My crazy decision to become a scuba diver
When the instructors at OK Divers told me that I would handle the PADI Open Water Diver course with no problems, even though I had never dived before, I was kinda skeptical. 28 years have been enough time for me to realize that I am often quite hysterical. Actually, I was panicking about potentially starting to panic underwater. At the same time, however, I was ready to do what it took to become a diver. The underwater world has fascinated me incredibly since I was a little child and after snorkeling in Tulamben I was completely absorbed by this new world. I did not want to only listen to our guests’ diving adventures. I wanted to experience these adventures with them, first hand.
Even though my instructor was a total professional and I trusted him completely, I must admit the OWD course was a challenge for me. I thought that I was a lost case. But thanks to the dive instructor’s patience and commitment, I am now a fully certified Open Water Diver ready to take on the underwater world. The following lines are for all the people who want to learn how to dive, but are afraid they couldn’t make it. Because if I did it, you can do it to, trust me.
On the first page of the PADI OWD manual, it is written that you will never forget your first breath underwater. It sounds very romantic, indeed. I do not remember my first breath underwater. I was completely stressed out by the fact that I had voluntarily decided to dive 3 meters deep using some strange tubes with a tank on my back. Somehow, I just breathed underwater without drowning, and although my self-destruction mode is often pretty high, I was happy I was breathing at all. The biggest stress I had once again was that my mask would flood. That was however not happening, so I tried to calm down and focus on the skills that our instructor Laci was demonstrating underwater. That was quite difficult for me. I usually react pretty slowly even in more comfortable situations.
For a better illustration, let me describe at least some of the millions of exercises we went through during the first day of the OWD course.
Laci takes out his regulator (I call it respirator, please, don’t ask me why) out of his mouth underwater, for a moment he exhales making bubbles and then puts it back, presses it in the middle and breathes through it again. Now it’s our turn. Robin is the first, he repeats everything perfectly after Laci, then Julia, who also has no problem to interrupt a single supply of air into her lungs. Lucia, who was so excited about the course doesn’t hesitate at all, she is making the bubbles while holding the regulator in her hand. Now it’s my turn and I realize I don’t really like the idea of taking the regulator out of my mouth. I hesitate for a moment while taking deep breaths (I think that Darth Vader probably feels like this while breathing, I make totally terrifying sounds). Finally, I take the regulator put of my mouth, making bubbles and trying not to panic. After few seconds I put the regulator back to my mouth and push the purge button. I’m breathing again. I’m still alive. For now.
Subsequently, Laci shows us that we have to remove a regulator from the mouth, throw it over the shoulder and use a smart move to the side to recover it and put it back in mouth. This comes to me as a very simple exercise, but only until I watch others doing it. When it’s my turn again, I suddenly don’t know what to do. I take the regulator out of my mouth, I throw it away and lean to the side, but the regulator doesn’t come back to me. I don’t see it anywhere, and panic washes over me. After a while I use the rest of my brain, catch the tube which is connected to my regulator, draw it back to me, put the regulator into my mouth, press and breath. At that moment I know, that the OWD course be a challenge.
Laci shows me that it's not enough to just lean to the side, and that I have to touch my leg, then the tank on my back, wave my arm, and I will find the regulator on my shoulder. I try it the second time and I realize that under the water I’m even clumsier than on land. I lean to the side while touching my leg and tank, making an awkward arm movement, and voila the regulator is on my shoulder after a while.
We continue in deeper water. It takes us a lot of time to get there. Or, to be correct, it really takes me a lot of time to get there. The buoyancy somehow pulls me back to the surface, the water does not want to accept me. I’m trying not to take this as an omen that diving is not suitable for me and I fight.
Finally, we're all at the pool bottom. Lucia enjoys it, she is making funny faces for dive master Katka, who is watching us from an underwater classroom. Yep, at OK Divers they have a classroom with a large window looking right into the training pool. But anyway, I do strange movements with my arms while trying not to go back to the surface.
Another exercise is out of air simulation. My buddy is Lucia, poor girl. Laci closes the air inlet, Lucia shows me the gesture that she is out of air, I give her a replacement regulator, she puts it in her mouth, then she tries to breathe, but suddenly she flies up to the surface. We follow her. "I could not breathe and I drank lot of water," explains Lucia while breathing fast. "This is because Lila gave you the regulator the opposite side, and you put it in your mouth like that," explains Laci. I am confident that I will never ever forget how to put regulator to my or someone else’s mouth. Lucia certainly too.
Laci calls us go back down, but I'm floating on the surface again like a soup crouton. When I finally get to the bottom, we successfully repeat this exercise, this time without tasting the pool water.
And now is the time to teach us how to clear our masks. Laci slightly pulls his mask away and fills it with water, so it's half full. Then he presses the top part of the mask on his forehead, tilts his head up, as if looking at the surface, and blows the water through his nose out of the mask. When I'm watching this, I feel adverse emotions. I think that physics is amazing and the whole procedure seems quite easy to me. I'm happy that there is a way to get water out of the mask. Finally, there is hope that I will survive this course. On the other hand, however, I can't imagine, that I will voluntarily flood my mask.
The other Open Water Divers course participants have no problems with this at all. When it’ my turn again, I give Laci the look of total distress and ask him, if he can show me once again what I have to do.
It takes me about a thousand years, but finally, I fill my mask with a little water and almost instantly I'm trying to get it out of there. I'm breathing out through my nose hysterically and water disappears. Laci shows me the OK sign, but now I need to fill my mask with more water. It takes another million years to prepare myself for this procedure. Finally, I do this madness while blowing my nose even more hysterically, swallowing a little bit of water. But I have no water in the mask. Chants, magic and physics. I am still alive.
The last exercise for me was a living hell. Laci takes the mask off completely!!! He breathes for about half a minute through the regulator, still without the mask on his face, then puts it back again and clears the water out. Now, I'm really panicking. I watch Robin, Julia and Lucia doing this exercise, but I signal Laci that I can't do this. When we get to the surface I explain that this is too much for me. I don’t want to hold the others back, so we agree with Laci that we will go to the last practice and return to the mask procedure later on, individually.
The last exercise for today is that we have to swim up from corner of the pool to the other on one continuous exhale, making bubbles. It helps to actually make an “aaaaa” sound while doing the ascent.
Again, I'm the only one, who has a problem with this exercise. Maybe I'm too focused on making the “aaaaaaa” sound, because I'm exhaling too quickly, so I need to take a breath again when i reach three-thirds of the pool. I try it three times, but I just can’t make it, so Laci decides to try it with me tomorrow.
Robin, Julia and Lucia have a break, but me and Laci stay for a while in the pool and try the mask exercise in shallower water. "Laci, I don’t know what to do. I can’t even imagine taking the mask off, because I’m afraid to breathe water in through the nose and suffocate," I share my crazy fear with him. Laci is trying to encourage me. I'm dabbling in shallow water without the mask, only with the regulator in my mouth, but whenever I go deeper, I stop breathing completely. Laci sees that I'm totally exhausted and decides to continue tomorrow. "Have you met anyone else unable to breathe just through the mouth? I didn’t know I had such a problem. I just don’t know how to block my nose. Maybe I should give up" "Lila, we'll try it tomorrow, you can do this, trust me, "Laci encourages me.
When I finally get out of the wetsuit after hours in the water, Burgie, an Australian doing his PADI Dive Master internship at OK Divers stops by. He sees I'm totally destroyed. He asks politely how it was in the pool. "My new nickname is DD as Diving Disaster", I tell him. He asks me what my problem is, so I describe my situation and the nose issue. ''You are a human, Lila, you can do this, you just need more practice.” "I don't know, Burgie, maybe I'm not human at all." "Oh, another creature from Mars?” asks Burgie wondering.
Laci sees, that I am completely destroyed, when I’m leaving OK Divers, so he offers me a pickup and an extra training session the next morning. I must practice and master these skills, otherwise I can’t continue with the open water dives. So I agree to an early morning pool session.
When I open the door to my house, I spot a giant cockroach lying dead on the floor. "I know that feel bro," I say as I pick it up and throw out of the window. I'm sitting on the bed for the rest of the evening, trying to breathe only through the mouth, without using the nose. I feel like an idiot. After about two hours of this 'relaxation' practice, I feel exhausted. But I am not a quitter, tomorrow is another day, another adventure and I’m determined to become a diver.