A few reasons considered “good” were: to experience a sense of absolute freedom, to become more in tune with nature and to interact with marine life. The one answer Mike stressed was NOT a good reason – to overcome the fear of water.
After our instructor tossed that out to our group sitting in a classroom at Dive ‘N Surf in Redondo Beach, California early one Saturday morning, I had exactly 3 1/2 minutes to come up with an alternative response. I sang out, “It’ll be fun!”
Fun…really?! Who was I kidding? The truth was I was an aquaphobe. The answer I gave could’ve belonged to anyone there, except me. I actually thought scuba diving would be scary, strenuous and challenging. And I was right.
From my journal: October 31, 1993 Rolling Hills Estates, CA
“Dived for the second time in the pool today…I struggled through all of the skills tests. Cried when I got home…but I am doing the best I can.”
I don’t go out of my way seeking fears to overcome, but living on the coast of California, I was bound to come into contact with water at some point. It seemed then was as good a time as any, to dive right in. Besides, Robert’s enthusiasm for taking up this sport and listening to him talk about all the adventures we’d have in all of the spectacular places we’d go to, did pique my interest.
Our Open Water PADI dive course required a month of weekends to complete. Studying hard, I breezed through the five academic modules and aced the written exams. The pool dives were arduous but I knew they’d be a cinch compared to the water skills tests that lie ahead or rather below, when we’d be diving in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Catalina Island.
Donning my gear – all 15 pieces – bathing suit, wet suit, booties, hoodie, Buoyancy Control Device, knife, tank, regulator, alternate air source, submersible pressure gauge, weight belt, mask, snorkel, fins and gloves, I anxiously stood on the shore before walking backwards into the deep blue sea.
Others in our group may have been envisioning moving fluidly along the ocean’s floor, being awe-struck by the abundance of sea life and feeling a calmness enveloping them. I, on the other hand, was imagining running out of air, being tangled in kelp beds and getting the “bends” from ascending too quickly due to sheer panic. Though unlikely, these were legitimate concerns. Yet, my biggest worry really was the No-Mask Breathing test.
This skill requires a diver to descend 30 feet, rest on the bottom, then remove their mask, while continuing to breathe steadily through their regulator. Being in water over my head was terrifying enough, never mind being afraid that I’d begin breathing through my nose and drown!
There was good visibility in the water at Casino Point that day. I remember looking up and seeing the sun shining through the water above me. I also remember feeling cold and tense. I could only hear my rapid breathing through my regulator. I recall telling myself to calm down so I wouldn’t kick up sand beneath me. I looked straight ahead at our dive master and when it was my turn to perform this task, I took off my mask. I did not panic, I did not breathe through my nose, and I did not drown. I did everything just as we had practiced, knowing just what to do. I was so focused on the skills tests there was no time to feel fear.
From my journal: November 7, 1993
“Yeah! We made it! We dove! The ocean dives were exciting, exhausting and cumbersome. So proud of myself for doing this!”
It would be easy to shrug off how tough this and the subsequent training dives were and simply think about how I passed all the tests and became certified. But then I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate how far I had come. Over time, I learned to be comfortable in the water and I learned to trust in myself and abilities. Only later, with practice and experience, would I let go enough to begin to see all beauty there was deep down below the surface.