I’m one of those people that says I love the ocean, but have always meant it in a fairly superficial way. I like its colour, I like putting my feet in it, I like watching it change from blue to gold to black as the sun sets over it. But, I’m nervous. I don’t like big waves or big sharks. I don’t think I’d even like little sharks, to be honest. When I was in Grade 11, one of the guys in my glass gave an oral on the time he was knocked off his board by a shark (he even showed us the video that his mother continued to take while he was swimming away from a great white…I don’t think he was her favourite son). One of the things this sage 16-year old told us was that, when you are only knee-deep in water, a shark can see you. I’ve heard and discarded many pieces of information in my time. But that? I just can’t shake it! Damn you, Lee. Anyway, there’s still an even bigger part of me that always felt that, if I knew what was UNDER the water, I’d feel better. I love the idea of SCUBA diving. Quiet, peaceful, blue, cool. So, when ProDive in Plett recently had a special, I snapped it up sooner than I actually thought it through.
And that’s a good thing because, if I’d thought it through, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I’m not a strong swimmer, I never go under the water without holding my nose, and I don’t like having my face wet. Not your average good candidate for SCUBA diving, I guess. But, I qualified and absolutely loved it. Just like Zee, the world’s most patient diving instructor, told me I would.
I guess that the most challenging part of the course is wrapping your brain around the space issue. I’m not claustrophobic at all, so I can’t talk for people that are, but even I took a few minutes (maybe an hour) not to be freaked out by breathing at the bottom of the swimming pool. But, it passed fairly quickly and got easier and easier. Soon, I wasn’t even thinking about it. But, I don’t know if that would be the case for someone that is claustrophobic. It’s a pretty surreal feeling, at first.
My own personal terror was taking the mask (goggles) off under the water. This is a skill you need to master in case someone kicks your mask off underwater and you need to get it, put it back on your face, and get rid of the water in it – all at 6, 12, 18 metres underwater. This was tough. As soon as I took it off in the pool, water got in my nose, I choked, and shot up to the surface. Over and over again. Well, like, five times. Zen-like Zee assured me that others had taken longer. I didn’t care. This one consumed me for days. I practised a few times in the swimming pool at home – just putting my face in the water with a snorkel and no mask. I literally woke up with my heart racing at the thought of this. On the day, after 20 minutes spent at the surface of the water talking about going under the water, and having used no less than 30 bar of my air in hyperventilating, I did it. So, Zee gave me the secret. And I’m going to share it here, in case anyone in a similar position happens to find this blog post:
- Take one breath through your regulator.
- CALM DOWN.
- Start breathing out through your nose and, while doing that, remove your mask.
- STAY CALM.
- Block your nose with your fingers.
- YOU ARE AS COOL AS A CUCUMBER.
- With your other hand, get your mask ready to put back on your face.
- EVERYTHING IS FINE. DON’T OVERTHINK IT.
- Take another breath through your regulator.
- PEACE IS YOUR MIDDLE NAME.
- Release your nose and start breathing out of it immediately.
- BREATHE, STAY CALM. YOU’RE NOT GOING TO DIE.
- Put your mask back on.
- SEE? ALMOST DONE. AND STILL ALIVE.
- Take another breath through your regulator.
- YOU ARE THE MASTER OF TRANQUILLITY. THE LORD OF SERENITY.
- Clear your mask using the normal mask-clearing breathing technique.
- AH, GOOD TO BE ALIVE, ISN’T IT?
Genius! It works!
Other skills that you learn and practice in the pool and at sea include:
- Using your breathing to hover above the reefs.
- Retrieving your regulator if it happens to come out of your mouth and floats behind you.
- Helping a buddy that runs out of air.
- Taking off and putting on weight belts and BCD’s under the water.
- Getting a panicked or tired diver to safety.
- Using hand signals.
- Using a compass.
ProDive is well equipped with all of the wetsuits, masks, tanks, flippers, BCD’s, weights etc.. that you’ll need. The instructors are chilled, friendly, and very thorough. They don’t allow you to take chances in areas that would be dangerous under the water, but make the lessons fun and engaging. There is a quick theory session at ProDive, but 99% of the course material is sent to you in advance and needs to be covered before your first lesson. They use a fabulous PADI app that makes it easy to understand – there are even instructional videos and quizzes to test your knowledge.
Sadly, my qualifying dives were in really bad visibility, so I didn’t see dolphins. But, I saw some pretty shells, colourful anemones, and massive starfish. And, the point is that, when I want to see dolphins or seals, I CAN! Because, I’m totes a SCUBA diver now.
And about the shark thing – So, apparently, they’re surface feeders. This means that the bottom of the ocean is actually the safest place to be. In addition, they’re not hunting you. And they’re apparently very chilled most of the time. Just big fishies. If they happen to be aggressive, you can tell by their body language (hunched back and pectoral fins pulled in). Also, more people are killed by vending machines every year than by sharks. Phew, that all made me feel a lot better.