginners to intermediates like me. I rented for about a year before beginning to accumulate (expensive) diving equipment. We're talking about life-support equipment here, so it's probably worth buying solid and proven gear for peace of mind as well as safety. If you're going to skimp, just rent instead.
Another thing to bear in mind is that the international travel baggage weight limit is generally set at 20 kg (44 lbs) unless one is traveling from the US. Domestic weight limits have also dropped for some airlines to 50 lbs; an important thing to bear in mind when taking SCUBA gear along.
Using a Suunto Vytec dive computer, shown here with the wireless air integration (AI) option eliminates the third hose. I wear the computer on the wrist and it's easy to monitor my tank pressure, remaining non-decompression time, projected remaining air time (based on the last minute's air consumption), depth and dive time without fiddling or fishing for equipment.
Streamlining through body position and the elimination of as many drag items as possible is very important as any swimmer knows. You never know when you have to swim against a current or need extra air-time to get out of trouble.
In the end, the payoff is better air consumption and intuitive levels of familiarity, which makes for a better and more enjoyable dive experience.