Getting ‘Advance Open-Water Diver’ Certified at the Turtle Capital of the World- Gili Trawangan (Part 1)

Scuba Diving, PADI Advance Open Water Diver, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia, Dive schools in Gili, Underwater Navigation, Peak Buoyancy, Nerdy Adventuress

I was at about 10m or so under sea level when I felt my weight belt slowly slipping until it nearly reached mid-thigh. As I struggled to tug it up, water started seeping into my mask and my breath was fogging up the mask while I was floating alone. I couldn’t move my legs, I could barely even see and started feeling the water going up my nose. At this point, I started breathing rather rapidly and felt almost claustrophobic. It was at that point that I knew I had my first panic attack!

As dramatic as it sounds, none of the above things would be considered alarming and could easily be resolved unless you have already reached a panic state.

Till today I don’t know what happened but at that point I panicked so bad that all I wanted in life was to resurface. That was the start of my Underwater Navigation dive and I hadn’t even started it!!!


I was on a solo-backpacking trip in Indonesia and decided to come to this tiny island called Gili Trawangan, part of the Lombok island. This place is known for two things, Diving and its party scene.

After completing my Open Water Dive course in Koh Tao (License to Dive- Getting PADI certified in Koh Tao), I had been wanting to complete my Advance Open Water level as well. This course consists of five dives only. While Deep Dive (upto 30m) and Underwater Navigation is compulsory, divers can choose the other three dives. Between the two compulsory dives in this course, to be honest, I was shit scared about the Deep Dive. I mean 30m is nearly about 100 feet. *Gets Goosebumps*

For my other dives, I had chosen Peak Buoyancy, Night Dive and Underwater Photography.

Dive 1- Peak Buoyancy

I know it sounds ‘science-ish’. Something straight out of our Physics class. But let me talk about only two things here.

What is Peak Buoyancy?

Ok. Science first. In lay man words, Peak Buoyancy is the skill required for perfecting neutral buoyancy. Scuba divers like to be neutrally buoyant which means that when you are motionless underwater, you neither sink nor float. Achieving neutral buoyancy means one can glide effortlessly or hover without fiddling too much with your Buoyancy Control inflator hose.

Underwater Photographer, Scuba Diving, PADI Advance Open Water Diver, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia, Dive schools in Gili, Underwater Navigation, Peak Buoyancy, Nerdy Adventuress

Andrea hovering effortlessly in place while we complete our safety stop. Perfect example of controled buoyancy!

There are many factors that can affect buoyancy, like weight on your belt or pouch, amount of air in the BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), water type (saline, fresh, etc.), breathing etc. Here you can learn how to trim your scuba gear so you’re perfectly balanced in the water, how to streamline to save air and move smoothly through the water, how to hover effortlessly in both a vertical position and a horizontal position and most importantly learn the correct breathing techniques that can be used to control your movement.

Why should you pick this Dive and why I chose it?

They say that divers who have mastered the highest performance levels in buoyancy stand apart. Because if you can control your movement, you can not only enjoy the time underwater with more ease but also for a longer duration. And who doesn’t want to be underwater for as long as possible?

I chose this dive because I am awkward with the amount of weight I should carry. I never can get it right and because of this, I am either sinking or floating up. During this dive, we mostly focused on controlling the breathing. It is actually a fun dive because you can practice hovering while pretty fish look on curiously or a lazy turtle swims by. In the last few years, Gili islands (Trawangan, Meno and Air) have made an effort to preserve the natural Turtle habitat. Because of the conservation efforts, today Turtles can be seen in abundance. So whether you snorkel or dive,  you will definitely bump into one of them!

To be honest, one of the main reasons I visited Gili Trawangan was because I wanted to swim with turtles! (More about this in my next post!) 🙂

Recently, I have seen too many photographs of people touching or holding corals. They do this for two reasons, one because they are not able to balance themselves and end of touching the corals for support and two because they want to touch and feel the coral or fish or something that caught their attention.

If you are the former, this course is super beneficial because it will help you interact gently with the aquatic life with minimal impact on your surroundings.

If you fall in the latter category, YOU SHOULD NOT DIVE AT ALL! Yes you. Not only is it dangerous for you to touch marine life that may sting or bite, but even generally, you shouldn’t touch anything at all. Some of the marine species are extremely sensitive and your one ignorant touch can ruin them!

Plus, no living things, including corals which are actually ANIMALS, like to be touched without consent. Rules that apply on land, applies here as well. KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF. (#MeToo)

Please do watch the documentary Chasing Coral to know more about these lovely creatures.

Dive 2- Underwater Navigation

When we practiced navigation on land, it was so easy. Our task was to move and make a perfect square using our compass and steps. In the water these steps are replaced by kicks that helps you calculate the distance. Simple.

We had just descended to around 10 – 12 m and were just about starting our compulsory Navigation dive. We were near a sandy slope which went on endlessly in the abyss (I mean I couldn’t see the bottom). Andrea, my instructor, hand signaled me to stay put and watch while he instructed Gen regarding the task she needed to complete. They swam some distance away while I floated alone and looked on.

Earlier in the day I had finished my Peak Buoyancy dive, had an awesome lunch by the beach and gone through the study material of the underwater navigation course. It was one of those awesome days!

Scuba Diving, PADI Advance Open Water Diver, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia, Dive schools in Gili, Underwater Navigation, Peak Buoyancy, Nerdy Adventuress

Lunching by the beach while studying for the next dive!

I was in the middle of my reminiscing when I felt my weight belt slipping. For the non-divers here, it is a belt around your waist that helps you sink in the water. The weight belt was nearly till my thigh. I couldn’t move my legs freely. While struggling to pull it up, my mask started fogging up and I could feel the water up my nose. This along with a feeling of slight claustrophobia was the moment when I got my first major panic attack.

In the midst of panic I was frantically signalling to Andrea. He happened to look my way and came over. He knew I was panicking and tried his best to calm me down and signaled me to take deep breaths. But I had reached a point of hysteria!

Needless to say, we surfaced. I gasped for breath on the surface and within minutes, I was fine. Also seriously embarrassed. I had not only screwed my dive but also Gen’s dive. But I knew I had to get this done and after breathing in some confidence, adjusting my weight belt, I was back down to complete my dive.

When you are in the water, the depth can affect your perception and cause disorientation. One may have a very good and innate sense of direction on land but doing the same underwater is another thing altogether. To ensure accuracy, it is best to use a compass and dive computer. After all, it is imperative to understand location and where you are going at all times. The other way is also to dive using underwater landmarks, geological features and other references on the bottom. This course taught me how to combine both to make sure I am never lost while diving.

Scuba Diving, PADI Advance Open Water Diver, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia, Dive schools in Gili, Underwater Navigation, Peak Buoyancy, Nerdy Adventuress

An image from another dive because during the course, photography is not allowed.

We made our square pattern and counted our kicks successfully to complete this dive. What I learnt from the dive was to be extra thorough with the Pre-Dive Safety Check which includes a check and a DOUBLE check on the BCD unit, Weights, Release and Air.


Needless to say, I was a bit shaken after the panic attack. I felt terrible about what had happened and a part of me wasn’t even sure if I wanted to continue. That night I was scheduled to go for my Night Dive. But with the way things went, I canned my plan to do the Night Dive. I mean it was scary enough to do it in broad day light, the mere thought of going through another attack in pitch darkness reaffirmed my decision.  I replaced Night Dive with the Fish Identification Dive.

I wasn’t in the state to go through another ordeal and needed time to regain my confidence. But I had three more dives to do in order to complete my course.

For now, Bye Bye Night Dive. Someday I will conquer my Fear of the Darkness as well. But today just wasn’t that day yet.

Until then, I was ready for some Indonesian massage by the beach to relive the stress and mentally prepare myself for the remaining three dives! *Sigh*

Scuba Diving, PADI Advance Open Water Diver, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia, Dive schools in Gili, Underwater Navigation, Peak Buoyancy, Nerdy Adventuress

The beach view from my massage bed!


To know what happened in my other dives:

Dive 3- The Nerve Wrecking ‘Deep Dive’, Dive 4- The Colourful ‘Fish Identification Dive’ and my favourite, Dive 5- ‘Underwater Photography’, STAY TUNNED for my next post!

Also coming up soon, Why Gili Trawangan is the best place to get SCUBA certified? And why I chose Big Bubbles as my Dive School?


  • Aditya

    Fantastic write up!

    • Priyanka

      Thanks Aditya! The second part will be coming real soon! 🙂

  • Richa

    Wow that must have been some experience!! I am sure the lesson to take back home is STAY CALM :)I had a lovely experience scuba diving upto 30mts in Kavaratti in Lakshwadeep Islands, India but had a panic attack at Children’s mirror maze 😛 I went 10 times after that in that mirror maze just to get out of the fear factor 🙂 Looking forward to your Fish Identification Dive!

    • Priyanka

      Absolutely! It is all about staying calm and practicing caution at all times! I haven’t dived in Lakshwadeep yet but hopefully soon!! I am sure that place will surprise me.

      Will keep you posted about my next post! 🙂

  • Bravo

    Fantastic experience, thank you for sharing!

    • Priyanka

      I am glad you liked the write up! 🙂

  • Travelquartz

    I can understand this feeling as I tried this once in Thailand- in the end, you really think its worth it. I have never tried night diving, will you plan to do it in future?

    • Priyanka

      Well Night Diving does take a lot of guts! I am sure I will do it someday but anytime soon, maybe not! 🙂

      But yes, diving is definitely worth it…the beauty that the sea has to offer is all below the surface! <3

  • Taryn

    Wow! This looks amazing. And the beach meals and massages seem like the perfect complement!

    • Priyanka

      Gili islands are a lovely place to unwind!!! and also of course dive! <3

  • Indu

    Fascinating Priyanka. First your scary experience then your advance diving certification. Such an achievement. Great.

    • Priyanka

      Thank you! It was scary but such a wonderful learning experience! 🙂

  • Chad

    Getting PADI certified has been on my bucket list for a long time. How was the experience of getting it done in Bali?

    • Priyanka

      Specifically Gili islands., well most of the areas were barren because of the bleaching but things are slowly getting back. But the number of Turtle sightings and some of the dive sites were quite good.

  • Alexander Popkov

    I am semi-pro photographer and underwater is something I have never tired. I have to say I loved the first photo! I would love to try photographing in that area.

    • Priyanka

      Thank you!! Oh Underwater photography is another ball game all together. I never realized how difficult it is. Because apart from photographing you are also keeping an eye on your diving equipment, fighting the current to stay still and hoping no creature comes takes a nibble off you! 😀

  • Ali Dunnell

    Really lovely account of your diving experience. To be honest, I am really scared of diving, I have done scuba diving, but being under water is something which frightens me. But that first photograph of the turtles and the fish is beautiful… I may give it a go one day

    • Priyanka

      I hope you do try it sometime! It is a surreal experience. I know it is scary. I still get scared but then I look at the underwater life and go like…WHAT THE HECK…I cannot not do this! 😀

  • Shaily

    Wow! Lovely post! Underwater is such a splendid experience. Great you overcame your fears and achieved the goal. Your pictures are super amazing, especially the first and the last one. Thanks for sharing this adventurous experience. 🙂

    • Priyanka

      Hey Shaily! Thank you so much! Oh yes, it was a splendid experience and I am glad you enjoyed my account of it!

      Cheers! 😀

  • Nicole helgason

    It took me about 900 dives before I tried night diving but now I love it! Best is to invest in a powerful light something like 3000 lumens then you can pretty much see all the reef anyways. Now I dive with a UV light for fluoro night dives very crazy experience!

    • Priyanka

      900 dives!!!!! WOW!! That is beyond awesome! 😀 Thank you for the encouragement and the tips. Hopefully I can muster enough courage to do Night Diving some day soon! 🙂