We take so many people out on their first dive, and it one of the parts about being a diving instructor that I really love the best. I love being able to share that experience with them, seeing there eyes underwater and watching the funny things that they do in their amazed state. The other day I took two divers out for the first time, it was a husband/wife couple (Ian and Angie from Scarsdale, NY), and they were so fun underwater. Angie was really cute, for some reason she kept sort of taking these poses underwater as if she was a body builder posing for a photograph. You know what I mean? With one arm up showing her bicep muscle and the other bent in the other direction. I kept showing Ian all these really cool little creatures, but he was more interested in this stick that he found. Then he kept poking things with the stick. (Not wildlife, but rocks and things like that). I remember pointing out this little tiny Secretary Blenny to Ian, and he just showed me this stick, like “look how wonderful this stick is.” I laughed so hard my mask filled with water.
I love those experiences. Malcolm, their friend and certified diver, was there as well, documenting the whole experience with his new camera. It was so much fun!
This got me thinking about my first underwater experience. It was a little different than Angie and Ian’s, as it was in the cold, dark water of the southwest of England, well actually, that isn’t true. Really the story starts back in NY.
I initially went for my diving certification when I was 13 years old. It was birthday present from my mom and dad. It seemed that they had an inkling about what I was intended for before I even did. However, back in 1993 (now everyone knows how old I am), the PADI Open Water wasn’t as kid friendly. I went to a dive shop near my home town in Westchester, NY and had to meet with the instructor (who seemed to be at least 100 years old) and go over all this boring theory from a textbook. There was no video or flip chart. Finally we got to go in the pool, which seemed more exciting. Well, initially we (my parents and I) thought that the class would have other kids in it, but instead it was just the instructor, some guy doing a dry suit orientation, and me. It was night time, the pool was in Peekskill I think, and it felt dark and scary. Anyway.. I don’t remember too much, except for the part where I was supposed to buddy breath. This really freaked me out. For two reasons… First, I thought that my brain was going to come out of my ear if I held my breath, and second… I didn’t really want to share a regulator with this 100 year old instructor! So I bottled it. I “climbed the ladder” to the surface, as Stuart would say. (“Climbing the ladder” is what it looks like when people decide that they want to go up really fast because they are freaking out. Imagine someone underwater trying to desperately climb a ladder, which isn’t there, to the surface. That was me!)
I came home and told my parents, and they said that it was okay for me not to go back, and if I was afraid of something then I didn’t have to do it. Thanks mom and dad!
It took me about 10 years to decide to dive again. This time I was in Plymouth, England and was completing a Masters Degree in Marine Science. I was studying all about the oceans, so I thought that I should really get some first hand experience down there. Once again, for my birthday, my parents bought me an Open Water Course at a local diving center. This time everything went a lot smoother. There was a video, other people in the course, I was more mature and understood that my brain was going to stay safely inside my head. It wasn’t until we went out for my first open water dive that I started to get a little bit scared.
We were heading out to the dive site on this little RIB (that is a small inflatable boat, for those of you that don’t know). Steve was my dive buddy, he is a local DJ in Plymouth, and we were both heating up in our dry suits in the unusually sunny weather, ready to descend into dark coldness. I started to laugh hysterically. For some reason, the whole situation seemed comical. It was like my body was laughing at what my brain intended to put it through. “ha ha ha, Sally, you are so funny. You actually think that we are going to fall back, into that horribly freezing blackness and then go underwater. Then you want to hang out there… underwater! You are so funny, Sally.” I remember looking at Steve and laughing even harder.
Finally, after getting myself under control, we did the backwards roll. There was a sudden intake of breath as the cold water hit my face and my head. I grabbed the line, and did what any good student would do, whatever my instructor told me to. I deflated my bcd, I let the air come out of my dry suit and I held the line for dear life and started to descend. I wasn’t laughing now… that was for sure. Instead my body was saying… “what are we supposed to do? We’re underwater! I know there is something to do. You put us in this situation, now think! What is it? Oh yeah… equalize.” We kept going down the line. We couldn’t see the bottom, as the viz wasn’t that great, maybe 10 feet. It was sort of a brown/green color. The suit squeezed around me, Iso put a little air in it, which felt so much nicer. I could see Steve’s face. He didn’t look right. He was all mushed up. I reached over and pressed the inflator button on his dry suit and saw the squeeze subside a little bit and the obvious relief on his face. That part was pretty funny.
We got to the bottom, acclimatized, and then we swam around. Sure, it was cold. Yes, there was water seeping into my mask. Correct, my instructor was soon going to make me do horrible things that I am totally scared to do. However… it was also wonderful. I was breathing underwater. It was different under there. There was something special about this experience. This little thought popped into my head “People do this for a living. There are people out there, who do this every single day, for a living. Wow…” I thought. Those are really smart people. That moment really changed my life forever. Here are two pictures. One is of me when I first went to the Red Sea, only a few months after my Open Water Certification. The second photo is of Steve, my dive buddy, who also came to the Red Sea.
So, that was my little story about my first time diving. I hope you enjoyed it! I seemed to ramble on a little bit… sorry.
We are looking forward to a nice night dive tonight, and then some deep diving tomorrow afternoon!
(Sally wrote this blog 🙂 )