David first got interested in Scuba in the 60’s, and even studied some of the written materials then, but never went on to take lessons. Our friends, Jill and Rod Hearnes, are avid divers. They are even older than we are, and their example showed us that it is never too late to get started. So we decided last spring that we would book a Scuba course this season.
The course is sponsored by an international organization called PADI. There are several groups that certify divers, but PADI is one of the biggest. There is quite a lot of book learning that you need before starting to dive, and you can take an online course that covers this material. Both Gretchen and I completed the online course while we were in Switzerland last fall.
When we got to Bequia, we started the practical part of the training. First, you learn some basic skills in “confined water,” which in this case means “shallow and relatively still.” I.e., a few yards off the beach in front of the dive shop. Then you repeat these exercises in “open water,” which translates to “deeper.” There are a total of 8 or so dives, counting the confined water work.
We found the practical training to be more difficult that we had imagined from the online materials. The specific skills (e.g. clearing water out of your mask, finding your mouthpiece after losing it, sharing air with a buddy if you run out) are actually pretty straightforward. What we found challenging was even more basic: controlling buoyancy and equalizing our ears.
When you are diving, you have a weight belt to help you sink. You also have a jacket-like device that can be inflated to help you float. It seemed like all it would take to control buoyancy is to get the proper balance between the two. But it was not so simple.
The other thing that affects your buoyancy is your lungs. If you take a deep breath, your lungs expand and this makes you float. If you exhale strongly, your lungs get smaller and you sink. But of course, you are inhaling and exhaling constantly. It proved quite difficult for both Gretchen and David to control this. On our first couple of dives, we were bobbing up and down in the water like yo-yos.
Well, bobbing up and down just adds to the second problem: equalizing our ears. As you descend, you have to add air to your inner ears, in order to balance the increasing pressure from the water outside. It’s kind of like the pressure on your ears when you are on an airplane that is landing, except more intense. Equalizing your ears is a learned skill, and becomes easier with practice. But of course, on our first dives, we didn’t have much practice – and needed to equalize a lot because of our constant descending and ascending. If you get this wrong, it hurts!
On the second dive, Gretchen got so frustrated that she was crying into her mask. She couldn’t stay down on the bottom. Her ears hurt. David wasn’t in much better shape. We had to take a pause, and deal with these two basic issues before we could continue. The dive shop (DIVE BEQUIA) was extremely patient and accommodating. We scheduled a dive where we focused only on these two skills. By the end of the dive, we both were feeling much more comfortable and relaxed.
We still have two dives to go, but the skills in each of these dives should be learned and demonstrated without too much trouble. Then we will be certified divers!