This last weekend was Sarah’s open water dives to receive her open water certification. She did an awesome job and is basically a badass. For those of you interested in SCUBA diving here is a brief overview of what the training consists.
The first part of the training is all classroom work. This can be done either online or in an actual classroom with an instructor. You learn a great deal of information, a lot of it scary, and all of it is important.
The online instruction is pretty well done and combines reading, video and quizzes to force the strange information into your brain. The classroom session combines reading a book outside of class with the instructor explaining the principles to you.
The next part of the class is the pool sessions. This is the scariest/most exciting part of the class. You finally get to take all of the theories you have heard about and put them into practice. For Sarah this was a huge leap. She is not one to be a fan of water and yet she went though this part of training like a rock star.
The first pool session is typically the most laid back. You take your first breaths underwater, learn how to properly clear your ears and get used to the idea of moving around underwater with all of the equipment. You also learn how to assemble and disassemble your equipment.
The rest of the pool sessions, of which there are five, cover a bundle of skills as well as practicing what you learned in previous sessions. This is when you learn to clear your mask, what to do if you lose your regulator or you mask, what to do if you run out of air and practice buoyancy control.
The next step is the open water dives. This is when you get out of the pool and go to a lake, ocean or quarry to do dives in a true underwater environment. Most people that I know got their certification in the tropics where the water is usually a balmy 80 degree. The rest of us, the true divers, go to blue hole or another lake where the water isn’t as warm.
Blue hole is, as the instructors put it, one of the more extreme diving environments that recreational divers dive in. The water is sixty-one degrees. Fahrenheit If you can’t imagine what that is like, it is cold. You have to wear a full 7mm wetsuit or a dry suit to avoid getting the hyperthermia. On top of that Santa Rosa NM isn’t known for its warm weather in the springtime.
When we got to the Blue Hole it seemed like it was going to be nice, 60 or 70 degrees, no wind, basically a great diving day. That night we were awoken by gusty winds that continued until the following night. So not only was it about forty degrees out of the water, it was windy. The only plus side to this is that when you entered the water it almost seemed warm, until it seemed cold.
The first day of diving is three dives. The first dive consists of going down to the platform, which is suspended at about 25 feet, hang out, make sure you can clear your ears and then go on a tour of the Blue Hole. The Blue Hole is an amazing place. It is a bell shaped lake; the top has a smaller diameter then the bottom. The max depth is around eighty feet and it connects to the Carlsbad cavern system. Luckily they have grated off the entrance into the caves to save a lot of divers from their own stupidity. The water is surprisingly clear, until the silt gets churned up, and it is always 61 degrees. Always!
The second dive is the beginning of the skill checks. You get to do the Giant Stride entry, which is quite a bit of fun, and then head down to the platform. Once there you go around the group demonstrating mask clearing, regulator recovery and clearing, alternate air source use, then you take a slightly deeper tour of the lake. This tour is great because you start to see all of the random stuff that is in Blue Hole, like the cow skull or the clown figurines.
The third and final dive that day is one of the roughest; this is because you are starting to get tired and because it comes after the lunch break. You get suited up, do the back roll entry and head to the platform. Once there you complete basically the same skills as before but with a few extra parts. The mask clearing in no longer partial but fully flooded, this makes it a little more stressful. You then do a third, deeper, tour of the Blue Hole.
Once you are done it is time to peel off your wetsuit, load up your equipment and go eat. Most people sleep really good that night. Your body is exhausted and as such doesn’t really care about anything but sleeping. The next morning comes too soon and you realize that your wetsuit isn’t completely dry.
Most people put their wetsuit on at the hotel for the second day of diving. Putting on a wetsuit that is dry is a chore of superhuman strength. Putting one on that is damp is a feat that only gods can survive. A damp wetsuit is not just wet, it is clammy. This damp clamminess leads to freezing cold as soon as you get outside.
Your feet get cold; your hands get cold and not just a little cold, the burning clod that makes your hands not work. This makes putting your equipment together a lot more difficult and makes everyone grumpy. The only plus is that once you get in the water you are immediately toasty warm, for about five minutes.
This last dive is the hardest to do, you are cold and you know that after the dive you have to drive home. The main skill on this dive is removing your mask, putting it back on your face and then clearing it. It is one of the hardest skills known to man… well maybe not. It is really difficult though. The reason is that the inside of your mask is the last bastion of warmth. Your face is dry under your mask, dry and warm. When you remove your mask you get the shock of cold water on your face and you immediately want to inhale thought your nose. As soon as you do that you forget that you can breathe out of your regulator and head to the surface.
If you can fight this urge, stay focused, you can complete the skill and are a SCUBA diver. If you panic and surface the instructor or dive master will follow you up, making sure you ascend safely, and if you are ready you can head back down and try again. That is the beauty of SCUBA; you can’t fail, you can only quit.
It is my opinion that everyone should learn to SCUBA dive. It is amazing. The sights you see, even in a lake with few fish, will blow your mind. Here is a skill that is attainable for anyone that allows you to experience weightlessness and an alien environment unlike anything else in the world. SCUBA opens up doors of exploration that you wouldn’t have considered prior to learning to dive. Give it a try it is awesome.