There’s no experience like scuba diving. The ability to swim — and breathe — underwater opens you up to exploring a whole new part of the world. It’s truly incredible.
It’s also terrifying. But aren’t all things that are truly worth doing?
My husband has been scuba certified since the age of 14. As such, he’s spent the six years that we’ve known each other trying to convince me to learn, too. This year, ready to take on a new adventure, I decided it was time to take the plunge (both literally and figuratively). I signed up for the first open water diver class of the year at Aqua Adventures Unlimited, a dive shop in Burbank that had come highly recommended.
The classroom time was relatively easy. I had read the book the week before, and felt pretty good about all the information and lessons it contained. Scuba diving definitely classifies as one of those things, though, that you just can’t learn from a book. Don’t misunderstand me: there’s a lot of important safety information that you need to understand. But the experience of actually getting in the water and diving is something you just have to do.
I felt on edge through most of the pool dives. There were a few factors affecting my stress levels. The mask I had purchased didn’t quite fit right on my face, and thus I often ended up with a small amount of water in my nose and the bottom of my mask. We learned to clear our masks of water in one of our first lessons, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fully clear all the water out. I think I may have also been feeling a bit claustrophobic, which probably came from a combination of water in my mask, my mask fogging up, and the pool walls and my classmates appearing to be closer to me underwater.
Then there was the sheer act of breathing underwater. My equipment was working perfectly fine, yet my brain refused to accept that I would be able to breathe while sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool. At the end of every exhale, a tiny surge of panic would rise up as my brain would scream, “Don’t breath in, you’re going to die!!!”
Needless to say, after my first weekend of classes, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about scuba diving. I wasn’t ready to give it up, yet, though. Not until I’d tried at least one open water dive.
And traded in my mask for one that fit me better. Which I promptly did on that Monday.
We woke up bright and early to drive down to Long Beach harbor the following Saturday. The wind had been heavy throughout the night and early morning, and we were unsure if the conditions would be safe enough to dive in that day. During the ninety-minute ferry to Catalina the water fortunately became calmer, and we were able to carry on with our dives as planned.
Our stop that day was Casino Point, where we would do three shore dives in Catalina Harbor. Casino Point is home to a large dive park opposite the point from the Harbor, but because the winds were still a little too strong, special arrangements had been made to use the better protected harbor area for beginner classes. We dove from a rocky shore, which proved rather tricky to climb in all our heavy gear, and I had to get a little help to carry everything down to the water level.
By the time we’d finished the exercises, I was decently cold. Luckily, at this point, it was finally time for us to swim around a bit and explore the harbor. And that was when I started to get it. Scuba diving is awesome, you guys!
Too soon, it was time to ascend. In scuba, it’s recommended you make a three-minute safety stop at fifteen feet below the surface before fully ascending. This has to do with breathing out residual nitrogen, which I won’t get into here because it’s technical and if you get scuba certified they’ll tell you all about it. Thing they don’t tell you is how difficult this is if you’re unusually buoyant, like I apparently am. Without fail, upon reaching fifteen feet, my body would just shoot up to the surface. It was a little frustrating. In reality, I think I wasn’t entirely weighted properly. Luckily, we weren’t diving particularly deep, so the safety stop was more a precaution than a necessity, and I turned out alright after all.
By the time I surfaced after the first dive, I was pretty chilly, and opted to sit out the second dive to warm up a bit. I should mention that, in order to earn an open water certification, we needed to do four open water dives. We had six planned for the weekend, so I could easily sit out up to two and still earn my certification. After sitting in the sun and snacking a bit, I was ready to jump back in for dive number three. This one was even more beautiful than the first.
We woke up to the sound of the engines whirring to life the next morning. Breakfast was ready for us in the galley, which we ate gladly, then relaxed for the two-hour long trip back to Catalina.
We stopped to dive at three different dive sites throughout the day. At our first site, Eric and I realized we’d left our GoPro in the car back at the harbor, which is why there are no photos from our dives this day. Which is a shame, because they were quite beautiful. But you’ll just have to take my word for it and enjoy a variety of photos taken from the boat, above water.
So there you have it: my long-anticipated soliloquy on learning to scuba dive, perhaps the single most terrifying but wonderful experience of my life. Or at least of my year. Was it worth it? Oh yes. Would I do it again? Definitely.
Though next time, I’ll try not to leave my camera in the car.