Scuba Diving 101

The water has been my happy place as early as I can remember. One of my earliest memories of being in a swimming pool was when I almost drowned in Baton Rouge, LA. Apparently, I was frolicking in the pool with my sister and somehow went under. Legend has it, my mother pulled me by my hair to safety. One would think such a tragic experience would make me terrified of the water but that has definitely not been the case. I properly learned how to swim at the age of 8 and have loved all things aquatic ever since.

As I began traveling, a natural progression was to get my scuba open water certification. I can’t recall the first time I learned about scuba diving but it always seemed extremely elusive and intriguing. I recall while honeymooning in the Maldives, seeing the other hotel guests returning from their dive trips with all their gear in tow. I remember saying to myself aww man I want to do that one day. If going through a pandemic taught me nothing else, it taught me to make the most of every day. 

Turns out getting scuba certified isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. The first thing I had to do was attend an informational session about what to expect and purchase the necessary book materials. Pre-pandemic, there was a full weekend course from 9:00 AM-9:00 PM to complete the course. Now however, a complete weekend commitment is no longer necessary. The new process requires you to take the book and study on your own and then come back to the office to take the test, which they ultimately help you pass. I did look at the book before taking the test but I didn’t really spend as much time learning the basics like I should have. Also, with them basically helping me pass the test, that didn’t increase my knowledge either. After I “passed” the test, I bought fins, booties, mask, and a snorkel. The course itself was $400. The additional gear and materials was another $300. So to say I was invested, was an understatement.

The next part of the course was the pool session. Each session is 3.5 hours. In the pool session, you are taught how to assemble the dive equipment as well as several other scuba skills. Leading up to the pool session, I was super excited. I anticipated the course being super easy because I’ve been swimming for years. Scuba diving can’t be that much different right, WRONG! Some of the skills were easier than others but the one skill I struggled with the most was clearing the mask. Basically, this means when you’re underwater and your mask suddenly becomes filled with water, you have to know how to get the water out of your mask. Sounds weird right, I’m underwater but have to somehow get rid of the water in the mask. This skill felt so unnatural to me. This led to me having a meltdown during class. I was frustrated with myself. It also didn’t help I was basically the only one struggling with this skill. Not only that, the instructor was rather impatient, which also made me feel more anxious. Another skill I struggled with was the alternate air-exchange. This is what is needed in a worse case scenario, should you run out of air and need to use your buddy’s alternate air source. What you’re supposed to do is make the out of air hand signal and then clear your buddy’s regulator once you put it in your mouth. I think I got confused and didn’t clear the regulator properly, which led me to have a coughing fit. After the first day, I really felt down in the dumps. I felt like a failure. Later on that evening, I had my first panic attack. I laid in bed sobbing and struggling to catch my breath. I think it was just a culmination of everything that happened earlier in the day which took a toll on me. The next day went slightly better as there was an additional instructor. She took her time and really encouraged me to push through the challenges I was having. She worked with me individually, which also helped. I finally felt like I had more time to really focus on the areas which were affecting my progress. At the end of the day, I was not surprised to learn I had not passed the course and would have to retake the course. Thankfully, I did not have to pay again but I still couldn’t help feeling dejected. At the same time, I was also motivated to make sure the next time around I was more comfortable.

The plan was to complete the course in time for my husband’s 40th birthday vacation to Roatan, Honduras. I wasn’t initially sure when I could retake the pool session but eventually I was able to register for the pool session again. In the mean time, I turned to YouTube university to look at videos of people clearing their scuba masks. Thankfully, there is a pool within walking distance of my home so I practiced clearing my mask whenever I went to the pool. Although, I didn’t have the necessary diving gear, I did have my mask. So basically I would take turns filling my mask underwater and clearing it while holding my breath. This of course isn’t realistic because if I were actually diving, I would be able to breathe with the help of my regulator. However, this was the best I could do in the mean time. After a while, clearing my mask became a lot easier. I realized it was more of a mental game more than anything else. I believe it’s also unnatural because when you swim, you’re used to being able to open your mouth to take a breath and that skill doesn’t transfer to scuba diving. Instead, you’re relying on your nose opposed to your mouth. The only way to get the water out of your mask is by blowing the water out only by using your nose.

The time had finally come to re-do the pool course. I was definitely nervous but at the same time, I was ready. I wanted to practice  clearing the mask with the full use of the equipment. As the class progressed, the time had come when we all had to individually clear our masks. Lo and behold, I cleared it with no issues! To say I was proud of myself, is the understatement of the year. As the class continued, the other skills which I struggled with, I was able to complete with no issues. My confidence went through the roof. I’m not going to say I enjoyed clearing my mask but I was finally able to do it with ease. In the back of my head, I thought I hope I never really have to do this in real life. The second day of the course went off without a hitch, I officially passed the pool portion. The next step is to get a physical to insure I’m healthy enough to scuba dive. Once you have a physical and the doctor medically clear you, the scuba company will give you a referral in order to take the open water portion of the course. Open water can be done in an ocean, lake, or even a quarry. 

Check out my next post to hear all about the scuba diving in Honduras!


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