Athletes often utter the mantra “No Pain, No Gain” when it comes to sports such as triathlons or martial arts. In scuba diving, the last thing we want to experience is any form of pain. Metaphorically speaking, though, moving outside our comfort zone — gradually and in controlled circumstances — does increase our skill level and can open doors to more advanced diving. Although it’s a subjective list, we’ve highlighted five PADI courses below. For most divers, these represent some of the most challenging PADI specialties.
A diver must be at least 15 years old and certified as a PADI Advanced Open Water diver (or equivalent) to enroll in a PADI Deep Diver specialty course. PADI defines deep diving as going beyond 60 feet (18 m) to a maximum recreational depth of 130 feet (40 m). When diving at depths of over 100 feet, divers will breathe two to three times as much air as when diving at shallower depths. Thusly, they must monitor their air supply much more vigilantly. The onset of nitrogen narcosis accelerates at around 100 feet, though, which makes tasks a bit more challenging. Divers may not be as responsive, and may have a false sense of security and a lower level of situational awareness.
Buddy teams must depend more on each other and maintain more frequent communication at these depths as well. The PADI Self-Reliant Diver specialty course is not intended as a buddy replacement, but rather as a supplement. It’s useful training in the unlikely event that a diver must manage a situation and cannot communicate with his buddy.
When they aren’t diving with a guide, most recreational divers’ biggest concern is how to safely navigate a dive. The Underwater Navigator specialty includes complex compass navigation patterns and shows divers how to use natural navigation. Techniques include scouting for natural landmarks underwater, counting kick cycles, using natural sunlight for direction, and recording time underwater for distance estimation. This specialty requires a diver to multitask while they continue to practice good diving etiquette, situational awareness and buoyancy control.
We included the first two specialty courses because of the challenges they present in relation to the underwater environment. Both also require divers to task load, to a certain degree. The Digital Underwater Photographer/Underwater Videography specialty courses (listed together here since most modern cameras incorporate dual functionality) are challenging with regards to the level of skill that a diver hopes to achieve at the end of these courses. While an experienced instructor can show you how to take good photos or video, it takes far more practice and time in the water to really get those “award-winning” shots.
Newly qualified or less-experienced divers should have excellent buoyancy control and situational awareness before enrolling in these specialties. It’s quite easy to let that special shot distracted you, which can cause further complications. These specialties are uniquely challenging specialty in that the diver is not only advancing through an environment or skill, but they must also must multi-task their situational awareness. Remember, a diver’s primary objective is to return safely from every dive, not to take a good photo or video clip.
Even for those divers with a natural aptitude for mechanics, the PADI Equipment Specialty is a challenge. It addresses care and maintenance issues on scuba gear, best thought of here as “life-support equipment in a sometimes-hostile environment.”
The scope of this specialty is limited to basic care and maintenance. This includes trouble-shooting and changing hoses and O-rings, not technical services. A diver can always learn more about their regulator and BCD by attending a manufacturer-servicing clinic.
Although not technically a stand-alone PADI specialty, Rebreather Diver does count toward the PADI Master Scuba Diver rating. At the instructor level it counts toward the PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer. Even the most experienced recreational diver will be humbled when taking this PADI course. What might be exemplary buoyancy control on open-circuit scuba goes out the window when diving a closed-circuit rebreather. In addition, diving a rebreather requires much more vigilance when monitoring the breathing apparatus compared to open-circuit scuba. With new fundamental dive skills and a completely new set of equipment, taking the PADI Rebreather course is like learning to dive all over again.
Each of these challenging PADI specialties offers unique difficulties and performance requirements. Evaluate your own readiness and prerequisites, and then seek out a reputable dive center with experienced staff. In that way, you can advance your skills and knowledge, taking your diving to whole new level.