“Diving? No. I’d be claustrophobic”. I hear this often, and I don’t understand. Scuba diving to me, is one of the most freeing sports I’ve ever attempted, short of horseback riding. Perhaps it is because I started in the “young and dumb” phase of my life, where fear couldn’t possibly overpower accomplishment. Or, perhaps it was because I just tried it once, and once was all it took.
Discovering Scuba Diving
“I can’t dive. I don’t swim”. This was me, telling a friend of mine who was working on his instructor certification. I laughed at the thought of it, but when he said to “try it and see how you feel”, I couldn’t argue with just trying it. “Discover Scuba” or “Try Scuba” courses were available (and still are) to give people like me an opportunity to stick our heads underwater and do the most miraculous thing – breathe. This seemed impossible.
My first taste of this sport began with a short time in a classroom. The instructor briefly explained the gear and a few rules of what to do and what not to do. We learned the “Ok” sign meant the same thing as on land, and that a thumbs up means “go up to the surface”. The comforting part of the class was the ability to always “opt out” and walk away if fear overtook logic. Great, let’s try it out. I could always opt-out, right?
We loaded gear and students and took a ride over to a pool at the high school in the next town. Soon, instructors and staff hauled weights and gear like a Sherpa chain. They set up stations for each diver as the students hauled in tanks from the snow-covered van (lovingly referred to as a “shaggin’ wagon”). Once the tanks were in, the students stood by with glazed eyes indicative of the internal pep-talks we each had going on inside of our heads. I remember snow blowing in from outside and shivering while pondering the best moment in time to play my personal opt-out card, yet still be considered a good sport for trying.
My group entered the pool in a mere four feet water as the snow outside beat against the window. I hardly remember anything as they strapped gear to my body and took us through our paces. We each took turns cautiously putting our faces into the water and abruptly pulling back as we would normally do when trying to breathe underwater. It certainly took a focused, conscious thought to tell ourselves it was OK to breathe with our faces underwater.
Then it happened.
Breathing underwater, as unnatural as it seemed at first, was not only easy, but freeing. The instructors allowed us to sit on the bottom of the pool and get comfortable. I saw others struggling, but I was ready to roll. Here I was, someone who doesn’t swim or even put my face in the water, ready to dive straight into Scuba diving with both feet. We were then released to swim about the pool for a few minutes and try out our confidence in a controlled environment. I grew gills in minutes, darting to every end of the pool, rolling, watching, observing, enjoying. An entire new world opened before me as I scanned the pool and all that was going on. Like a dream that went from black and white to vibrant color, I could barely take it all in.
Then the instructors gave us the thumbs-up sign. “Right on” I thought! I flashed the sign right back with exuberance, thinking how fantastic this experience was and I was thrilled they were as excited as I was.
Wait. No, thumbs-up means “go up”. Time to get out of the pool.
No. Please no.
Fighting for every second, like getting out of bed on a cold morning, getting out of the pool was the last thing I wanted to do.
They hooked another one. Discover Scuba diving: it has claimed another victim.
It was time to get open water certified.