I tried to cough to get the salt water out of my mouth and lungs. The taste was horrifying and I wrestled with my mask to try and see where I was. The regulator fit awkwardly in my mouth and I was taking in air and water at the same time. I had to come up.
Scuba can be challenging, in fact downright hard for a novice.
I thought that I had wanted to learn, and was both excited and filled with anxiety. Would I be able to learn all the equipment? What if something happened? Would I drown?
Yes,I wanted to see all the “cool stuff” and “swim with the fill-in-the-blank.” But how do I get out of an emergency? Never mind the equipment- what about the wild animal life? Sharks? Rays? Jellyfish? Were they dangerous? Was this really for me?
I have always associated the phrase, “out of my comfort zone” with inflexibility and stubbornness; an excuse for not only the unadventurous, but the close-minded. The words seemed like a dated cliched way to say “no”.
My mind was wrapped around them in a new way however, and as I approached Scuba diving, I let words guide a level of self understanding that acted as my compass for the training. I let myself be the student- asking questions and practicing over and over. I did not feel stupid because I very keenly felt, in six-foot swells, twenty miles from land, that my life depended on my humility.
Underwater, the senses change. Sound comes from every direction and it can be hard to discern what is in front or behind you. Vision changes too: water can easily fill your mask and your peripheral sight is eliminated. You have to move your head like and owl, twisting on your neck to see side to side. All you can hear is your slow, rhythmic respiration and watch as your air bubbles rise to the surface of the water.
When I sucked in salt water, and my mask began to fog, I let myself be entirely in the moment – knowing I had to surface to get it together. I kept calm, waved my hand and said simply, “I need help.”
This is not something I say often.
I like to consider myself open minded and flexible. Most of the time, I cling to my routine and my habits like everyone else. I call myself and nonconformist, when in fact, I walk the straight and narrow. Habit has been synonymous with competence. I am not ashamed about it – nor does it fill me with pride. It acts instead as a starting point: a place from which I can measure what and who I am in the face of change.
I was surprised with myself.
I feared dying more than I did looking stupid. Fear was not the only motivation however. I genuinely wanted to be good at it. During the training for the open water certification, I was neither a “yard sale” of a person freaking out all over the place, nor an uptight, know-it-all.
I felt myself as open and trusting. It made the process fulfilling and built confidence in me and my capability. I was filled with the kind of joy that PADI professionals hope to inspire to build a life-long love of diving.
Dive shops across Belize (and the world), work with beginners on a daily basis. Clear communication about your level and expertise is the building block of success for any dive experience.
Ask you dive shop about their staff: a good fit will make your day.
Make sure they practice with you in contained water. Shops like Splash Dive Center and Avadon Divers, use pools and shallow waters near the Cayes to help you get oriented to the equipment and water. This is vital, as you will learn the basic functions of your gear, as well as build your knowledge of what to do if you find yourself sucking in salt water, losing you mask, or scared of your surroundings.
Take it slow of you need too. My husband an I are at very different levels physically. While we were both were excited to learn, he was ready to move on before I was. I needed to make sure that I got the steps down pat, before I leapt in. It would have been easy to let an internal pressure to keep up with my husband, prevent me from repeating some of the skills I wanted to rehearse. I spoke up, asked for what I needed and ultimately, Mark found the repetition helpful for techniques we needed for deeper dives.
PADI shops want you to love diving – not hate it. Anne Marie McNeil of Avadon and Patty Ramirez of Splash are devoted and kind shop owners. They are seriously invested in making the experience good for you.
So let them.
Ask for what you need and they will help you. After all, it’s good for you and it’s good for business.
Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons