If you are considering becoming scuba certified, or have always wanted to but just never have, DO IT! Right now. Get online and sign up. It’s seriously one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. And I’ve only done four open water dives, in a lake, in 65 degree water with 8 ft visibility. And it was still incredible!
I obtained my scuba certification through Scuba Professionals of Arizona, an SSI dive center. If you are like me, you may think becoming certified means you will swim around in a pool for a little while and bam, you’re done. I’m here to tell you that is not the case.
The purpose of scuba certification is to teach you how to react in emergency situations. We did swim, some, but the majority of our time during classroom and pool training was spent reviewing worst case scenarios and emergency situations and how to properly respond.
To prepare for class, we were assigned reading material that had to be completed prior to the first day of class. It was about 8 hours of material and videos covering scuba safety, equipment, various injuries, marine life and a variety of other topics.
The first half of day one was spent reviewing this information and then completing a test to ensure knowledge and comprehension of the topics. Once we passed the test, we were ready for pool time!
As I mentioned, pool time is not swimming around. Well, it actually started with swimming around but was followed by practicing emergency techniques such as losing your regulator, your mask filling with water or coming off, sharing air and even running out of air.
Our pool session began by demonstrating we were comfortable in the water – we swam a few laps around the pool, treaded water, and performed a few simple snorkel techniques.
Then it was time for scuba! At this point, I had never used a regulator or put on scuba equipment before. My emotional state was a mix of terror and excitement. Once in the water our first exercise was mask technique which included filling the mask with water and mask removal…underwater. I had heard about this skill and was dreading it.
Sitting on the shelf of the pool, we went under water, breathing through our regulators. Everything in scuba training is watch and then do. Our instructor first showed us how to clear water from our mask should any creep in. Not the best experience but I made it happen. Next we had to take our mask completely off, under water, and then put it back on. While breathing. Without holding our breath. (By the way, the #1 rule in scuba is never hold your breath). I naturally breathe through my nose so to tell my brain to turn this off and breath solely through my regulator when under water did not happen automatically.
I took my mask off and water immediately flooded my nose. I shot to the top and gasped for air. The instructor followed, asking me to try again. After three or so attempts I thought “This is it for me, no scuba. I can’t do it.”. Of course, I guarantee this isn’t the first time my instructor had dealt with people like me, and with a little guidance I was able to complete the exercise. “Hopefully we never have to do that again”, I thought. Boy was I wrong.
The next step in scuba certification was going down to depth. The training pool was 13 ft deep so plenty deep to provide a realistic sense of being at depth in open water. As we began to descend, my heart started to race. Once at the bottom, I looked up and panic took take over my body. My fight or flight instincts kicked in – humans are not meant to breathe under water. This is unnatural. I look up and want to shoot to the top. “I can’t do this” is the thought that is racing through my mind. But from the classroom training I know panicking is the worst thing I can do. So I close my eyes and focus on my breathing. The panic slowly subsides. I focus my attention on the instructor and begin the exercise she is showing us. We are learning how to react if our regulator gets knocked out of our mouth. There are four techniques and I complete all with ease.
Then it happens. She signals us to take our masks off…while 13 ft under water. Aaand the panic returned. She wants us to do WHAT? “I can’t do this” my brain tells me again. Our instructor positions herself in front of me, holding me steady, telling me to breath, to relax. I can see in her eyes, she is encouraging me, telling me I CAN do this. Again, I close my eyes, focus on the breathing. And then…I take my mask off. Concentrating, telling myself, “Only breathe through your mouth. Do not breathe through your nose.”. I return the mask to my face and clear the water. I open my eyes. I survived! I did it! I see our assistant instructor in the background giving me the “way to go” signal. YES! “Hopefully we never have to do that again”, I thought. Again, I was wrong.
Leaving the pool that day I was again mixed with feelings of excitement and terror. Following the mask exercises, more terror this time. I was still questioning whether or not I could do this.
As I drove to class the next morning I was filled with anxiety. Wondering if I had made the right choice, if scuba was for me. Today we were spending the entire class in the pool. We arrive, set up our equipment and get in the pool. As we descend that familiar feeling of panic began creeping up. Once at the bottom, I closed my eyes and focused my breathing. I turned my attention to our instructor as we reviewed the exercises from the day before. Remove the regulator, find it, replace it, clear it.
Then we get to the mask. I focus. I can do this. Once it’s my turn I take a few deep breaths, move the mask, return it and clear it. Success! The task was much easier to complete this time. We perform that exercise several more times throughout the day, along with practicing a number of other emergency situations, such as running out of air.
By the end of class that second day I felt like a fish in water. Descending, ascending, removing my mask, running out of air, I had it all down. Fear turned to confidence and I was ready to take the next step.
The following week we completed our certification with four open water dives. Since I live in Arizona this had to be completed at a nearby lake in, as I mentioned earlier, 65 degree water. This required a wetsuit. If you’ve never put on a wetsuit, it’s a unique experience. It isn’t the most comfortable attire but does an incredible job of keeping you warm in cold water. It’s like putting on pantyhose but much thicker. One leg at a time, inching the fabric up your leg bit by bit until you are able to wiggle your way in. It’s pretty tight when you first get it on, but once it gets wet it seems to become more flexible.
At the lake, we completed the same exercises we did in the pool, except now we were in a real-life open water situation. Both days went smoothly and I’m proud to say I am a certified scuba diver. And I can take my mask off, underwater, at the drop off a hat. If I can do it, so can you.