I finally made it to the open water series of dives! I admit I was nervous and didn't know if SCUBA was really for me. In my last post I explained how I had issues with water leaking in my mask, with breathing, and staying relaxed. My next concern was jumping into the Puget Sound. The water's cold! During the dive it was around 51 degrees Fahrenheit which required the use of an exposure suit to stay warm and comfortable.
A few days before the class I called Craig asking if Dry Suits were permitted in the open water class and he highly recommended against it. His idea was that student's had issues with buoyancy and adding another buoyancy control device (the drysuit) to the mix would only make things more complicated. I agreed, sucked it up, and went with the wet suit.
Wet suits are an interesting beast. They are hard to don, need to fit snugly to keep you warm, when wet can be cold, and sometimes stink too. Once on they tend to heat up under the sun. Believe it or not Seattle has a few days of sunshine and when it's out it can reach 70 - 80 degrees F easily. For Seattleites that's hot! Now that we are suited up baking under the sun the next step is to strap on what feels like a thousand pounds of gear.
After all of the safety checks and final ok we head out to the water. Walking on lose rocks weighted down isn't as easy as it seems. One must take the proper caution to avoid falling down and potentially hurting themselves with the heavy equipment. With the tide out those same rocks can sometimes get slippery with algae, seaweed, and other plant matter. The best way to handle this is to take it slow and make sure you have a solid footing before each step. As I get closer to the freezing cold water I start to tense up thinking this is going to suck!
I put my left foot in, still dry. I take the next step and the cold water rushes into my boot and up my leg. It was cold but surprisingly not as bad as I had expected. Once wet the wetsuit does it's job and actually makes the whole experience rather pleasant and warm. I was worrying about nothing! We kept wading out until the BCD supported our weight and allowed us to float on top of the water. It was time to dive.
After a few more checks and some last words of wisdom Craig asked us to grab ahold of our inflator / deflator valve and start our descent to the floor. We did as told, settled to the bottom, and I was hooked! All of my worries and fears were forgotten and I was SCUBA diving! It's hard to explain the exhilarating experience, being in the ocean in an alien like environment. Everything looks, feels, and sounds different. In the water you feel weightlessness as if you were in space. It took that moment to finally understand the term innerspace sometimes used by divers. You're also breathing under water, something human's were not really built to do. For me the draw is the peacefulness that comes with it. The busy city life vanishes and you are alone, with your dive buddy, in complete zen.
The open water course continues with practicing the skills learned in the pool and building upon them. By the end of the fourth dive I'm finally starting to feel comfortable and excited for the possibilities with my newly learned skill. Learning to SCUBA dive has been one of the harder things I've done in terms of pushing my personal limits. I've never before attempted a task that made me question my own safety like SCUBA diving has and that includes flying. I realize now that with proper training, respect for the sport, and some common sense that I have a pretty good chance of making it to dive the next day. During the pool training, my first time being under water for any length of time, that little detail was something I doubted. By no means does the open water certification make me a pro, in reality it certifies me to begin my real world learning and training. Something I can't wait to do!
It's cliche to say, but ever since that moment, SCUBA is something I can't stop thinking about. I eat, breath, and sleep SCUBA counting down the days to my next dive. If you are looking for a life changing experience then I highly recommend this past time activity. Believe you me, you'll be glad that you did!
The next step in the open water certification process is the closed water dive in a swimming pool. Here we were introduced to the buoyancy compensator (BC), the first and second stage regulators, the dive cylinder that holds the compressed air that we breathe, the weight belt, and of course the fins, mask, and snorkel. We spent some time learning how the equipment works, how to don the equipment correctly, and how to test it to make sure it works properly. After setting up and tearing down the equipment a few times it was time to get into the pool and get wet. Piece of cake right?
Well not really. My five other class mates and I all grinned devilishly at each other as we were about to take our first breaths under water. Craig (the instructor) gave us the go ahead, we submerged our faces into the water and inhaled! I had to fight every instinct my body and brain gave me. It was screaming don't do it you'll drown! After that second breath all was good, relieved to know that this stuff actually works! Believe it or not that was the easy part.
After getting comfortable with breathing under water it was time to submerge ourselves to the bottom of the pool at the shallow end. I thought no problem. Boy was I wrong! As I reached the bottom (~5 feet) my ears started to feel the pressure, my mask was leaking and water was running up my nose, and I began to ask myself what in the hell am I doing? The first step was to relax, calm myself down, and work on the basics. I had to force myself to do this as every urge was trying to convince me to give up and surface! My first priority was to continue breathing and not drown. The next step was to equalize the pressure in my ears and the third step was to get that water out of my nose and mask. I was able to successfully do this but I began to question whether or not diving was really something I wanted to do.
I stuck with it, accepted the challenge, and worked hard to overcome my fears of drowning! After a few minutes things got better, the initial shock wore off and I was able to start building up my confidence. I worked out each problem step by step as we were taught in the classroom. I was glad I took the initial training seriously and learned the material in and out as it made things a lot easier. We practiced the basics, breathing normally, removing the second stage, locating it and normalizing our breathing. We tried the same with our octopus and got use to working with our alternate air source. We flooded our masks and learned how to clear them underwater.
Next we worked on buoyancy control and practiced inflating and deflating our BC's. This proved to be extremely difficult and was going to take a good amount of time and practice to master. Once we felt comfortable we started to swim around and get a feel for it. I know for a fact we were all doing it wrong but we were having fun making due pushing or crawling along the surface. =) We slowly worked our way to the deep end of the pool (~12 feet) and practiced the basics again. Talk about nerve wracking.
There were a few other skills that we worked on including working with our dive buddy, emergency procedures, and other methods of entry. Those were pretty simple and actually quite fun. At one point we shutoff the dive cylinders to demonstrate an out of air scenario. I only got 3 breaths, everyone else claimed to get about 5. After about 5 hours of training everyone successfully completed the dive. I was feeling better about my ability to survive under water still uneasy as to whether or not SCUBA diving was a wise choice for a past time activity. Giving up wasn't really an option so I focused on my goals and decided to stick with it.
Overall it was a lot of fun. Breathing underwater is like no other experience I have ever tried. On the surface all of the gear feels like it weights 200+ pounds. Under water that weight vanishes as if you were weightless. The least amount of effort moves you around gracefully as if you were floating in space. It's an unreal experience and I highly recommend that everyone try it at least once. Next up the first open water dive. Wish me luck!
If you think about it the Orbiter Space Shuttle really isn't all that old. It's also hard to forget the tragic scenes of the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Still, mankind pushed on, taking chances and perhaps giant leaps of faith to explore a universe we know little about. I question the decision as to why the program had to come to an end. I'd rather see cuts in other areas then to sacrifice such an important scientific tool. I only hope I'll get to witness the next generation of space flight technology and travel in my lifetime. We will miss you Enterprise, Discovery, and Atlantis. May Challenger and Columbia rest in peace.
Dave Hill, probably my favorite photographer of this period has out done himself again. This time he deconstructs his images layer by layer giving us an inside peak of how he puts it all together. Way cool!
So I get this bright idea that it's time to learn how to SCUBA dive. It's something I've always wanted to experience and I have a few friends that dive religiously which provides me with another motivating factor. According to their adventurous tales it's a life changing experience and it's something everybody should try at least once in their life. I assume they mean breathing under water because the types of diving they do are not for the feint of heart. We're talking technical diving to very deep depths using closed circuit rebreathing equipment. Essentially the type of diving where if you make a mistake it usually results in a visit with the grim reaper. I do the usual research online, getting an overall idea of the process and what it takes to keep from killing myself. Trust me when I say I had no clue what I was getting myself into.
There's no shortage of diving schools in the Seattle, WA area. Some of the bigger names include Seattle Scuba Schools, Underwater Sports, Lighthouse Diving Center, Bubbles Below and Tacoma SCUBA. There were a few other options but I was looking for well established businesses that have been around for a while. Next you have your choice in training organizations. Some schools only focus on one institution while others have programs available from multiple organizations. Below are just a few options.
PADI - Professional Association of Underwater Instructors NAUI - National Association of Underwater Instructors SDI / TDI - Scuba Diving International / Technical Diving International SSI - Scuba Schools International IANTD - International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers NASE - National Academy of Scuba Educators PSAI - Professional Scuba Association International UTD - Unified Team Diving
After visiting, in person, all of the schools above I learned my first lesson. One thing you'll quickly realize is that your local dive shop (LDS) will try to sell you a bunch of shit that you really don't need. For the love of god how do you even know if you'll enjoy the sport of SCUBA without trying it first? Why buy a bunch of expensive equipment if there's a possible chance that after your first dive you quickly realize that this just really isn't for you? The typical salesman will insist that it's important that you have your own mask, snorkel, gloves, boots, and fins so that the gear fits you correctly. Simply put, it's a bunch of BS! Any dive school with a genuine interest in educating it's students will have an ample supply of dive gear in various sizes to either rent or include in your training. Plus you'll quickly outgrow the equipment purchased above and will end up buying double of certain things especially if you plan on buying a drysuit or wetsuit down the road. If you're made of money or just like throwing it away then by all means buy the equipment.
This ruled out most of the schools above. The ones left were Seattle Scuba Schools and Tacoma SCUBA. I ended up choosing Seattle Scuba Schools for a few reasons. It was close and I was excited to start my training right away. At the time I didn't know about Tacoma SCUBA so that option wasn't available at the time. Craig Gillespie from Seattle Scuba Schools is a great guy, has diving in his blood, and a genuine interest to share and teach SCUBA with others. Aaron from Tacoma SCUBA is also a great guy so you can't go wrong with either choice.
Seattle Scuba School's training is based on the PADI organization. The study materials include a DVD with a dynamic PDF type program and video based training (works on both MAC and PC), a dive table for determining no decompression dive times, dive logbook, and various brochures that describe and explain the benefits of the PADI organization. Craig suggested that I set aside 15-20 hours of study time for the take home course and he was pretty much on the money. My attitude going into this was that I was going to do it right, learn the material in and out, and not take any short cuts. I spent the extra time to carefully read all of the material, review it a few times to make sure I understood it, and do all of the quizzes and side lessons. Over all it was entertaining, informative, and easy to comprehend. Up next, the closed water training in the pool and then the open water dives in the Puget Sound!