Scuba Diving: I Finally Get It

a scuba diver in blue water, gesturing at some coral
That’s me in the foreground.

Last month I spent a week scuba diving in Bonaire. Just writing that sentence makes me embarrassed about how much disposable income I have, but look, it was a cheap trip organized by a group, ok. I borrowed most of the equipment. And I don’t have kids to put through college.

I got certified to dive when I was in college myself, more than 20 years ago. So you might imagine that I’m a veteran diver, but in fact I haven’t dived that much. And I haven’t really wanted to that much.

Why? Diving is scary. You spend a lot of the training learning about what to do in potentially deadly emergencies. Breathing pressurized gas comes with risks that you have to thoroughly understand and monitor. I can feel claustrophobic underwater – the only space that is actually workable for human, air-breathing life is the mask over your eyes and nose and the regulator delivering air into your mouth. It’s easy to get disoriented under water and have a wee panic attack. Before you even get down there, there are a lot of things you have to do to get yourself all set to stay alive underwater and you often have to do them on a rocking boat. Also, as mentioned, it’s expensive. And the equipment is heavy – once I’m all suited up and get my tank and my fins on and I’m shuffling over to the edge of the boat to jump in, I’ve probably added a good 50 pounds to my weight. And my mask has a tendency to let in a tiiiiny trickle of water on one side or the other that dribbles into my eye, stings, and makes the whole experience annoying.

But last month, in Bonaire, I finally, finally got it. I figured out the sequence of things I had to do on the boat, and got them all done in plenty of time to jump in the water without feeling like I was holding anyone up. The last year of workouts had really helped with holding all the equipment. The group of experienced divers I’ve been with for my last two trips finally rubbed off on me; I relaxed.

And once I calmed down I noticed, oh my goodness, I’m in the ocean. Schools of glimmering fish swam by. A teensy shrimp waved from inside an anemone. Coral glowed greener than you’d think a living thing could grow. And those clouds and clouds of fish.

I was weightless; I flew.

I originally got certified so that I could scuba dive on a college study abroad program to Australia and New Zealand. My first open water dives were pretty bad–I did the required certification dives in a lake in Minnesota in the fall (there were snow flurries). Another anxious 19-year-old and I got each other through it by constantly reminding each other that we were doing this so we could dive on the Great Barrier Reef. So we did it, and we dived in Australia, and it was something–but it was claustrophobic, and the gear was heavy, and it was expensive, and I thought I’d probably had enough.

So why did I keep going back to something that I was so uncomfortable with? Other people. A boyfriend had a lifelong scuba habit and a conference in Hawaii; I refreshed my skills and went along. I was thrilled to see turtles and rays and whatnot, but never got over being scared of diving and jumpy about diving with an unknown set of strangers every day.

Then my dad got super into diving, so I went along on the most beginner-friendly trip his scuba club runs. The people were so friendly above water and so calm underwater, and patient with me as I tried to figure out how to be comfortable, too.

So I went back the next year, and there were the clouds of fish, and I worked out how to hover, mostly, and here I am. Ready to go again. Maybe next time I’ll figure out how to make my mask stop leaking.

Photo: Colin, a member of my dad’s dive club who probably has a last name.


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