Waking up at 5 AM for another day of scuba diving was difficult.
I thought the positive experience of Day 1 in the quarry would have made me more excited about Day 2. But leaving the warm and dry bed for more cold water an hour away still didn’t sound fun. Also, I was more nervous about the underwater skill tests that we would have to perform on this second day. The first day had been mostly easy. Day two’s skill tests would likely be much more involved.
Unlike the first day, the sun was out and shining when I arrived at the quarry. I had left my air tank there overnight, and now it was ready to be picked up with a fresh air refill. When I reached meeting the area of our scuba school with all my gear, I quickly found my team of students from the day before. I started talking to the girl in my class and was relieved to find out she was feeling nervous about today as well. We talked about how even though we had a great time yesterday, we were both more nervous about today. But one person in our group never showed up! The guy who had a bloody nose the day before was nowhere to be found. Apparently he had ear problems from being unable to equalize underwater and the doctor wouldn’t let him come back. That sucked. I couldn’t imagine getting this close, getting through so much, and then not being able to finish.
We got our equipment set up and changed into our 7mm wetsuits. The instructors then began going over the dives for the day. They also gave us each a compass and explained the basics of how to use them underwater. This would be one of the things we would be tested on.
After that, we all got geared up and started walking into the water. Once again I cringed as I felt the cold water start to seep into the back of my wetsuit. But fortunately that feeling didn’t last long. We slowly made our way to the buoy with our instructor. I noticed how much easier everything seemed today. I definitely felt much more comfortable in the water.
Once we got to our instructor, the first thing we did was practice some surface compass skills. We submerged our face underwater, breathing through our snorkel, and used the compass to swim to the target without looking up from the water. This was actually really fun.
After a few surface skills, it was time to go scuba diving. Slowly we all descended back down into the blackness of the quarry. Even though I still couldn’t see the platform, I felt much more in control. Everything was less terrifying today. I was still breathing hard and irregularly when I reached the bottom of the platform, and so I slowed my breathing, relaxed, and listened for the steady and rhythmic sound of the regulator.
The skills on Dive 3 were definitely more challenging. The first skill was to orally inflate our BCD (inflatable vest) underwater. This was a bit scary. First I had to take the regulator, my air source, out of my mouth. Then I had to use the breath in my lungs to blow into my BCD underwater. The challenge was to not choke underwater, that would be terrible. Fortunately this skill wasn’t nearly as hard as it sounded. Before I knew it, my BCD was inflated enough that I started floating up and away from my instructor. He grabbed onto me, gave me the OK symbol, and then told me to release the air. I slowly dropped back down the the platform.
I got to be the first to do the next skill, which was the scariest of all. I had to take my mask off completely, put it back on, and clear all the water. Doing this under 20 feet of water was a lot different than doing it in a shallow pool. If I couldn’t clear my mask, my instructor would have to swim me up 20 feet to the surface while I had my eyes closed. I remembered the one time I couldn’t clear it in the pool. But then I remembered all the times I easily cleared the mask. It’s funny how much easier my brain focuses on the bad tries and ignores all the times I got it right. I was very glad that I got to be the first person to do this skill. Watching other people do it before me would only stress me out more.
So I closed my eyes, took a deep breath from my regulator, and pulled off my mask. The cold water covered my eyes, face, and nose. I took another deep breath from my regulator to remind myself that the water covering my nose wasn’t going to suffocate me. Everything was fine. I could still breath. I wasn’t going to drown down here. Slowly an deliberately, I put the mask on and made sure it was tight and sealed. I took a deep breath from my regulator, looked up and exhaled through my nose. I did it one more time and I felt the squeeze of my instructor’s arm. My mask was clear!
I opened my eyes but everything was very blurry. Had my contacts fallen out? That would be terrible. I closed my eyes and cleared my mask one more time. When I opened my eyes, everything was clear and I could see. I had done it! I had faced my fears under 20 feet of water and conquered them! And it was surprisingly easy.
The last skill was CESA – or a Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent. Our instructor would grab onto the rope, and to us, and we had to try to swim all the way to the surface in one exhale. I was lucky I got to go first again. I took a deep breath, reached up, and began swimming upward while slowly exhaling to counter the expanding air in my lungs from the pressure change. I tried to make it up to the surface in one breath but had to take another just before the surface. At the top, he told me to inflate my BCD orally which I did.
Then back down to the platform while I watched everyone else get tested on their CESA. It was fun to just relax and watch the fish swim by. And then everyone was done, and we were swimming back up to the surface. Dive 3, the hardest dive, was done. Awesome!!!
We had a couple more surface skills. We had to take our entire scuba unit off in the water and then put it back on. It was easy. Everything felt so much easier now than it had on that day in the swimming pool.
And then we were on to the second dive of the day, dive 4 of certification. We descended back down into the murky blackness of the quarry. I was the first to do the next skill, which was basic compass navigation. I would have to swim in a direction pointed by the instructor, and then swim back, using only a compass. It was pretty much impossible to cheat on this, because the water was so dark that everything would disappear after a few feet. This was fun and easy. Much less anxiety than the skills on the last dive. My biggest challenge was getting the buoyancy just right.
After everyone got to try this drill, we all went for a group dive around the quarry. It was really fun. With the joy of knowing that all the tests were safely and easily completed, my confidence was way up. Now I could just enjoy the surreal experience of being under water. And I loved it! I loved the weightless slow dreamlike underwater world. I loved seeing all the fish all around us. We swam by an old sunken mechanical drill. We swam over a bunch of old pots and artifacts. It’s amazing how much cooler things are when they are 20 feet underwater. We swam to the edge of a thermocline and I got to feel how cold the water could get in the quarry. Then, when we got to the other end of the quarry, we hung onto a bar for a while and simulated our “Safety Stop”.
After that, we surfaced. That fourth dive had been a 40 minute dive. Awesome!!
It was done. It was 11AM again. The day was beautiful out. The sun felt so good. I felt excited, warm, and happy. And I had accomplished something awesome! Learning to scuba dive had been much more challenging and involved than I initially anticipated. Some of the challenges were physical, mainly the swim tests in the pool, and the endurance to continue on in the cold water for hours. But most of it was mental. Being submerged 20 feet under water put me face to face with many fears, and taught me to stay calm and collected in the face of my fear. Though there were many times I was stressed about this class, when it was all finished, I felt really good about myself and the experience. I was a better person having undergone this experience.
I thought back to that first time, 8 years ago, when I first went scuba diving in Hawaii with my roommate Steve. I had promised myself that someday I would learn to scuba dive.
And today I passed my open water certification dives.
I’m officially a scuba diver!!!