Take a deep breath…
Put your left hand on the low-pressure inflator of the BCD, and your right securing both the mask and regulator to your face and jump…
1… 2… 3…
Leaping off the boat using a stride jump may be a quick activity, but slow motion has taken over in mid-flight transporting my body from boat to water.
A thought comes to mind … SHIT!!
It may have actually become a verbal utterance instead of a thought, but my inner monologue has taken over, what am I doing? What was I thinking? How did I get myself into this? Why did I raise my hand no more than three hours before when the Diving Instructor asked if there was anyone interested in trying Discover SCUBA? Was I still asleep, or just crazy?
While flying off the boat suspended in air, I wonder, How high did I jump? How far above the water was I before I hit the water? Sinking into the depths I cannot see. There are too many bubbles around, but surprising enough, I CAN BREATHE (thanks to the regulator). I put my left thumb on the low-pressure inflator, which can add or subtract air from my vest, and push…
Up I go shooting from the deep to the surface… WOW!! That jump was amazing; I can’t believe I did it!!! I actually jumped off a boat, which is anchored in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Maui at Molokini, the crater that is shaped like a crescent.
I can see, barely, because my mask is foggy and covered with some of my very thick hair. I push the hair away from my face and a thought occurs to me, how silly and stupid do I really look? Just a moment of self-consciousness causes me to take off my mask, lean back to wet my hair, and fix some of the awkwardness I feel. Now, can I put the mask back on the right way so water doesn’t seep in and invade the seal I had before the self-conscious adjustment? It is necessary to get a good seal between the mask and your skin to prevent water getting in, and the thought of that occurring frightens me.
Okay.. Calm down… You can do this… I say to myself. Then I begin thinking… Why am I doing this again? Rob always spoke about the dangers, and horrors, the bends, decompression sickness, death, and all the potential problems that can occur!!
My mind won’t stop, as usual. I just have to relax, go with it, and not over-analyze. Just follow the instructor and remember what he told us in our mini lesson called Discover SCUBA, GOD he’s a hot instructor, oh don’t go there you idiot, do the dive. Get the skills done…
See what’s under the water…
WOW a new experience, a new journey. I AM SO EXCITED!!!
Of course the nerves have set in and at the same time I think my adrenaline is pumping. I wait my turn to demonstrate the skills while floating near the boat. I figure now is as good a time as any to look around. I see the crater and wonder if I’ll ever climb on it. Oh there’s my mom, watching from the boat. I pretend not to see her for fear of performance anxiety. I want her to be proud of me, and I want to be good at this diving thing, especially because she spent a lot of money to bring me here to Maui, and even more so I can dive, while the others snorkel.
I hear the instructor call my name through the fog of my continuous thoughts and inner monologue. OH SHIT!!! It’s my turn. What do I do? What if I can’t do it right? What if I can’t breathe through this foreign object called a regulator; which is my lifeline to air while underwater. Okay…. Here we go… it’s my turn… My heart races, if my hands were dry I’m sure my palms would be sweaty…
I swim over to the instructor and grab the descent- line which is the rope attaching the boat to the bottom thirty or so feet underwater. The instructor puts my hands on the rope and asks if I’m ready.
Am I ready? No really, am I honestly ready for this?
I say “yes,” or maybe nod in the affirmative. He grabs my low-pressure inflator and presses the button ever so slightly and we begin to descend, slowly, inch by inch under the water. I look through my mask wide-eyed, almost horror struck as the water level slowly comes up from below, enveloping me in its possession.
As I sink, I become distinctly aware of the fact, I have turned my head up towards the sky, believing that as long as I look up, I won’t drown. I think I am breathing at a rapid rate out of fear, excitement, nervousness, anxiety, and exhilaration, WAIT!!! Am I breathing? The cardinal rule for SCUBA diving is to always breathe, NEVER hold your breath. The water has completely covered me and I am underwater!! How did that happen? How deep am I? Oh, it only looks like a few feet…
I haven’t looked at the depth gauge on my console, I remember the instructor saying we wouldn’t be very deep when we perform the skills necessary in order to actually go on this dive. I look the instructor in the eye and realize, OH MY GOD I’m on my first dive!!! I’m on my very first dive!! Okay, now concentrate!! My instructor is watching me and waiting for my attention. He signals with his hands for me to watch him as he demonstrates the first skill I am to perform. There are four basic skills for me to demonstrate in order for me to actually dive. The first skill is clearing the regulator. He takes his regulator out of his mouth for a moment, all the while exhaling so bubbles are coming out of his mouth. He puts the regulator back into his mouth and presses the purge valve to clear the water out of the regulator. While watching him I notice how noisy the regulator is while I am breathing. I can hear the air as I inhale and as I exhale there is a new noise, bubbles being expelled from the mouthpiece. The nose is like a rush of wind passing directly by your ears. WOW it’s loud!! It was much louder that I ever thought possible. I thought there would only be the noise from boats, underwater life forms, and other things I have not thought of yet.
When he is finished I think to myself I can do this, it doesn’t seem so difficult. The instructor indicates it’s time for me to demonstrate the regulator clearing skill. OH GOD IT’S MY TURN!! Okay, I can do this. I take the regulator out of my mouth and concentrate very hard to exhale while the regulator is out of my mouth. I quickly put the regulator back in my mouth and press the purge valve. WOW!!! It’s like a hurricane in my mouth as the regulator pushes the water out, bubbles exploding from my mouth as I force my lips around the mouthpiece, and I can breathe again.
I take a moment, my instructor asks if I’m okay, and I respond with the okay signal. He then indicates that I am to watch him. He’s about to demonstrate the second skill I am to perform in order to go on this dive, regulator recovery. It is highly possible that while diving, the regulator may be forced out of your mouth and you need to be able to get it back and purge the regulator so you can continue to breathe, otherwise you would definitely be in an emergency situation.
My instructor takes his regulator out of his mouth and bubbles escape slowly and steadily as he drops it. The regulator is attached to his air tank, so all it does is fall slowly until it reaches the end of its’ tether. He moves his left arm down his side, pushes his arm away from himself and at the same time hooking the hose of the regulator onto his arm. My instructor grabs the regulator, brings it up to his mouth, puts his lips around the mouthpiece and presses the purge button releasing a stream of violent bubbles and he begins to breathe again, I can tell because when he exhales a stream of bubbles escapes from the regulator.
I watch the whole process and it appeared to happen in slow motion. The instructor points at me indicating it’s my turn, as well as, asking if I’m okay. Oh God!! It’s my turn. Okay, here we go…
I take a deep breath willing myself to relax, as I am about to release my lifeline of air from my mouth…
I take the regulator out, blowing bubbles at the same time as my lifeline falls away, but since my eyes are on the instructor I see nothing of the new location for my air-supply. I follow in the instructors footsteps, moving my left arm down along my side away from my body hooking the hose around my forearm as I bring the regulator back towards my mouth, wrap my lips around the mouthpiece and push the purge valve. As before, a flood of air attacks my mouth in hurricane style, and I fight the flood of air with my mouth in order to keep the regulator in place as I take my first breath.
I had two clear thoughts in the jumble of my head, Whew!!! I did it, and, Two skills down, two more to go and I’m home free. I got a clap from the instructor as he gave me a moment to regain my composure. He was about to demonstrate the next skill…
The next skill on the list is the out of air buddy breathing skill. My instructor signals for me to watch him. He signals out of air by moving his hand across his throat like one would if they were indicating death by a knife across the throat. This skill requires my assistance. The idea behind this skill is that my dive buddy has run out of air and needs my secondary air source, also known as an octopus. This octopus is a second regulator that a diver keeps attached to his Buoyancy Control Device in a visible area on the left side of the chest. The octopus is handed to the out of air diver, which they put the regulator in their mouth and purge the water out. As long as your dive buddy does not panic, the skill should go smoothly. In our case, the skill goes off without a hitch and the instructor indicates it is my turn to perform the skill. I signal to him that I am out of air, and in need of his help. He offers his assistance and provides me with his octopus. I put the regulator in my mouth, purge the valve and get the precious air back into my lungs. He takes his octopus back and I again have to get my regulator, put it in my mouth and push the purge valve just as I have done a few time already. The key point is still to remain breathing and never hold your breath.
Now it is time for the fourth and final skill, which is the one I fear the most. In this skill, your mask is filled with some water, as can happen if there is not a good enough seal against your face, and you have to clear the water out. I fear this skill because of the possibility of not being able to see, I have never opened my eyes in salt water, so I am scared that without my sight, I will be vulnerable, and in danger. I watched my instructor perform the skill, he moved so gracefully that it did not make sense at all, I was only able to see his hand move to his mask, and suddenly he was putting his hand on the forehead portion of his mask, tilting his head towards the surface and bubbles coming out of the mask, and then he tilted his head back down, faced me and he was finished. I had to ask him to repeat the skill because I was very confused. I had seen the skill and practiced it on the boat before the dive, but it was very different actually trying it underwater. I was scared. My instructor repeated the skill a little slower than he had before, but I was not feeling comfortable with the idea of having the mask fill with water. He asked again if I was okay and I replied that I was, even though I wasn’t. My instructor came towards me and brought his hands to my face, grabbed one side of my mask, and BOOM!!! Suddenly water began flooding my mask, covering my nose and cheeks causing me to pivot my head toward the surface as I inhaled water into my nose. I felt complete panic, I felt like I was drowning. I was literally struggling, but paralyzed at the same time. I needed to get out of there and fast. I don’t think I was breathing until I began couching because of the water that had gone up my nose. I thought to myself, this is it. I’m going to die. I’m going to drown right here and now!! The thoughts were running through my head at a mile a minute; which wasn’t helping my current predicament. I couldn’t function. I wanted to talk, to scream, to tell the instructor that I was drowning, and to top it off I wasn’t actually working on clearing my mask of water. I don’t exactly remember what happened next, but I think I gestured to the instructor that I needed to surface. I know I needed to breathe, I needed fresh air, and I needed to stop drowning. It appeared that my instructor seemed to be stuck in slow motion, while I was moving at a mile a minute and yet I was paralyzed at the same time. I began to ascend with his assistance as I indicated again that I needed to get to the surface. We were so close, yet seemed so far away; I was beginning to think I’d never make it.
BREAKTHROUGH!!! I pushed the regulator out of my mouth and ripped the mask off my face. “I can’t do this, I couldn’t breathe,” I said. My instructor said, “you were doing great. Three skills down, one to go.” He tried to calm me down by explaining that because the mask covers the nose, people often believe they can not breathe, but that’s simply not he case, the regulator is how you breathe, through your mouth, and not your nose. Most people breathe through their nose, so it’s unnatural for them to breathe through their mouth; it takes conscious thought in order to breathe through their mouth and it is hard work, but well worth it in the end. His powers of persuasion, as well as, an enthusiastic shout from my mother aboard the boat, were enough to get me to rethink the situation and consider finishing my skills because I really wanted to go on this dive. After some more deep cleansing breaths and a pat on the shoulder by my instructor, I decided to give this diving thing one more try. I indicated with a shaky voice, “I am ready to try it again.” I put my mask back on, put the regulator in my moth, took some breaths, grabbed the low-pressure inflator, and pressed the button. I began to sink under the water as I had before. This time, my instructor held on to my shoulder giving me the extra support he thought I needed, which I did. When we were stooped at five feet underwater, he asked me if I was okay by using the hand signal, which I repeated with a head nod and the okay signal. He indicated for me to watch him as he repeated the mask clearing skill. I watched him intently, trying to figure out if there was some secret to the skill that I had missed previously. It looked just as smooth and easy as it had before, but I could see no secret trick to getting it done. I was so nervous I was shaking; afraid of the onslaught of water entering my mask; afraid of the feeling of drowning, and not being able to breathe.
My instructor did as he had before, he came right in front of me face-to-face, if we were not underwater, he would be so close that I could feel his breath on my face. I watched his hands come closer and closer to my face until he was touching my mask with one hand, and my right shoulder with the other, which calmed the shaking a little. He pulled at the left side of my mask, breaking the seal against my skin. This time a smaller amount of water escaped into my mask. It came in slower, not as a flood, but more like a constant stream. My instructor used the “are you okay?” signal and I replied with a definite yes. I kept telling myself to breathe through my mouth, like a mantra. I took my shaking right hand and pressed it to my forehead, turned my head downward, and exhaled through my nose as I turned my head towards the surface thus clearing all of the water from the mask. I wanted to scream I DID IT!!! I DID IT!! but of course I could not since I was underwater and I had a regulator in my mouth. I smiled at my instructor, and he clapped and patted me on the back.
The instructor indicated to me that I should move down the rope, or descent line, which is attached from the boat to the bottom; often it is used as a reference point when diving. My instructor surfaced to retrieve the other divers while I waited. I hung there underwater, for the first time being able to look around at my surroundings. I saw the underside of the boat; which is something I have never seen before, it was nothing special to look at, but I had always wondered what a boat looks at from underwater. I looked at my depth gauge and discovered I was eight feet underwater. I could hear my breathing through the regulator, which sounded empty upon inhalation and the sound reminded me of when you blow air over an empty bottle. Upon exhalation, I could only hear a thunderous noise, which was followed by many bubbles floating to the surface. When I looked around I saw a lot of nothing for about twenty-five feet in all directions. I could see the divers above me, the people snorkeling on the opposite side of the boat. The water had a bluish-grey tinges and the further away I tried to see, the darker the water became. The visibility underwater was completely different than outside in the sun. When standing on a beach, looking out on the water, it appears as if one could see forever, but underwater this was not the case, I could not see forever, I could just see darker water. The longer I waited, the faster I seemed to breathe, and a mild amount of anxiety was noticeable. I was very ready to move instead of just hanging there floating in the water because even though the water was about seventy degrees, I was beginning to get very cold.
The instructor and the rest of the group descended to where I was waiting, and began what was to be my very first dive. As we began our descent, going deeper and deeper, my ears began to hurt. I stopped descending and did as I was shown before we got in the water. I pinched my nose and tried to blow air out which would push against the pressure the water was exerting on my ears. The procedure is known as equalizing. I was able to equalize and continue to slowly descend. I was afraid I would not be able to SCUBA Dive because of past ear pain problems swimming underwater below four feet.
I was the last to make it to the bottom, a whopping thirty feet down. Oh my God I’m thirty feet underwater!! I thought to myself. I had this new strange sensation in my ears at this depth. It felt like there was a wall of water separate from the air space in my ears. It was a very weird feeling.
It was finally time to swim around and explore this strange and foreign world I never dreamed I’d ever see or even touch, and I noticed my fins were on the bottom of the ocean. I can’t believe I am standing on the bottom of the ocean, I thought to myself as I looked around. Then I began to panic to myself hoping I wasn’t stepping on a fish, or their home. I was able to gently push off the bottom discovering all I had been standing on was sand. When I pushed off the bottom a small sand cloud remained floating behind me. I made every effort possible to keep all of my equipment and body from touching, or dragging against the underwater world I was exploring, after all I was just a visitor. As I began to follow the group I began to notice my surroundings and how I was feeling.
I felt free, as light as a feather, completely relaxed, and at home. This sudden revelation washed over my entire being; I was at peace. I’ve always loved the water, going swimming, and trying to stay underwater for as long as possible, but there was never this kind of freedom. I had escaped from the bright, loud, fast world filled with chaos and stress, and found this peaceful world where I was floating, gliding, and easing along.
OH MY GOD!!! FISH!! A SCHOOL OF FISH I thought to myself. They were yellow with blue stripes swimming around the coral I was looking at. I knew I would see fish, but knowing and actually seeing were two different things. The fish didn’t seem to care, notice, or even be startled by my appearance in their world. I would have thought that fish would scatter like those in an aquarium do when their home is invaded. The fish just keep moving around; they even get so close I could touch them.
We continue on, leaving the school of fish behind, my first friends in this underwater environment. There is more to see ahead, including rocks, more fish, and a lot of coral. Up ahead, the dive instructor is hovering over a cave shaped coral formation. He is pointing at the bottom for us to stop and look down. I think, What is it? I move next to the instructor staring at the bottom, trying to see what I’m missing. There, on the bottom of the ocean, almost camouflaged, is a turtle. I am twenty-eight feet under the surface, and looking at a huge turtle. I want so badly to get close enough to touch this giant creature, but it’s a protected animal. Just five feet below me is a creature I cannot touch. Turtles can approach you, you just cannot approach, or even touch one.
We look at the turtle for another moment before continuing the exploration a little bit more, after all this is just a Discover SCUBA Diving experience and we are time limited by the air we have in our air tanks, and the longer we are underwater, the more air we use. The instructor points to all five of us one-by-one asking to see our gauges in order to see how much air each of us has left. I grab my gauge and look at it. At the beginning, before jumping in the water, there was 2000psi worth of air, a full tank, and upon looking at the gauge half of the air had been used.
I’ve used half of my air, is that good or bad? How long have we been diving? Where exactly are we? Where is the boat? How do we get back?
The instructor gestures for us to follow as he begins to glide through the water. I notice he only moves his legs because his arms are tucked in, hands entwined. He is completely horizontal to the bottom. I decide that since he knows what he’s doing, so I follow suit. I begin to notice I don’t have to kick very hard, or fast, just slow even kicks, and I begin to glide through the water smoother than before. I really feel as if I am flying through the water at this point. I continue to follow the group, looking around, savoring every moment, and remembering every detail. I want to remember this for the rest of my life. We pass more coral spaced between lots of sand, the only problem being, all of it looks the same. We pass more fish and I wonder if they are the same or different as before. I don’t know this landscape so it pretty much all looks the same. I look up ahead to where we are going, and the descent line comes into view. Damn!! I think to myself, I guess the dive is over. I’m not ready to go back to the real world. I look at the bottom to where the descent line is hooked to a huge concrete block, and follow the line with my eyes towards the surface. I can see the boat, and there are people in the water still snorkeling, as they were when we began our dive. As I look toward the surface, my dive instructor points to us, signals for us to grab the low-pressure inflator and we begin to kick towards the surface.
Before the dive, our instructor explains that the low-pressure inflator is not an elevator up or down button. If the low-pressure inflator is used instead of your legs to kick up, serious injury, even death can result because of failure to ascend properly. A proper ascent is a controlled ascent. He explained that the legs are the proper instruments for ascending. As a diver ascends towards the surface, they must not go any faster than sixty feet per minute. The low-pressure inflator can be used slowly in order to float at about fifteen feet from the surface. Stopping at fifteen feet is known as a decompression stop, and we stop there for about five minutes. The deeper a person dives dictates how long to make a decompression stop. The decompression stop is used to help the diver rid some of the nitrogen that has built up in the blood stream. As we ascend, and get closer to our decompression stop, my underwater world begins to get smaller and smaller.
As we stop, I take one last look at my underwater world, my new friend who I do not want to say good-bye to, for fear I will not meet my friend again. The underwater environment has welcomed me, and has touched my soul. The instructor, who signals us to surface, interrupts my underwater meditation.
At the surface I unhook my Buoyancy Control Device and hand it to my instructor. I then swim around the boat to the ladder in order to exit the water. As I step onto the ladder, I begin to pull myself out of the water and I feel heavier than ever before, heavier physically because I have been weightless for twenty-eight minutes. Heavier emotionally because I have left the quiet and peaceful underwater environment, and reentered a bright and loud world. Once back on the boat I look back at the entry point for the dive and realize the water is my sanctuary I will return to again.