An image of Milly in a wetsuit on the edge of a boat out at sea

What To Expect On A PADI Open Water Course in Marbella

Sometimes, things take a bit of time to happen. Especially when a worldwide pandemic gets in the way. Back in 2018 I took my very first underwater breaths on a Discover Scuba Diving adventure in Montenegro. I took to it like a fish IN water, and committed myself to spending more time living out my mermaid fantasy and completing a PADI Open Water course ASAP.

‘ASAP’ turned out to be five years later. Whoops.

At the beginning of this year, I handed in my notice and accepted a new role, working in social media for a pretty cool brewery. In-between my final day of the old life and first day of the new, two glorious weeks stretched out with no plans, no responsibilities, and a semi-decent amount I’d managed to accumulate in my savings account. I decided it was time to fall back on an old commitment I’d made to myself, and booked a three day PADI Open Water Diver course in Marbella with SimplyDiving, along with some moderately priced EasyJet flights and four nights in one of Marbella’s slightly more budget-friendly holiday apartments.

The PADI Open Water course is made up of three main elements: Theory (which I completed online before travelling), skills training in confined water (pool or shallow water), and four Open Water dives.

The morning of my first day, I left the apartment about 20 minutes earlier than I needed to and briefly hovered around before turning up a little before the start time of 9am. Excessive punctuality is a core personality trait. I met my instructor, who introduced himself as ‘Nacho’. Not a Spanish name, as he explained in his very northern accent that the locals struggled to comprehend his actual name, Nigel. I’d paid my deposit in advance and settled the rest of the payment along with some paperwork. There was one other person on my course, a slightly older-than-me Dutchman named Theo, and after a quick briefing from Nigel on our equipment, we headed straight to the shallow seawater for our first confined water dive.

The confined water dives are all about demonstrating key skills required as a diver. The theory element of the course had already covered these, and before we put them into practice, Nigel went through them with us on the surface. It turns out the things I was most nervous about, I found easiest. Changing a regulator underwater? No problem. Clearing my mask, even taking it off to change it? No worries. I found I struggled more with the buoyancy element than anything else – sinking too close to the floor or floating too high.

I’m not sure if it’s because I can be a little overcautious at times, and a well-known overthinker when it comes to learning new things, but I did find at times the course moved pretty quickly. Nigel was always happy to talk me through things (sometimes, multiple times) and let me ruminate on how I felt about what I’d been doing. The challenges with communicating underwater meant being able to talk through this on land was a real help, and a friendly and positive instructor is an absolute must for the Open Water course. Nigel gave me a lot of confidence during the three days and made the whole experience fun and engaging.

During one of the skills sessions in shallow water, I struggled with removing and putting on my weights – I was still taking a little longer than my dive partner to get a handle on my buoyancy, and was struggling to keep floating in the water while waving a belt of heavy weights around my body. I ended up getting a little upset with myself, which resulted in teary eyes, a foggy mask and a rough jump up to the surface through frustration and a panic that I wasn’t going to pass; that I was bad at diving; that I was embarrassing myself. All the usual things. Turns out, I just needed a moment to compose myself, a bit of support from my instructor and dive partner that everything was fine (and I wasn’t a massive failure), and after another try, I managed to tick the weight belt changeover off my skills list.

After spending the morning doing our confined water dives, we headed straight out into a deeper part of the sea as the first open water dive of the course. This one mostly focused on underwater exploration, and despite my buoyancy issues plaguing me a little more than I’d have liked, it was fun to get out and feel like we were doing some ‘real diving’.

Day two brought more confined water skills practice, and Open Water Dive Two. This time, we were taken out on a boat to Marbella Tower – the remains of an old cable car system that transported ore from the mountains to transport boats waiting at the shore. Under the surface, remains of a crane and a sunken barge await exploration. Although I found myself overthinking, especially on the descent and ascent, getting out in what felt like real ‘open water’ was super rewarding, and the chance to practice my skills and get comfortable diving. I also discovered putting gear on at the surface is a total pain. Backward roll off the boat all the way, please.

The final day consisted purely of getting out on the open water, to complete the remaining two dives on my course. Open Water Dive Three was all about putting skills we’d learnt on the course into practice, including the five point descent and ascending safely. It was on this dive that, finally, my grip on buoyancy began to fall into place, as I skimmed rocks, hovered above the surface, and ascended with some level of grace while at eye level with my dive partner. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but I was reassured it’s something that will come along with practice and experience. Of all the dives I completed on the Open Water course, this one was my favourite.

For our final Open Water dive of the course, we were joined by my dive partner’s two sons, who’d previously had experience diving, and another instructor. It was fun to explore the ocean bed as a group, although visibility in the area we were in was unfortunately very poor. As with my third dive, I felt my confidence in my ability growing (especially having to dodge around the other divers while worrying about kicking a nine year old in the face). Back on the boat, I received the news I’d hoped for – I was officially a certified PADI Open Water diver. On land, I completed my paperwork, said goodbye to my diving companions, grabbed Nigel for a quick photo and some final words of thanks; then headed off into Marbella for the afternoon, with a smile on my face and achy legs.

I’ve always had an independent and curious streak when it comes to trying new things, but like many in a post-pandemic world, my skills in bravery have been left to rust. As I get older, I find more fears creep into my brain, and my brain’s previous aversion to excessive anxiety seems to have disintegrated. Travelling out to Marbella on my own and completing the PADI Open Water was my way of reminding myself that I can still be brave, and adventurous, and challenge myself. On my final evening after I’d passed, I took a casual walk around the Old Town in the afternoon sunshine, before treating myself to a solo dinner in a fancy restaurant.

PADI Open Water in Marbella: FAQs

Where did you complete your PADI Open Water in Marbella?

I chose SimplyDiving in Marbella for my Open Water course. I chose SimplyDiving because they had good ratings and reviews of the course, and could basically guarantee that weather wouldn’t be an issue – having such a short time frame in which to complete it, this was an important part for me.

How much did the PADI Open Water course cost?

Prices for the PADI Open Water Diver course at SimplyDiving Marbella start at €395 (if you already have your own course materials/theory). If you need your theory included – which you can do at home before you travel – it’s €475 for the Silver Package, €495 for Gold (which also includes a manual and DVD). Because I don’t have a DVD player and I also didn’t have a snorkel, I opted for the Platinum Package at €505, which includes a ScubaPro Mask and Snorkel and a t-shirt. I love a free t-shirt.

Do you need your own equipment for the course?

Most dive schools, including SimplyDiving, will include full equipment rental in your course price. This also includes your wetsuit and fins if you don’t have them already.

Do you need to be fit to do an Open Water Diver course?

People of all fitness levels complete the course; however PADI states that you need to be able to at least swim 200m and tread water for 10m. You definitely don’t have to be an athlete (I’m definitely not), but a base level of fitness does make it easier. You also have to complete a medical questionnaire before you start the course, with any ‘Yes’ answers (heart and lung conditions etc.) requiring you to be cleared by a doctor.

Where did you stay in Marbella?

I stayed at Hotel Finlandia, close to both the Old Town and seafront, and a five minute walk from the SimplyDiving centre. It cost me £264 for a four night stay. Marbella isn’t the cheapest place to holiday, however there are some apartments/guesthouses/hostels that have affordable accommodation options (including single rooms cheaper than my double apartment).