One of the coolest things I accomplished last year was getting my scuba certification. When you consider that one of my biggest fears – other than spiders – is water, it’s nothing short of miraculous that I not only got my cert, but I’ve used it!!
I can’t really explain the rationale behind my fear of water because frankly there is nothing rational about it. As long as I can remember I’ve suffered from this fear. I could literally scare myself out of a bubble bath if I allowed myself to think about it too much, nevermind larger bodies of water (including swimming pools). The true irony is that until I moved to Arizona, I always lived in relatively close proximity to an ocean, gulf, or major lake but never fully took advantage of any of them. It took moving to the desert (and extreme heat I might add) for me to begin to appreciate how much fun the water can actually be!
It’s not that I can’t swim – after 10+ years of swim class I can pretty much do it all; and I float like a champ! I just couldn’t stay out of my own head long enough to enjoy water activities. This has annoyed me for years, and given all the water-based activities here in Phoenix (yeah, I know that sounds wrong somehow), I knew I had to find a way to overcome this fear.
When an opportunity came up late last summer to get my scuba certification, I took every ounce of caution, flung it out the window, and signed up. I don’t know that I would necessarily recommend my dive master for a beginner…he had a certain lack of patience which I found somewhat unhelpful. That said, he seemed to like me and did his best to push me to find new limits. I suppose in the end, it worked! I’ve been diving a handful of times since I got my official certification, although only in fresh water (aka lakes). One of my goals for 2014 is to venture out into salt water, so we’ve been discussing various options (it’s also a great excuse for a vacation – double win!). For someone who refuses to get in the ocean past mid-thigh, I’m oddly excited about the opportunity to be 60 feet under…
While I am a long way from having an underwater comfort zone, I have found that being in the water and being able to see what’s around me is infinitely less scary than being up top and vulnerable. I find that, like so many scary situations in life, removing the unknown helps in removing the fear. Perhaps that “unknown” has been my problem all along? The true test will come this summer (smile)!
If you’re interested in getting scuba certified, I strongly recommend you find an in-person class. There are online versions available for the first portion, but having someone in front of you to explain things is truly invaluable. Chances are there’s a dive shop in your area, no matter where you live (there’s a huge dive community here in Arizona of all places!). If not, a lot of resorts in tropical locations do offer scuba certification, but be forewarned that it’s a multi-day process. There’s a book to read, a calculator to learn, and a serious test – and that’s before you even get in the water! You do have to be able to swim a certain distance and tread water/float for a certain amount of time but neither requirement is too taxing.
The next step is your practical experience – a hand’s on learning of all the gadgets and gear that you’ve been reading about forever, which is generally done in a swimming pool for safety reasons. Your dive instructor will go over a series of basic skills you’ll need, and then you demonstrate your new skills until you have them down. Some instructors will do the pool-side skills in one day, some in multiple days.
After you’re comfortable in the pool, you must do an open-water dive – either in freshwater or saltwater, depending on your location. You’ll do a series of dives to demonstrate all of your fancy new skills, and if your instructor feels you have it down, you fill out all of the paperwork and you get a nice little “scuba certified” card in the mail a few weeks later. You’ll need this card to rent any scuba gear and sometimes to even buy certain gear. It’s a lifetime certification, but refresher courses are recommended if you have a prolonged period of time between dives. It’s also recognized internationally.
Once you’ve gotten your basic open water scuba certification, the sky’s the limit on additional certification courses – emergency response, photography, deep water, cavern, etc. Some of these, such as cavern diving certification, are required before venturing into any area where the water is not “open” around you. Considering all of the horror stories out there about inexperienced divers not coming back from a cave dive (like this one that just happened over Christmas), the extra time it takes to get this certification is well worth it.
There are also several internationally recognized groups for diving certifications. I went with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) course, which seems to be one of the more popular options. Wikipedia has a more comprehensive list of diver certification organizations from around the world here.
For anyone concerned about buying a ton of equipment for something you may never do again, there’s this amazing thing called equipment rental (smile). For the most part, it’s recommended that you do buy a mask, snorkel, and fins (all of which are pretty customized to you), but it’s not necessary. If you do buy these items, you’ll be set to snorkel, even if you don’t dive. The rest of the equipment can be collected (and customized/color-coordinated) as you go.
Diving at depths does put your body under a lot of pressure, something you have to take special care with and play by the rules. But I’ve found that it’s not really claustrophobic underwater. On the contrary, scuba diving opens up whole new worlds! As long as you have a good dive buddy and a solid amount of common sense, the bottom’s the limit (smile)!
Do you dive or snorkel? Have you ever purposefully done something out of your comfort zone to conquer a fear??