I’ll be honest, I was dreading my open water training. The full day of pool training had completely drained my interest in scuba diving. I had spent hours in that swimming pool cramped, tired, cold, and hungry. When I was finally warm and dry at home, I really had to consider if I would continue with this.
The open water dives would take place at a nearby quarry. “Nearby” meant that it was an hour and a half away. Class started at 7:30 AM and we needed to be there before that. The thought of waking up at 5 in the morning, driving far away, and repeating the pool day was not appealing. It was basically still black night outside when I got into my car, loaded with tons of scuba gear and a full air tank, to begin the drive to the quarry. To make matters worse, it was raining, making a morning in the water seem even less enjoyable. Why the heck did I leave my warm and dry bed for this???
But despite my negative outlook, part of me was still excited. It was fun to know that I was starting the day early to have a very cool adventure. I reminded myself that I was going to get to have a way more interesting and unique day than most people would today. Really, I was fortunate to be able to do this.
I got to the quarry early, only to realize that most of the class had gotten there even earlier than I had. There was a long line to check in, and I ended up chatting with one of my other classmates in line. I was very relieved to find out that he felt the same way as I did about the pool class, and now the quarry training.
There were a lot of groups of people from different schools set up along the grass. I found the red tents that were my scuba school and took all my gear over in several trips. Once there, I began talking to a girl who was in my class. She too had a similar experience of the pool day, and shared a similar dread of this quarry weekend. In fact, one of her friends had dropped out of the class after the pool day.
The whole time in the pool I thought everyone else was doing just fine, and that I was the only one who was miserable. Apparently this was not the case.
I looked at my gear and tried to remember how to connect my BCD (the inflatable vest), regulator, and air tank. I was surprised that I actually remembered it. It was a very easy task.
We slowly geared up into our wetsuits. The pool day had started with an intense and immediate 200m swim. I was glad that so far this day was going at a much more slow and relaxed pace. The instructors began explaining the two dives that we would do on this first day. A group of six of us got assigned to an instructor. We geared up, double checked our buddy’s gear, and then my group went with our instructor over to the water.
I was getting nervous now. As we walked into the quarry I felt the cold water slowly seeping into my 7mm wetsuit. We used our buddy’s help to take turns getting our fins on and inflated our BCDs so we would float at the surface. The wet suits worked really well, and after a few minutes I wasn’t cold at all. It helped that the quarry water was warmest towards the end of the year too.
Our instructor pointed us towards a pink floating buoy and told us that we would all meet over there. Slowly and awkwardly, our group made our way towards the buoy as we learned how to swim with all this gear.
Once we finally met at the buoy, my instructor began explaining to us all the skills we would be practicing under water. They were the most basic of skills, but all I could remember was that pool day. My anxiety was rising. And then it was time to descend under water. There was suddenly a lot of splashing and bubbling all around me. Our instructor disappeared underwater. To either side of me, the students began dropping below the surface.
I put the regulator in my mouth and took a few breaths to make sure I could get enough air through it. Once I felt sure I wouldn’t choke underwater, I began releasing air from my BCD. Very slowly, I started to sink below the surface. Those first breaths under the surface were so cool! It was dark under the water and gradually I descended deeper into the murky depths of the quarry. In class they taught us to equalize before we feel any pressure problems in our ears, so I was equalizing constantly on the way down, and I never had any issues.
I got extremely nervous as I went deeper. The water was so dark and murky, I could barely see anyone. I felt disoriented because I couldn’t even see the platform I was descending down onto. Further and further into the blackness I went, and finally in a thick dark haze I could vaguely make out my group and the platform. I kept equalizing and finally settled down on it.
As I looked around in the darkness of the water, I realized I felt like I could barely breathe. I listened to the sound of my regulator and observed that I was breathing hard and irregularly. This was not the steady calm breathing I remembered from the pool. I consciously slowed down my breathing and tried to relax my body. Within a minute, I felt calm and centered, and breathing was easy. I delighted in the sound of the bubbles with each exhale, and began to enjoy the surreal and dreamlike sensation of being back underwater.
But it was DARK here. I could barely see the people next to me. I would later learn we had 5-10 feet visibility, one of the worst they’ve had here at this quarry. This was worlds apart from the 80 foot visibility I remembered of the crystal clear waters in Hawaii. But I enjoyed it still. Fish would swim up to me with curiosity. It was so fun to see them in their natural environment. This was THEIR world, and I was just a stranger exploring it.
One by one, we went over the first skill. Regulator recovery. Easy. Slow exhale. Lean to to the side. Sweep the arm. I was glad we were starting with very easy skills.
Then it was time to flood our mask. We were only to do a partial flooding but I was still nervous. This was a lot more stressful 20 feet underwater than it was in a shallow swimming pool. If I failed to clear the mask I couldn’t just stand up and be at the surface. Fortunately though, clearing the partially flooded mask proved to be pretty easy, even under 20 feet of water.
Then we did a “dive”. Our instructor swam around and we followed him. He tried to show us the cool mechanical equipment that had been sunk in this quarry, but it was so dark all I could make out were edges of metal appearing suddenly from the black. Now and then even his bright orange fins would disappear from my view. I struggled to control my buoyancy on this first dive as well. Sometimes I would find myself floating high above the group and struggling to release air before I lost them in the blackness of the water. Sometimes I would sink too low and hit the ground, creating a cloud of dirt and blackness in the already obscure water. But mostly it was fun to just swim around and experience this surreal and dreamlike world.
Then the dive was over and we went back up to the surface. I felt great! That first dive was so easy! And fun too. The murky water was not as cool as the crystal water of Hawaii, but it was fun because it made it a completely different kind of adventure.
On the surface, we had to do some more skills between dives. We had to switch between regulator and snorkel a few times underwater. This wasn’t too hard. Then we had to do some more “Tired Diver Tows” where we dragged our tired diver across the water. This was easier than on the pool day. Maybe because I wasn’t exhausted, sore, cold, and hungry.
Soon it was time for Dive 2! We all began our descent back into the blackness of the quarry. I felt a bit more in control this time. The platform gradually revealed itself to me in the darkness and I was able to get set down easily. My breathing was much more regular this time too. Much less anxiety.
This dive started off with more of the dreaded mask skills. This time we had to fully flood our masks and clear the water out again. I was more nervous about this one, but it went just as smoothly as the partial mask clearing. I felt good and much more comfortable once I knew I could clear my mask under 20 feet of water.
The next skill was to do air exchanges with our partner. I remembered this skill from the swimming pool. We took turns using hand signals to communicate to our partner that we were out of air. Then we would switch from our own regulator to our partners backup regulator. From there, we did a controlled ascent back up to the surface while breathing from our partners backup regulator. After that, we came back down on the underwater platform so the instructor could test the other teams. In the meantime, I got to enjoy hanging out in the dreamlike water world and watching the fish swim by.
Then the skills were done. We began to do another swim around the quarry. I followed my instructor and stayed close to my buddy. The instructor tried to show us the cool submerged machines underwater. There was a big drill, there was an old press. But it was so dark that I could never see the whole thing. I would just suddenly see big metal parts come up at me from out of the darkness. There were several times I completely lost sight of our instructor, even though he was maybe ten feet away. My buoyancy was a lot better this swim.
When we got to the surface, I realized that two of the girls were already at the edge of the quarry. Apparently they had lost us in the blackness of the water and swam to the surface. It was so dark, I could see how that would happen. It was so dark, I never even noticed they were gone. I looked over at one of the guys in my group. His mask looked very red, and at first I thought it was a visual illusion after being underwater for so long. And that’s when I realized that his mask was full of blood. He had a lot of trouble equalizing underwater and apparently gave himself a nosebleed too. It looked a bit scary, but he seemed fine. He hadn’t even realized it happened.
We swam back to the shore and then it was already over! I had spent 60 minutes under water. (Ok 59, but who is counting?). The rain had totally stopped and the gloomy clouds had cleared. Now it was beautiful and sunny day. I felt calm, relaxed, and good. And it was barely 11 AM. I felt so accomplished!
I had spent so much time dreading these quarry dives, and Day 1 had proven to be no big deal at all. In fact, despite the terrible visibility, these dives had been very enjoyable for me. I loved the sensation of being in an alien water world. I loved how surreal and dreamlike everything seemed beneath the surface. And I loved seeing the fish in their natural environment. All in all it was a very fun experience.
Day 1 of Open Water Dives was a success! But what did Day 2 have in store?