“This is the greatest thing I have ever done. I’ve finally found something that makes me feel self-fulfilled!” The voice on the phone is full of enthusiasm. It’s on the brink of smiling into tears.
Effusive thanks and excited stories cascade over each other. The voice has something to say, and I’d do well to listen. I turn down the glare from my computer screen, swivel my chair, and gaze at the cold gray skies outside. The voice spilling out of the receiver is telling me about warm tropical breezes, sugar-white beaches, crystalline underwater visibility, and fluorescent reef fish. The voice tells me about gentle eels with velvet skin.
The voice tells about scuba diving and navigating with a compass under water. The voice tells me about the next dive trip being planned by its owner. And just as quickly as the voice told me about its owner’s rapturous underwater adventures, it tells me it has to go. Click.
I’m stunned by what the woman had to say, but I don’t have much time. Another voice, that of the receptionist, calls through on the intercom, “Call for you on line four.”
I begin listening to another voice. This one is older and deeper; it seems to come out of vocal chords that have generated millions, maybe billions, of words. Suddenly the voice climbs a full octave as another wave of sun-drenched stories and underwater adventures pours through the receiver. I can’t help but smile at the excitement as the voice says, “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I can’t believe I waited so long.”
The voices continue to come through my telephone throughout the day, each one as excited as the next. Each voice belonging to an owner with a unique story and a common theme.
The voices belong to new divers. They tickle my ear with their enthusiasm. I know they’ve discovered the secret thousands of us share: Diving is fun!
So how do people learn how to speak with this “voice”? The simple answer: by learning to scuba dive.
MOTIVATIONS AND PRECURSORS
There are as many reasons for learning to dive as there are divers. Maybe you’re already a certified diver. If so, you understand that every diver, regardless of experience, has a subtly unique reason for journeying under water. Regardless of this separate, individual motivation, however, learning to dive requires proper training. So join us as we look at the training required to become a scuba diver and speak with “the voice.”
Some activities seem to be perfect precursors for scuba diving. Avid swimmers, for example, are “naturals” at diving. Their comfort in the water makes using scuba gear a snap. People who enjoy snorkeling have an advantage. They have already seen some of the dazzling life beneath the sea. Most snorkelers have a desire to swim beneath the water without having to hold their breath. They’re familiar with several pieces of diving equipment (mask, fins, snorkel, and maybe even exposure protection). Snorkelers usually have an easy time transitioning to scuba diving.
But prospective divers don’t necessarily need to spend their days swimming laps or holding their breath. People who enjoy walking, running, tennis, bicycling, golf, hunting, hiking, snow and water skiing, fishing, and even bridge seem to gravitate to diving. With its increasing popularity, scuba has become “chic.”
“Chic?” you ask. Of course. Take a look at an issue of Vogue, GQ, Elle, or any other fashion magazine. Witness the “bodies beautiful” clad in neoprene and wearing scuba equipment. Scuba diving is reaching a pinnacle in media pop culture.
Diving has evolved from an activity for a select few adventurous souls into a universal recreational activity, a neon-clad way to meet interesting people. If the fashion magazines are to be believed, diving is a sexy adventure, an activity to “help put excitement back into your marriage.” At the same time, it’s a sport that conservative church groups tout as “something entire families can enjoy together.” Nearly half of all new divers are women. Diving is used as non-discriminatory therapy for physically challenged individuals. Scuba diving has become “universalized.”
And then there’s the environment. Since the first episode of Capt. Cousteau’s underwater series, scuba diving and preserving the sea have gone hand in hand. In this age of recycling, composting, car pooling, and receding ozone, saving the planet has become more than the rallying cry for long-haired liberals. The sentiment is touted in political speeches, battery commercials, soap ads, and even in oil company boardrooms.
Environmental awareness is bringing more people into diving. These folks may not be athletically inclined, they may even cringe at the thought of exercising, but they have a burning desire to see what all the fuss is about. They want to find a way to learn more about the world they live in.
Scuba diving has become an activity for the “environmentally enlightened.”
Age seems to be a non-issue with divers. Reports indicate that record numbers of teenagers are learning to dive. The same reports claim more mature individuals are taking up the sport. And sandwiched in the middle are the ever-present “baby boomers,” who continue accounting for a majority of entrants into the sport.
Scuba diving is becoming “ageless.”
Maybe the voices on my phone belong to old, young, conservative, liberal, fit, out-of-shape, affluent, middle-class folks. I don’t know. I just hear their voices. But regardless of how one may try to classify them, they all have one thing in common they are all excited about scuba diving. They all have the voice
Learning to scuba dive requires three things. You should be reasonably healthy, you must be able to breathe, and you need to have a desire to dive. Perhaps you, or someone you know, has the desire to try scuba diving but just doesn’t realize it. How do you know if you, or your friend, belong to this group? The answer: If you have made, or overheard, any of the following statements: “Sharks are dangerous and eat divers.” “Wearing a wet suit will make me look fat.” I’m not a good enough swimmer to dive.” The first step to becoming a scuba diver is dispelling common myths that surround the activity, which are: Sharks present a huge danger to scuba divers; divers make horrendously deep dives; divers breathe dangerous gas mixtures; diving causes claustrophobia; and being a competitive swimmer is a prerequisite for diving. In reality, sharks present little, if any, danger to scuba divers. It’s rare to see them on a dive because they are frightened by large, noisy, bubble-blowing creatures.
Most dives take place in less than 40 feet of water. During your dive training, you’ll learn that most of the interesting marine life lives close to the surface, making deep diving more of a specialty than de rigger.
Recreational scuba divers breathe a gas mixture identical to what you’re breathing right now air. Divers do not breathe pure oxygen from their scuba cylinders. Diving does not cause claustrophobia. People who have trouble in tight spaces usually enjoy diving because, well, oceans are much larger than closets. As for wet suits making people look fat, it’s simply not true! The proper description of a wet-suit-adorned diver is “sleek,” “svelte,” or “well-insulated.” Divers never look “fat.”
And divers don’t need to be competitive swimmers. You should be able to swim and tread water, but the whole idea behind diving is sinking beneath the water and moving as little as possible. When swimming, the goal is to stay at the surface and move as much as possible. Comparing swimming and diving is like comparing marathons with walking through an art museum.
By the way, a number of the voices coming from my phone lose their breath just talking. I suspect few of their owners are in optimal shape, but they sound like they’re trying.
THE LOCAL DIVE CENTER
If you’re already a diver, you are familiar with your local dive center. If you’re thinking about taking up the sport, take a few moments and investigate neighborhood diving facilities. They are listed in the phone book and on the Internet under “diving,” “dive instruction,’’ or “dive equipment.” Most are in the business of teaching people how to scuba dive, as well as selling diving equipment. Discovering the local dive center is the next step to becoming a scuba diver.
Upon walking in the dive center, you’ll bump into one of its friendly staff members (probably a scuba instructor in disguise). He or she will start talking about “certification” and “Open Water Course,” and “regulators,” and such. In order for you to communicate in this foreign language, which the center’s staff will gladly translate, here’s a quick course in scuba speak.
Because scuba diving is self-regulated, and because everyone in the industry is concerned with maintaining diving’s excellent safety record, all new divers are taught specific skills as outlined by the various certification agencies. (See sidebar.)
When you successfully complete this training, you are a “certified” diver and get a “certification card,” or “C-card,” which proves that you’ve been properly trained and are “certified’’ to dive without an instructor. Again, to ensure diving’s excellent safety record, dive centers will not rent scuba equipment or fill tanks for those who don’t have a C-card.
The “Open Water Course” is the common name for your initial scuba training. It’s called “Open Water” because once you’re certified, you can dive in open water, such as lakes, seas, and oceans.
Open Water courses can only be taught by certified scuba instructors. The course consists of academic, pool (confined water), and open-water training. Courses are usually held at night or on weekends; the schedule depends on the dive center and the demands of its customers. An Open Water course takes anywhere from 20 to 40 hours to complete.
Academic dive training is a mixture of self-study, lectures, and video or audiovisual presentations. Before beginning the Open Water course, you’ll want to purchase the course text and begin studying the first few sections. Several texts have self-quizzes designed to be completed after reading a chapter.
Equipped with your completed self-quiz, you’ll attend the classroom portion of the course. During the ensuing discussion (and video or slide presentations), you’ll review important diving-related topics and have a chance to ask your instructor questions. Classroom sessions generally end with a non-threatening oral or written quiz. Most diving courses will have about 20 hours of classroom meetings.
You will be introduced and taught diving’s basic skills in the course’s confined-water (pool) sessions. Scuba diving in the pool will give you an opportunity, under your instructor’s careful guidance, to apply the theories and skills you discussed in the classroom.
During your first pool sessions, you may use some rental gear. But you should strongly consider purchasing your own equipment during the course. Every diver needs their own mask, fins, and snorkel. These are personal pieces of equipment after all, they come into contact with some of the most sensitive or pungent parts of your anatomy. Renting this equipment is like renting shorts, socks, and shoes for an aerobics class.
“Exposure protection” (a fancy term used to describe Lycra diveskins, neoprene wet suits and inflatable dry suits) is another personalized piece of diving equipment you’ll want to consider. Other equipment you’ll want to own includes “regulators and gauges” (a diver’s breathing equipment, resembling an octopus that attaches atop a scuba tank), a “buoyancy compensator” (the life vest-looking contraption that secures a tank onto your back as well as providing buoyancy control), and other accessories.
Diving accessories are similar to their topside sportswear counterparts, just as a snow skier needs ski socks, a diver needs wet suit booties; where a jogger might use a high-tech wristwatch, a diver would opt for a dive computer. The cost of purchasing a full set of diving gear is less than a full ski outfit, quality golf clubs, a road racing bicycle, or a new windsurfer. It will be more than a pair of shorts and jogging shoes.
The classroom and pool training, not to mention your smashing new equipment, will prepare you for the open-water portion of your course. These are your “certification dives,” where you’ll demonstrate the skills you learned in the pool and have an opportunity to experience the joys of the underwater world. They usually take place at the closest open body of water, but you can travel to an exotic destination to complete the open-water portion of your training. Regardless of where you make your open-water dives, they will give you an opportunity to experience the thrill of diving with the security of professional supervision.
Upon successful completion of your open-water training, you’ll become certified. You’ll be conversant in scuba speak, and have the knowledge and skills to begin your diving adventures. You’ll receive a C-card from one of the diving certification agencies.
Your C-card doesn’t expire, but common sense dictates that you should continue diving on a regular basis. After all, safe diving is only possible through underwater proficiency.
The best way to maintain your proficiency is through “continuing education” (another scuba-speak term for intermediate and advanced diving courses). After your initial course you can take specialized diving courses in everything from fish identification to night diving. Most instructors strongly recommend you take at least one more class beyond your Open Water certification. Ending your diving education at the Open Water level is the equivalent of quitting tennis lessons before learning about the backhand stroke!
A LINK TO YOUR PAST
Learning to scuba dive is a simple, rewarding process. You may find portions of the training difficult, but that’s normal. The real joy, however, comes from overcoming these difficulties and becoming a safe, competent diver.
Diving is no longer a sport for daredevils; it’s a lifetime activity that you can enjoy with your friends and family. It’s a means to learning more about the beauty and intricacies of life on our planet. And for some, it’s the springboard to self-fulfillment.
Scientists say our ancestors crawled from the sea millions of years ago. Since then we have evolved into air-breathing, land-loving creatures. But our fascination with the sea remains. There is a kaleidoscope of life swimming under what Homer and the ancient Greeks termed “the wine dark waves.” If science is to be believed, these subsea creatures are our relatives. Diving gives us the opportunity to crawl back in and visit with our distant cousins. And having had the chance to visit those relatives, you, as many divers have, may ask “Why did our ancestors ever leave?”