I am from Brazil and believe it or not, Scuba Diving is not a popular sport over there. We swim, we snorkel, but that’s it. Of course, some places teach you to dive, but I believe they are still growing, and have a lot of developing to do. To be honest, it never crossed my mind to one day take a course for diving. You know when you are so ignorant about a subject, you don’t have any idea how to start, what to do or that it’s even possible? That was my case.

I did watch many documentaries and TV programmes of activists divers, and biologists going to the middle of the ocean to dive, to see and to study gigantic sharks, rays, whales, and other marine animals. They check their behaviour, how their population are doing, where they go at different times of the year, how global warming is affecting them, and so on.

I’ve also watched movies and TV programmes where people go into a cage to see sharks, but that was never a thing I would do anyway, so I never related to that, and that’s what I thought it was, something that only people who work in the marine field would do.

When I moved to the UK and to Southampton though and started working at Andark, I found out that Scuba Diving was more popular here and pretty much anyone could do it. And then Andy talked about going back to the basics of Scuba Diving on our videos, to educate people like me, that still thinks scuba diving is a distant reality, that you can practice on fancy places, or as a professional. So I had no other thoughts, I had to try it, and of course, I had to do it with my husband so that we could share this amazing experience together.

Now, I want to give you the step by step experience, so you can know what to expect in each phase of the way.

Before the Course – Buying/Booking the Course

First of all, I paid for the course and booked a date for my husband and I, and because I work at the office, I just talked to June. I gave her my personal and card information – something you can do on the website or over the phone – so she could process my payment. We also had to fill out a medical questionnaire to make sure we were fit to dive, if you answer yes to any of the questions, you have to get your doctors approval to let you dive.  After I had done this I received my two open water crew packs, one for myself and my husband, both with a Manual, a DVD, a Log Book, and some cards about other specialities and with a code to go online and try a dive computer simulator.

I also received an email with all the details of my course, the dates, what to bring, what I had to do before and during my training and the time that was going to start and finish.

Before the Course – Theory

When I got the manual, I started reading it by myself, but my husband wanted to watch the DVD, so we watched together, and I realised the manual and the DVD have the same information, which I loved because I think it’s much easier to learn.

As we watched the DVD, I must confess I got a little scared. I never knew how serious and technical scuba diving is. Some mistakes you can’t afford to make, lots of equipment you’ve got to remember. So I kept thinking about all the people who love to dive and are passionate about it must be doable and captivating.

After watching all the Chapters and DVDs, we did the Knowledge Reviews, which was great to review what we’ve learned and the things we didn’t fully understand. It also made me more confident and prepared to take the exam on the first day of the course.


The PADI Open Water Course is a four-day course, divided into two parts: Referral and Open Water; not counting the studying part. I booked my course for the weekends, so I would take two weekends to finish it. You must know that they are also available during the week, to be done in 4 days in a role, or you can buy just the referral and do the Open Water in a different place. Depending on what you want, you can pick what best fits you.

First Day – Referral Theory

I was so excited that I woke up early in the morning to prepare my bag with everything I knew I had to take. Usually, they start the course by the Theory part, which it was in our case, and because we had a beautiful sunny day, we went to the lake to review everything. It was lovely.

We sat down with our instructor, and we reviewed every exercise. It was great, I asked him the things if they weren’t making sense to me, and he patiently answered everything. After reviewing each Knowledge Review, we took a quiz to practice, and after all, we took the final test, which was a lot like what we had just talked about, so it went smoother than I imagined.

After that, we were supposed to have a lunch break and then start the training in the pool, but my husband had a huge toothache and we had to call it off until he fixed that, which he did in the following week, and we rescheduled the dates.

*There is an admin fee for rescheduling dates.


One day at work, I was telling my colleague Matt, in the shop, that I was taking the Open Water Course and he convinced me to buy the Drysuit Course as well. He said if I were going to dive in the UK, I would probably use a Drysuit, I could do the speciality in the same course, and it was a certification for life. So I  thought, you know what, I’m already investing in this course, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to do it again, so I also bought the Drysuit Course to complete them together.

First and Second Day  – Referral Pool

On the first day, in the pool, we had a swimming test that made me realise how out of shape I am. It’s a test to make sure we can swim and float, doesn’t mean you need to be a swimmer, but make sure you won’t sink.

After that, we started the real course. A lot like what we’ve watched on the DVDs. Building up the skills to dive safely, I got to experiment what a friend of my had said to me a month earlier. He said paraphrasing, “the PADI Open Water Course (POW) is not like other courses. Most of the courses you go, you leave feeling you didn’t learn much or everything you had to, but in the POW we leave feeling confident we know what to do if something goes wrong”. That’s exactly what I felt right in the beginning, and this is a course that prepares you to deal with a situation if something goes wrong.

In the beginning, was very awkward and wonderful at the same time, because we were doing things we’ve never done before, breathing through a mouthpiece underwater, using lots of equipment, each one for a specific purpose, trying to keep balance, but it was also surprising to see how quickly we evolved.

I loved doing it with my husband and having the same experience together. Laughing at each other when trying to stay still and communicate underwater, helping one another when something was a bit more difficult, and then going back home and talking about everything we felt. We had a lot of fun.

The second day was more straightforward than the first day. Remember when I said about all of this being doable? It is! It seems so complicated when you don’t know anything and what to do, but as you practise, it becomes more and more effortless.

I also need to say that I was so impressed with the instructors we had, Ben and Alex. I thought they were very professional and great teachers.

They explained everything we were going to do on the surface, and then they explained everything again underwater, doing all the signals which it was so lovely, to begin understanding how to talk underwater and being able to see them performing the exercise before we tried. They were also very patient and kind to explain as much as we needed until we understood and got everything right.

We had our last dive with the drysuit, and it felt bizarre, to be honest, But Ben told us that that was normal for the first time because it’s very different from the Wetsuit, but you get used to it, and as more profound, you go, the better it feels.

Third and Fourth Days – Open Water

On our Open Water phase, I felt more confident and relaxed, because I kind of already knew what was going to happen, the people who were taking the course with me and the equipment. We also had terrific instructors with us, Stainton and Tom, once again, very professional and patient, willing to answer any questions and help when needed, and even though the weather changed from sunny to rainy (typically British), I had a fantastic time.

Because we were doing the Drysuit Course with the OW, we’ve only dived with the drysuit at the lake, and I must say that Ben was right. It was so much easier to put on the Drysuit, mainly because we were dry, and it felt way more comfortable. I was so glad we were doing it with the drysuit because it was cold, but to be fair, I don’t know how it was for the people that were doing with their wetsuits.

The Open Water felt more natural than it was in the pool; we repeated everything we were taught in the pool and added some more skills. I think it also felt more like diving because we had more space to swim.

Going from the pool to the training lake was a little daunting for me, I had been told about the visibility in the lake before we arrived at the dive site, obviously it was never going to be as good as the pool. With the limited visibility, at points I almost felt alone but with a quick check to my right I could grab my buddy and then with a quick over my shoulder I could see that our instructor was always right there with us.

Whilst completing my dives, I practiced one of the most important things you need to learn when diving, this was to always remain calm, which I think I did pretty well. A bonus to learning to dive in limited visibility is that if you can dive well in limited visibility, it will certainly make your life a whole lot easier when you get to some exotic locations where the visibility stretches as far as the eye can see.

Another point I’d like to highlight is the lake structure. Up there they have a cafe shop that you can buy food and drinks between the dives. The burgers are delicious and I didn’t even feel guilty about eating it after a dive. They’ve also got big female and male changing room, with toilets and hot water showers, perfect after a cold day in the water.

What can I say? I loved and enjoyed so much my whole experience and all I can say is thank you to all who was part of it. To all the instructors, thank you and congratulations for the great job you’re all doing, for the professionalism and excellence you put on your work. I really admire you all and appreciate what you all do here.

Thank you to all the Andark team who have introduced me to this new world, I always loved to work here, and now I’m also proud.

Now, I can’t wait for the next step. I really want to experience a real dive somewhere here in the UK, probably on a Sunday Dive. I hope you like and find my story helpful, and who knows if someday it’s going to be you?

Sophie’s Blog – Week 7

This week I assisted on the PADI Rescue course with instructor Stainton and four students. We practised the rescue skills in the lake then the next day was scenarios. This involved lots of incidents that the students had to work together to resolve including injuries, missing divers, panicked divers, and first aid including CPR. A challenging and enjoyable course that really improves your confidence when diving knowing you are capable of dealing with problems.

I also helped out with a PADI Open Water Course learning skills in the pool and Aquanauts on Saturday – a scuba club for children 8 years old and up to learn to dive in Andark Pool.

On Sunday I was lucky enough to go on Sunday Dive to Swanage Pier. Sunday Dives are a weekly programme of South Coast shore dives for new and experienced divers and is a great way to meet other divers. Swanage pier has a max depth of 5 m and is teaming with Marine life – shoals of pollack, loads of crabs, anemones and blennies. I loved it! Really enjoyed seeing so many creatures at a pretty dive site.

Next up was Scuba Camp – a 3 day course that takes children through the basics of scuba diving in the comfort and safety of the pool. We started with snorkelling techniques, then introduced the children to scuba equipment. By the end of the course, they were able to put their scuba gear together, do a buddy check, clear their mask, perform regulator recovery, and practice safe buoyancy in the deep end. A lot of fun and the children learnt so much which really gives them a head start with diving.

Swanage Pier

Scholarship Week 7 – Michaels Blog

Over the past 3 days Margriet from PADI was at Andark to help us work on our Dive Master training and skills. Over the course of the three days we went through the 24 main open water SCUBA skills, practising them to demonstration level. We also did workshops for Discover SCUBA Diving- which is for people who want to try diving for the first time, and PADI ReActivate- which is for divers who have been out of the water for a while and need to refresh their skills. These workshops taught us how these sessions work to prepare us for taking part in them in the future. The most challenging part of the weekend was a full SCUBA equipment exchange- using only one regulator shared between two people, we exchanged all of our equipment (mask, fins, boots, hood, gloves and BCD). The idea of this exercise is to challenge you, and your problem solving and teamwork skills underwater. The exercise was strangely fun and I felt like I learnt a lot from it, though it was definitely hard work! It was a busy weekend and we got a lot done, learnt a lot and had a lot of fun!

Padi Diving Scholarship Week 7

Scholarship Week 4


Women’s dive daSophiey was a great success! A very busy but enjoyable day and we were lucky with the weather. I started the day in the kit room organising wetsuits, BCDs, regulators and cylinders for everyone then up to Andark Lake to assist with a PADI Refreshers course. It was brilliant to see so many women of all ages kitting up and having fun doing the treasure hunt in the lake. There was so much going on with talks, PADI Discover Scuba Diving in the pool, kit displays from Suunto, Cressi and Apex and hunting for coins in Andark lake to win prizes. Emma Hewitt’s talk on her PADI career was very interesting and inspiring. Then it was straight into helping with Aquanauts in Andark Pool; the children were brilliant at mastering new skills. What a day!

 Sunday was calmer with a trip to Vobster Quay, a flooded quarry,  for the PADI Advanced Open Water Course. I spotted lots of little fish while doing surface cover then went on a Wreck dive with students to a sunken plane. I was fortunate to get an extra dive with Simon, a DM, who took me on an underwater tour of Vobster Quay and down to a caravan where the water temperature was 8’C! Much too cold for my liking but I’m glad I’ve done it. 

On Wednesday I helped out with evening training in the pool. It was great to watch students take their first breath underwater on the Discover Scuba Diving and to grow in confidence during the session. I’m now assisting with a PADI Junior Open Water Course where the students are learning new skills in the pool and are excited to be doing their first open water dives this weekend at Andark Lake. 

 Next week we are going to visit PADI headquarters for a sneak peak behind the scenes – I’m very excited! 

Andark Scholarship Week 2


On the weekend of the 2nd and 3rd of July I helped out with a PADI Advanced Open Water course. The first day of the course was run at Andark Lake and involved 3 dives- Search & Recovery, Navigation and Peak Performance Buoyancy. Alongside helping those taking the course with equipment, I was a safety diver for the dives. This involved watching over people whilst the instructor demonstrated skills and following behind the students to ensure everyone stayed together. On Sunday we went to Vobster Quay for the Deep and Wreck dives, which meant organising and loading a van full of gear to make sure nothing was forgotten! I was then safety diver for the two dives, and towed a SMB so that Surface Cover knew our location in the water at all times. These dives, and the weekend in general, were very enjoyable and it was great to be helping students whilst getting to dive at the same time. The weekend was also really useful for getting more familiar with Vobster Quay and the running of the Advanced Open Water Course.


Advanced Open Water Course


On Monday 4th July, the scholarship students and an instructor took part in the Helicopter Underwater Escape Training. A large yellow box made to represent the cabin of a helicopter or potentially a powerboat was on a machine which had the capability to move the box out over the swimming pool and go on to ‘dunk’ it. This machine was also able to roll the box to a 180° degree (a complete inverse) with several people inside it. Mike Lindsell supervised our group of 4 (3 interns and an instructor) whilst we were moved into the water and flipped upside down, with water rushing up to meet our faces and go up our noses before we had to unbuckle our safety harnesses, push a plastic window out into the water and pull ourselves out of the cabin. The training session was a great experience both for preparation and for its uniqueness. At the same time, it was a very unpleasant sensation of voluntarily allowing water to reach your sinuses and your eyes. All in all, we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, but will not hasten to do it again unless we are working out to sea!



Michael Andark Scholarship, Week 1

I’m looking forward to a summer full of diving, meeting new people and learning lots through the Andark Divemaster Scholarship.  I grew up in Kent and have just finished studying Geography at the University of Southampton, with a particular interest in climate change and environmental issues. The scholarship is a brilliant opportunity for me to learn new skills and have fun whilst doing so! I’d love diving to be a big part of my life and/or career in the future, perhaps even becoming an instructor. The Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver and Emergency First Response courses which I have just completed at Andark were challenging, rewarding and very enjoyable. I’m extremely thankful to Andark, PADI and Suunto for the scholarship, and look forward to meeting those involved in the planning and sponsorship over the summer, including an upcoming visit to Suunto.




PADI’s Women Dive Day – 16th July

PADI’s Women Dive Day – 16th July

At Andark this year, we are hosting a PADI Women in Dive Day. We have lots of great activities, guest speakers and fantastic prizes on offer.


Women’s Dive Day was such a success last year that we will be running it again this year. The aim is to celebrate all the amazing Ladies that enjoy SCUBA and being in or around the water. Make sure you mark the 16th July into your diaries and join the event to stay updated on what we will be planning.

The itineray is confirmed;

0900: Meet at Andark for equipment hire and rental.

0930 Event begins at Andark Lake.

1000: Refreshers in the Lake.

1030 Start of Treasure Hunt in the Lake, brief the divers on
what needs to be found and how to claim it later.

1100 Terry Scott diving for the Underwater Photo booth.

1300 Discover Scuba Diving Experience in the pool.

1330 Marguerite St Leger Dowse Presentation on Women’s health and diving.

1400 Shelley Jory-Leigh, British Powerboat Champion Presentation.

1430 Emma Hewitt PADI RM Presentation on Women’s careers within diving and PADI.

1530 Prize giving for Treasure Hunt, Discover Scuba Diving and Photo Competition.

1630 Event finishes.


To book in for the Treasure hunt and photo booth call 01489 885811 or email

We will have reduced entry fees for those booking on to the treasure hunt, members £6.00 and Non Members £7.50 for the day.

To book the Open Water Refreshers in Andark Lake or the Discover Scuba Diving Experience in our indoor heated pool call Debbie on 01489 581755 or email


Refreshers – £35 including lake entry.

Discover Scuba Diving Experience – £25 with a chance to win your PADI Open Water Diver Course worth £379.

To hire equipment please book at Andark Shop, kit hire will be charged at Sunday Dive prices.

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