Saturday, October 16, 2010

First Dive!

Just a personal update that I HAVE FINALLY HAD MY FIRST SCUBA LESSON. Yes, I came out here to Hawaii exactly 15 months ago, telling everyone that I was going to study oceanography and scuba-dive around coral reefs for my job. But then classes happened, boyfriend happened, laziness happened, etc., and I never got around to learning to dive. Until now.

It was really quite convenient. A friend of mine from school is a dive instructor, so I worked something out with him for private lessons. I was slightly nervous because from time to time in the past year I'd heard him complain about his dive students--this guy couldn't breathe with his mask off without snorting in water, this guy breathed so fast he ran out of air way too soon, this guy took three hours to understand the dive tables--things like that. So I was worried that I would be the next example of a stupid student diver.

But I think my lessons went pretty well. I spent most of the day learning skills--descending, ascending, reaching neutral buoyancy, plus all the "what to do if crap happens" skills (mask fills with water, I lose my mask, run out of air, need to put my weight belt back on, etc.). At the beginning of the dive, I was having trouble equalizing my ears to the pressure. Ear, actually--my left ear was fine, it was just my right ear that was giving me trouble. At first it wasn't equalizing fully (just enough to get me to the relatively shallow bottom). Then I got it to start fully equalizing, but it was making squeaky noises as it equalized. That was a very bizarre experience. Why is my ear squeaking??? I had a reverse squeeze (when there's too much pressure inside my ears pushing out) on the way up, which was also relieved by a squeaky equalization. But after a couple squeaky descents, my ear finally seemed to give in and let me equalize it without much trouble. It's something that gets easier with practice, and I think part of it was just figuring out which technique works for me.

My low point of the day was definitely disconnecting the low pressure inflator hose from the BCD (buoyancy control device). It required a very awkward positioning of my hands, plus left hand strength and coordination (something I am rather short on), and I swear the little latch was stuck. Took me maybe 5 minutes to detach the little bugger, seriously. That was embarrassing. But the skill I found the hardest (that other one was just stupid) was breathing from a free-flowing regulator for 30 seconds. I had two false starts--I'd calmly pull the regulator out of my mouth, press the button to make it free-flow, think Holy frak, the bubbles are coming out really fast!, start putting my mouth over the bite pads to try to "sip the bubbles", then think to myself WTF?! I can't breath bubbles underwater! and put the regulator back in my mouth. It was just very disconcerting. On my third try I finally got myself to do it, by thinking of it like breathing with my face looking into the shower head: I'm breathing air, there's just some water getting sprayed in my mouth, too. So for anyone out there who wants to get dive certified, that's my advice for that skill--think of it like the shower. Even then it's disconcerting because the air is COLD, due to the fact that it was just under high pressure and is now expanding rapidly. Fun stuff.

But other than that, the skills went very smoothly. And after my "confined water dive" skills were done, I got to do my first open water dive. For that we went to Kewalo Basin, by Point Panic Beach Park (where do they come up with these names?). My only task was basically to not do anything wrong. Follow the teacher, don't crash into things, don't sink or float uncontrollably, and check air pressure so I know when to head back. Among other things, I saw a viper eel (a type of moray eel), lots of humuhumunukunukuapua'a (none attacked me), some cute little orange fish I didn't know, some spotted boxfish (both male and female), and a pretty big pufferfish. He didn't puff--I guess he wasn't afraid of us, which is good. My max depth for the dive was only 31 feet, which means that I could have brought my camera, which is good down to 33 feet. But apparently we're not allowed to have a camera for our first open water dive. I guess they want us to concentrate on not dying or crashing into the reef instead of taking photos. Oh well. Maybe next time.

I only need one more day of dive lessons (for the three last open water dives) to get my open water certification! Finally! See, it wasn't so hard, why did I take so long to get around to it? Anyway, hopefully I will be dive certified next weekend. The question is whether I'll be able to go out diving with the Housemate before he leaves for Antarctica, in just over a week. I can't believe it's finally almost that time. More on that later.

After diving, I went home and ate dinner with the Housemate while watching this past week's Hawaii Five-O. They had a scene in it from Point Panic Beach Park. I had to be obnoxious and pause it and say "I was totally just there this afternoon!!!" I love watching that show. Still waiting to bump into Grace Park around town, though. That would make me very, very happy.


soft nonsense said...

Equalize is probably one of my favorite verbs ever, so the fact that it was used roughly 7 times in this post made be weirdly happy. Congrats on your first lesson! My friend is certified, so he's been promising to take me sometime...

Eleni said...

Cool! Are you going to get certified yourself? Where would you go with your friend?

Amy said...

With my sort of ocean fear, it sounds terrifying to me. Wow. But if you like the ocean, I can just imagine that it is amazing. Congrats on such a big step!

Eleni said...

Thanks! Yeah, you'd need to take it slowly, start with snorkeling in protected areas, move on to diving. And some people scuba dive in lakes or quarries, if you'd feel better about that :)

Sebastian said...

The whole 'free flowing air' thing sounds terrifying... especially while under water, urgh!

Why do you need to know how to do it? Emergency technique -- or just some other variant of SCUBA?

Well done, though. You can teach me the ropes when I visit!

Eleni said...

Malfunctions are rare, but if a regulator does fail, it will usually start free flowing air (better than the opposite--cutting off all air). You can't keep it in your mouth because there would be way too much air coming out for you to breathe (the reg would probably just pop out of your mouth). So you have to be able to breathe off of the rushing bubbles long enough to get yourself to the surface.

Hmm, I'm not actually qualified to teach anyone to SCUBA. We can start with snorkeling.