All Posts By

Vandit Kalia

Scuba Diving Articles

We’re a PADI 5 STAR DIVE CENTRE!

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Hello everyone!
We are pleased to announce that effective immediately, we have become a PADI 5-STAR DIVE CENTER, and are going to be offering exclusively PADI training for recreational diving (although if you have already booked an SSI course with us, don’t worry – we will complete that course with you).
As many of you know, we have been a SSI Platinum Instructor Training Facility since 2009 and a SSI Dive Center since 2005 – back then, we were a small dive center struggling to establish ourselves and the Andamans on the diving map, and the flexibility and support SSI Thailand, led by their head, Gary Hawkes, showed us was an immense help as we grew to where we are.    And we’d like to think that we have since then contributed in our own way to helping SSI develop a presence in the country.   So this was a decision that took us a long time to reach.
In the end, the decision to go PADI was driven by the question that drives every aspect of our operations:   how can we offer the best training to our divers?
Over the past decade, the training curriculum of the two agencies have converged fairly significantly, both in terms of training and also costs.  It no longer made any sense for us to offer 2 agencies, and deal with the complications of 2 separate sets of paperwork, processes and instructor rosters.     Streamlining to one agency helps us standardise and improve the efficiency our own course processes, in terms of structuring water sessions, classroom time and skills development.    Also when all instructors are working from the same baseline in terms of course structure, we are better able to disseminate our institutionalised best practices for each of those courses.      Lastly, it also helps us to manage the complexity of conducting training across 5 different locations (2 in the Andamans, 3 in mainland India).
Ultimately, we felt that the structure of the most recent version of the PADI courses allowed us to cater to the needs of our student divers more effectively, and also matched our own internal philosophy of what it takes to train someone as a qualified diver (and not just a certified diver), and we decided the time had come to make the switch.
One other benefit of this is that we will now be offering PADI Instructor Development Courses as well, for those of you who want to become instructors.   As the largest diver training agency in the world, the PADI instructor rating is probably the most coveted and professionally useful of recreational instructor ratings, and we look forward to providing this training to our divers.   More details on this coming soon as well.
PADI has made a tremendous commitment to developing the scuba diving industry in India by focusing on improving quality standards and creating more environmentally AWARE divers, and we are very excited to work with them and help shape the future of the industry into one where more and more people adopt it as a lifestyle (and not just a one-and-done program served as part of a package tour) and also become ambassadors for the ocean and its marine life.

Underwater Naturalist Specialty Course

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Have you had a desire to learn more about marine life than just names and signs of the top 10 most popular fish? While there are training programs out there, these tend to be fairly general and not in-depth enough.
We’re super happy and excited to announce that we’ve developed our own naturalist program, designed and refined over the course of 8 months by our in-house marine biologist, Chetana Purushotham.

The objective of the program is to teach you more about the underwater world – how it works, what the various inter-dependencies are, how to identify various fish families and how to critically evaluate a reef ecosystem.  In short – to take you from being a passive spectator to a trained observer, and you can apply this anywhere in the world you go diving.

More details here. DIVEIndia Underwater Naturalist Program

6 Adventure Sports you cant miss in the Andamans

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6 Adventure sports you can’t miss in the Andmans
I may be biased, but in my opinion, the 2 best things to do in the Andamans are dive and then relax on the beach with a nice book.   That sums up the island experience that makes these islands so magical – the easy-paced lifestyle, the greenery and the lack of nightclubs, bars and other bastions of “modern civilization”.
That said, we are willing to accept the possibility that some people – strange as it may seem – will not be satisfied by this, and are actually looking for things to do which keep them busy and also let them explore the islands in more detail.  Fair point – i am congenitally incapable of sitting still when i am on holiday, and the idea of spending my entire vacation loafing by the beach or poolside doesnt work for me either.    So here are some suggestions on a few things for the intrepid island explorer to do in the Andamans.
1.   Scuba diving: 
Ok, we are kinda belaboring the obvious here, but for good reason.    There are very few places in the world which have a similar amount of bio-mass on the reefs, thanks to the fact that there isnt a lot of large-scale trawling here.   Enjoy it while it lasts, because there aren’t many places in the world which offer this.   And diving is an activity which has many levels – ranging from easy guided intro dives for beginners, to more immersive programs for people more interested in the underwater world (and willing to commit the time to the sport).    So really, if you are coming all this way, do take advantage of this and dive.     Do keep in mind that diving is not a commodity activity – just as 2 colleges arent the same and the quality of professors has a great effect on a student’s experience there, not all dive centers are created equally.   Do your research (and this is true not just for the Andamans but everywhere in the world).       Diving can be done in Havelock (the best established dive destination in the region), Neil or Port Blair.
2.  Snorkel:
Snorkeling is often considered the “lesser” cousin of diving, mainly because it isnt as immersive – you are on the surface, looking down at fish, where on scuba, you are down there surrounded by the fish.  That’s a fair point.  On the other hand, diving is equipment intensive and somewhat limiting in terms of schedule, whereas snorkeling is something you can do almost anywhere there is a beach and at any time that is convenient.   You don’t need a lot of gear either – just mask, snorkel and fins (these can be had for very cheap, but we recommend getting slightly nicer gear from established manufacturers like Aqualung and Mares – they will last longer and be of better quality).     Snorkeling can be done in Havelock, Neil or Port Blair.
3.  Kayaking:
This activity is still in its infancy, but Tanaz Noble, of Andaman Kayak Tours, runs very high quality kayaking trips in Havelock.  A national-level kayaker, who has done 100km solo kayaking trips, this is a labor of love for her, much as diving is for us, and it shows!    Kayaking provides a very peaceful way to explore the coast of Havelock, without the noise of a boat engine marring the experience.  And obviously, it is good exercise as well (although you do not need to be super-fit to do this – reasonable fitness is more than sufficient).     The kayaking trips combine the kayaking activity with either snorkelling or exploring the mangroves:  the latter is a great way to see some of bird and reptile species of the islands.
4.  Skindiving:

This is the hottest new underwater sport in the world and lets you explore the underwater realm without any specialized equipment.   As the name implies, it is breath-hold diving:  going down and exploring the underwater world in one breathe, surfacing, recovering and repeating.    Participants of the sport call it the most zen-like experience they have had, truly close to flying and with the added bonus of utter silence, without any intrusive bubbles.   It does require a little more fitness, swimming skills and commitment than scuba – but then, nothing good is ever really easy, right?     Diveindia offers skin diving classes in season in Havelock, the first center in India to do so.

Video Credit: Andrey Sokolov

5.  Jungle Hikes:
At this point, we start to point you to the fact that there is a LOT more to the Andamans than Havelock and Neil.    The entire North Andamans awaits – Rangat, Mayabunder, Diglipur.   The last is home to Saddle Peak, the tallest peak in the Andamans and an excellent hiking destination (and very good birding as well).   And as an added bonus – you won’t see a single package tourist being driven around from beach to beach in a car, either.     There are shorter jungle walks available in Havelock and Port Blair (Mount Harriet and Chidiya Tapu) as well.   One thing all these walks have in common:   the amazing, prime-growth rainforest that you will be walking in, with birds and reptiles to be spotted.
6.  Cycling:
If you are in Havelock, consider doing your daily traveling on the island by bicycle.   From Village #3, the roads go 9km towards Radhanagar Beach, 9km towards Kalapathar and 3km towards the jetty.   So all easy cycling distances, and all of them are flat, except for the last 5km stretch towards Radhanagar, which has a few short climbs (you can always push your bike up the steep sections – they arent that long).   Get some exercise, soak in the fresh air, and explore the island in a more leisurely manner, rather than whizzing by on car:   where’s the downside, again?   Bicycles are easily available for rent in Havelock.
A Buyer’s Guide

BCD Buyers Guide: How to buy the right BCD

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Buying or selecting dive gear can be difficult, with an overwhelming choice of brands and models out there.  And the industry is also not averse to using the safety aspect to try to create a false sense of urgency sometimes. We are starting a series of articles that aims to cut through the noise, buzzwords and marketing-speak, and provide divers with a way to evaluate gear themselves, based on their own preferences.
There is obviously an element of subjectivity in all these things, and we encourage you to ask more questions and do more research.  Ultimately, as certified divers, your goal should be to gain enough information that you are able to make a decision yourself, as opposed to relying on pre-packaged answers.
Anyway, here is post 1 of the series – Selecting a BCD:  A Buyer’s Guide.

Review: Aqualung Pro HD and Apeks ATX40 Regulator

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Earlier, I had talked about the benefits of owning your own scuba gear, Here, i would like to start by discussing a BCD and a regulator that I have a lot of personal experience with, and which I think are fantastic value for money: the Aqualung Pro HD and the Apeks ATX40 regulator.

APEKS ATX40 REGULATOR

AQUALUNG PRO HD BCD – SHORT REVIEW

The Aqualung Pro HD BCD is a personal favorite of mine.  I owned the previous version of this (Seaquest Pro HD, before they were re-branded) for several years and found it an extremely comfortable jacket-style BCD.     The air pockets have some structure to them, so the air bubbles doesnt move all over the place (as in some other BCDs) and robust tank support and structure in the back means that the tank stays firmly put, without rolling from side to side.

 

This BCD has integrated weights and one feature i consider near-essental – trim pockets.   These are weight pockets located around your shoulders:  by storing 1-2 kg there, you can move the center of your buoyancy higher up, which allows you to get a better, neutral trim (in other words, you can hold any body position you want – horizontal or inclined – without any issues).    This system of distributed weights (2 integrated weight pockets and 2 trim pockets) gives you more ditch options:   if you are diving in cold water where you need to plan for the contingency of dropping weights, this gives you more options as compared to a weight belt (which is all or nothing).

 

The Aqualung Pro HD BCD uses a high-denier fabric, which is more robust, more abrasion-proof and less likely to fade or look raggedy over time.    Lastly, the BCD comes with more than enough lift to handle cold water diving as well (13kg of lift for a size M).     And it has more than enough D-rings and attachment points to hold all your accessories.
As I mentioned earlier, I used to own this many, many years ago and sold it because i was diving with a tech harness only.     In terms of price/performance, this is probably one of the best BCDs in the market today, period.
AQUALUNG PRO HD BCD

APEKS ATX40 REGULATOR – SHORT REVIEW

I am a creature of habit when it comes to scuba.   I don’t chase the latest technology or the fanciest bit of kit (which usually is finicky and more expensive to maintain).    I have been diving with the same Cressi Master Frogs for nearly 2 decades.   And I have been using Apeks regulators for almost 25 years.    Apeks makes very high-end regulators as well, if you want the latest in breathing rates, materials, light weight, etc. etc.     And they make bomb-proof, ultra-reliable workhorse mid-end regulators that simply work, work, work without any fuss.      I’ve always owned their mid-end line, as that’s where I feel the best value lists – my TX50 has gone down to 94m, has been to the Dorea, has done nearly a 1000 dives in cold water (<10C) and has gone embarrassingly long durations between servicing, and yet has performed reliably.   4000-something dives without any issues.
The Apeks ATX40 is the modern day equivalent of my venerable regulator.    It doesnt have the highest-end features and technology (honestly, I dont even know what they are – we are talking regulators, which are basically pressure-assisted springs whose designs haven’t changed for decades).     However, what it does have is the following:
– A very robust design
– Very easy to breathe at all depths you are likely to go to as a recreational diver (and then some)
– Cold water suitable
– Adjustable flow rate controls for surface/underwater (to prevent free flows)
– Comfortable mouthpiece
Again, if you want higher-end regulators, we have them for sale.   But really, other than trying to save a couple of hundred grams in weight, there is very little in the way of actual, tangible performance benefits that you will notice in real-world diving.
Another price/performance leader, and another one that I have a LOT of experience with, and recommend highly.

We have this combo available at a very good price, with your choice of instrumentation – SPG only, SPG+depth gauge or air-integrated computer. And as always, we have further discounts for our diving alumni. Please contact us for more information and pricing.

The Benefits of Owning Your Own Scuba Gear

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Some 90s rock band had a song which went “Dont know what you’ve got, till its gone”.  Scuba gear works the other way – you often don’t realize what you are missing when you rent gear, until you actually buy your own BCD and regulator.

 

Let’s start with weighting and trim:  Different BCDs have different flotation characteristics. So every time you rent a different brand of BCD, your weighting will need adjustment, as will your trim (where you place those weights). Having your own rig (and matching wetsuit) means that once you dial in your weight amount and positioning to get the ideal trim, you are good to go for all future dives.   Benefit:  More comfort, more streamlining, better air consumption and a more enjoyable experience.

 

Now let’s talk about familiarity and how useful it can be during an emergency. For whatever reason, you have lost your buoyancy and are floating up, legs up. Quick – do you know where the emergency pull dump on your rental BCD is located? Is it on the left or the right hip? Front or back? Or will you have to waste a few seconds in flipping yourself into a vertical orientation and then raising your inflator hose before you are able to purge your gear? What about an air emergency? Where is your octopus stowed? Front pocket? Upper right shoulder? In an octo holder across your chest? All of this affects how quickly you can deploy it in an out-of-air situation and in a real live situation, those extra couple of seconds of fumbling can make the difference between a safe resolution or a panic incident.

 

Familiarity isn’t just for emergencies either – when you dive with the same BCD all the time, you get familiar with how much air the inflators and deflators add/remove. So no more of the “add some air, realize it was too much and then let some out” dance that everyone does. How about donning the BCD in the water or removing the clips – your hand automatically goes where the strap is or the clips are, and you can focus on where the boat is, what your buddy is doing, etc. The less mental attention you devote to your gear, the more mental bandwidth you have to be aware of your situation, your buddy and also to look out for that manta or whaleshark. Never underestimate the importance of muscle memory.

 

Lastly, let’s talk costs. No, this stuff isn’t cheap and we wont pretend it is.   However, when you go on a dive holiday, gear rental can often run a couple of hundred dollars a week. Many places have shore dives and if you have your own gear, you can rent a tank for $10 and go diving with your buddy. Rent gear and that could be $50 more. In other words, do 3-4 trips and your gear has paid for itself – and you get all the benefits above.   With proper care, your gear should last you a very long time. Amortized over the lifespan of the gear, a BCD/reg set can cost you less than Rs 200 per dive. That’s pretty good economics!