|HQ of Belize Diving Services, my wonderful teachers.|
Well, I did it. I took that first breath underwater. And then another, and another out in the lagoon under four feet of water with pelicans watching. Even though PADI doesn’t recognize dives under twenty feet as an official dive and our dive computers kept automatically turning on and off because they couldn’t decide if we were going under or not, this one counts in my book.
I ended up being the only one who signed up for the course so am training one-on-one with a private instructor. I thought at first this might put extra pressure on me to perform, but actually it gave me so much freedom to speak my mind and get all the help I needed. One bit of advice he gave me at the very beginning: internalize the Caye Caulker motto and go slow. Move slow, breathe slow, everything slow.
In shallow confined water–similar to swimming pool conditions–I learned and demonstrated basic mask skills, emergency breathing, and stress tests over about 3 hours. There were times I minorly panicked. Apparently this is normal; most people struggle initially with a couple specific skills and take time to get their shit together in the new environment.
The very first skill tripped me: partially flooding your mask and clearing it with a strong puff of air through your nose. I hate hate HATE water in my mask. And I am neither a yogi nor a wind player, so breathing control isn’t my strength. I flooded my mask, floundered, and surfaced. This is apparently a common skill to freak on initially. After some deep breaths at the surface and calm words by my instructor, we went back down and completed other skills first (taking the regulator–the breathing apparatus–out of your mouth and putting it back in, breathing from secondary air sources, losing and recovering your regulator). With a little time, I became more comfortable. The next try, we practiced clearing an empty mask first. That buffeted my confidence and, after a deep breath, I succeeded with a partially flooded mask. Now I clear my mask all the time and it’s awesome! It really helps to know that I can now solve a common problem that I used to dread.
One of the more interesting skills to me is adjusting buoyancy. There are many tools at your disposal: your BCD (inflating/deflating vest), lead weight belt, and very importantly your lungs. I was amazed at how much breathing control and lung capacity impacted my position in the water and had fun playing with it. My instructor said I was a champ at these skills. We also practiced taking gear on and off, simulating running out of air, breathing out of a malfunctioning regulator, taking the mask fully off and breathing with it off (I hated this one too), clearing a fully flooded mask, and simulating emergency ascents.
I feel like I accomplished a bunch of new things today and overcame initial hurdles. The few moments we spent cruising around looking at baby barracudas were pretty cool, so I look forward to doing more of that (you know, the diving part) and fewer stress tests. My confined water training is done, and I head out on a proper open water dive tomorrow. I am a bit nervous. Instead of a depth of four feet in confined water where the surface is right there (I did utilize this option today!), we could go down as low as forty. I have already done the most brutal skills and am more confident in my ability; just have to replicate some of them at greater depth. I have both proven to myself that I do have beginners nerves but also I can overcome them, stay underwater, calm down, and get it done. There is no easy exit down there tomorrow, so no panicking allowed. Practicing my Zen breathing tonight.