Learning How to Breathe Underwater

Learning How to Breathe UnderwaterThe other day I was having a conversation with Sheryl about our impending vacation to Aruba. We were talking about all the sites and sounds that we hope experience while on the tiny island. The furthest point north to the furthest point south is a mere six miles.

There are a lot of reasons to travel to Aruba. Perhaps it’s the perfect weather you are looking for. Or maybe you are trying to find a remote location to get some work done. Or maybe you just want a place to lay your butt in the sand and sip on an ice-cold beer. No matter what brings you to Aruba, there is plenty to do.

One thing that I hoped to do during our trip was to go snorkeling. The concept is simple. Grab some goggles (which I later learned in scuba diving class was wrong as they are to be called masks) and a snorkel and hit the water. Fins would help but not required. And in Aruba the water is warm, often compared to bath water temperatures.

Regardless, I figured I would get some more info. So I did a bit of research and realized that scuba diving sounded quite enjoyable as well. Similar to snorkeling, you get to experience the water and things underneath the surface, but you actually get to dive underwater with a tank of compressed air. Did you know that scuba stands for self contained underwater breathing apparatus?

So with a bit of research online I found a place right down the road from my apartment that not only carried a wide range of snorkeling gear, but also did scuba diving classes. These classes are not free, but I figured it was worth looking into. I picked up the phone and called the dive shop.

When I first called Indy MPH Watersports, a nice young lady answered the phone. We proceeded to talk for almost a half an hour and she had me interested enough to stop by the dive shop that same weekend. I had no idea what I was getting into when I walked in the front door.

The dive shop is located right next door to my favorite liquor store. Just off of interstate 69 and 96th Street you will find the dive shop. So while I was out running errands I swung in for some additional education.

The lady I first chatted with was not there, but I did get the chance to chat with the general manager of the store. I even got the chance to meet the owner of Indy MPH Watersports when he walked in, made a remark about my car, and introduced himself. I knew from the second I shook his hand that this community of divers was going to be a place I would fit in just fine.

During my visit I looked at wet suits, snorkels, masks (not goggles), and fins as well as a wide range of diving accessories. It quickly became evident that this was not a cheap sport to get involved with. Similar to golf, I am used to spending a lot of money on something to pass the time. Just to give you an idea, including the class, a diver just starting out can expect to spend around $1,000 just to get started. Not to mention what it costs to get to your diving location and the cost to rent your tanks and your BCD (buoyancy compensator device). From the research I have done it costs roughly $75-$100 to rent your gear near the popular diving locales.

I knew I wanted to dive, but it is a lot of money to spend on something I will only be doing a few times a year. But the certification card does last for the rest of your life once you obtain it. To not require any additional classes, just make sure you make one recorded dive each year. I hope that’s not an issue as I am already traveling to Aruba and have plans to visit San Juan del Sur next year as well as Bali. I might even throw in another jaunt to the islands of Hawaii. How cool would it be to swim with humpback whales less than a mile off the coast?

While trying to decide if I wanted to do it, I asked a few friends of mine that might like to try it. Sheryl doesn’t know how to swim, and is practically scared to death of the water. And being such an expensive sport I needed to find someone that had an interest in the water. I asked around when my friend Ryan Jeffries showed immediate interest. He asked for a few days to think about it, but said he has wanted to learn for years.

His girlfriend doesn’t know how to swim either so it was an easy decision for him as well. He sent me an instant message and confirmed his interest. I was stoked he was on board and couldn’t wait until classes got started.

Our class is on Thursday night for three weeks in a row. Then, once class is complete you must do a series of open water dives. Here in Indiana they allow you to do your open water dives in a quarry just south of Indianapolis. The water is cold, but we can get our C-cards here at home rather than trusting an instructor in another country. You can get your C-card in another location, but it is advised against.

Our First Class

When Thursday came, I couldn’t wait to get off work so I could head to the dive shop. I needed to get all my gear, purchase the class, and make sure I had everything I needed. I arrived just a little after 5:00 PM and was ready to go shopping. Ryan joined me and bought nearly the same equipment I purchased. Before too long I had dropped nearly $600 and still hadn’t purchased a wet suit. We ran out of time or I would have.

Ryan grabbed all his gear as well and we headed to the classroom. The classroom was actually located in the back of Indy MPH Watersports and has enough space for a class of ten or so. We had five people in our class, two of which have had diving training before.

By the time class got started all I wanted to do was jump in the water. But first came two hours of classroom material first. The student package came with a copy of the SDI (Scuba Diving International) Open Water DVD as well as a log book to calculate all your dives, a sticker, and more. Once we filled out all the paperwork we were handed a series of questions from the book.

Getting Wet

After class was over, we all headed to Hamilton South Eastern High School for our in-water training. The first task was to swim four laps; four to the end and back, then we had to tread for a good ten minutes. I didn’t make all four laps, and only managed to tread for four minutes or so. It’s tough, no doubt about that. Then we all jumped out, dried off and warmed up, and began training on the tank itself and the BCD. It was an intense training, and I can tell it’s worth every penny.

After being trained on the tank and how to secure all of our gear, we threw them into the water and slapped on our booties, fins, and masks. It was time to dive.

One thing I was surprised with was how heavy the tank was. Granted, it had over 3,000 pounds of compressed air inside and was made with solid aluminum, but still. I bet one tank weighs some fifty pounds. Not to mention all the other gear. But once we were in the water, the tank immediately become weightless. It’s an interesting phenomenon, that’s for sure. (Apparently once you are under water your whole body becomes weightless and you can flip around with very little effort. I’m excited to experience that as well.

Breathing Underwater

The whole concept of scuba diving is being able to breathe underwater. That, and seeing a whole new world you never knew existed. There is a reason that earth is often referred to as the “blue planet”. Over 75% of the earth’s s surface is covered by water. Imagine all the fun things you can find in there!

After we tossed our gear in the water it was time to try this whole breathing under water thing. On the surface we tried breathing through our regulators, but once in the water, it’s a whole different story.

Pat Kingery, our diving instructor, first said he would explain the skill, then we would dive, perform the skill, then come back to the surface for another lesson. Our first skill was simply using the regulator and breathing underwater for a minute or two.

Before we went below the surface we also learned a ton of hand signals. Underwater you can’t talk, so hand signals are what divers rely on. They truly can be a matter of life and death.

Down we go! For a couple of minutes I was literally breathing under water! What a thrill! We stayed down for a couple minutes, resurfaced, and talked about our first time below.

Weird doesn’t even begin to describe what it felt like. Imagine living your entire life never having to worry about where your next breath was coming from. Now you are below water and you have to literally think about when and how to breath. I hope it becomes natural after a while because if I am always thinking about breathing I won’t have time to think of all the fish and marine life surrounding me.

Time to Learn Some Skills

After we ascended from our breathing exercise, it was time to learn how to clear our regulator. There are actually to methods to this and they are quite simple once you learn how to use them. The first simply involves blowing all the water out once you place your regulator back on. The other uses your purge valve and requires you to block the flow of air while the water is forced out with a blast from the tank. I prefer the first method as the second gives you a funny feeling on your tongue.

When we descended to try said drill, I was nervous. Fair enough, it was only my second time underwater like this. I pulled my regulator out and began to slowly blow bubbles while I prepared for my intended method of clearing. In the mean time I wasted all my air. When I placed the regular back in my mouth, it was full of water and I was unable to exhale. So I freaked out, gave up, and shot to the surface.

Mr. Kingery came up with me, and while I tried to catch my breath, my arms and chest went numb. I was now floating on top of the water, struggling to catch my breath, and now half my body was numb. Great; now what?

Pat asked me to cough it out, breath slowly, and to relax. I did and eventually all pain subsided. I went back down and tried again. This time it was a success and I cleared my regulator just fine both times. The instructor was pleased and I hung out on the bottom for a while longer before the class came to an end.

I’m Now Officially a Scuba Diver

After we were all finished with our first couple of dives, and everyone in the class had proven their skills at clearing his or her mask, class came to an end. Week one was complete!

When I got out and was drying off I asked the instructor when I could officially consider myself a scuba diver. He said now, pool dives were considered dives! I could actually log my dive in my log book for future reference. He stated that anytime you breathe underwater with the use of a tank of compressed air, you are officially diving.

So I’m a diver now! It was something I knew little about when I started, and am already excited to learn all I can about. They say you either love the water or absolutely hate it. Apparently I love it. I am so excited to learn this new sport and share with you all my experience with diving. It’s something that can last a lifetime and I look forward to traveling the world to see all these places. It’s a different world down there, and one I have never experienced before.

I am already starting to plan trips around this newfound obsession. I can’t wait to dive in Aruba, Hawaii, Nicaragua, Fiji, and Bali. This is like killing two birds with one stone, being about to travel and dive at the same time.

Until my next lesson I hope this excited you as much as me. I’m ready to put Jacques Cousteau to shame! There’s a whole new world down there and I’m ready to experience it all!