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!