• SCUBA Certification - More classwork, and finals

    With a heavy schedule carrying multiple responsibilities, it has literally taken me years to get SCUBA certification, or should I say the necessary training to become qualified to dive. When I designed the logo for my company, a diver was included in the artwork as a constant reminder of what I wanted to do. It was a personal goal. No matter how I tried to map out my schedule, I never seemed to have the time to take my classes. About a year ago, due to a friend's reminder, I purchased a Groupon for classes, and even with the four month period before expiration, I couldn't mesh my schedule accordingly. Customer orders needed filling, traveling for speaking engagements or MACNA promotion, as well as club business / events, my reef tank's issues... my days were full. Allocating time for the class this month was no different, of course.

    After paying the course cost, within a few days I realized I had an overlap of responsibilities on Saturday. I called the shop owner at We B Divin' and asked what options existed. You might be wondering why I'm explaining this stuff: the reason is because getting certified may be problematic for those with busy lives, but be assured that it is still possible to complete a personal course if the standard dates don't work. My original class schedule was Friday evening from 6:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. And the overlap was a board of directors meeting Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., smack dab in the middle of Saturday's modules. If I missed Saturday, and showed up Sunday, I'd only have the Friday completion under my belt, so to speak. I wouldn't have had the experiences trained during Saturday, leaving me unprepared for Sunday. Each module sets you up for the next one, and skipping isn't an option. Judy, the owner, told me she'd contact my instructor to discuss what could be done.

    Two days later, she asked me if I could come in early on Friday and make it a long day, which worked for me. It does cost extra to modify the class times as the instructor has to work extra hours with me. In my mind, I still didn't see how to do this A, B, C-style since I'd cover information that the evening class was going to cover hours later; was I going to learn "B" before "A"? I trusted the dive shop and did my part to be on time with my books and gear. Friday's class started at 12:00 p.m. and I didn't get done until 10:00 p.m. but I covered a lot. Three modules of the five were reviewed, quizzed, and I'd spent more than five hours in the water practicing a number of skills. With the other students during the evening session, we discussed with Reggie (our instructor) how Saturday would work, making a plan that covered all the students' needs. While I was taking care of business, the others would cover what I did Friday afternoon, to get Modules 1, 2, and 3 taken care of. I would then join the class at 3:00 p.m. to do 4 and 5 with them.

    I got to the shop at 3:00 p.m. promptly and found the students, Reggie and one assistant (Kevin, a technical diver), beneath the surface exchanging hand signals. They weren't ready for me yet, so I perused the shop, checked out the choices in gear I might like to have one day, and killed some time. Rejoining the group, I discovered that one student was unable to equalize and had to abandon the class that day. If you are unable to reduce the pressure you feel in your air spaces, the PADI guidelines instructs divers to try again another day. Reggie tried every trick in the book but it just wasn't happening. Her husband was also taking the class, but with her situation he opted to return with her at a future date as well. The other student worked on more skills, and when they'd accomplished all her skills for the one module, it was my turn.

    This turned into another very long day, but Reggie was game if I was. We agreed, and I went back into the shop to really learn more about what makes specific gear better than others, similar to how we want to know which pump or protein skimmer is better than another. I really struggled to squeeze into the 5mm wetsuit the day before, and it was "LL" meaning Large and Long. I'm not tall enough to justify Long, but there weren't any "L" suits available. Jessy talked about how tough it was for her to get into her wetsuit, but you just can't appreciate the effort until you've done so yourself. One trick is to slather on Astro Glide, but mine was in my plumbing kit. According to the PADI video, wearing a body suit under the wetsuit helps immensely with sliding it on and off, but I didn't have that either. The issue I encountered was how snug the cuffs of the arms and legs were. Once you get it past your hands and ankles, it still has to be pulled up fully to your armpits and up the legs before engulfing your torso. Sadly, it appears to be just as exhausting getting out of one as it is to get into one. Mine was "LL" so I had extra material to tug (more work), but what can you do? Either get one that is your size, or deal with what you'd get when renting for a dive basically. The wet suit is designed to be snug, creating a thin later of water inside the suit that your body warms up to keep you warm underwater. Being wet first doesn't seem to help, and being dry doesn't either. It's tough. I'd bet wearing a "Shorty" would be easier because your arms and legs are exposed and those cuffs are larger, but I've not tried one on yet. It seems logical since the cuffs end up on your arm muscles and thigh muscles, which have a larger diameter than wrists and ankles. The shop sells dive suits, and the material is different depending on pricing (like everything, right?). The suit I'd been using didn't give much when you tugged at it, but the nicest one in the shop was quite stretchy by comparison. This might be a good selling point to someone that really hates their rental wetsuit, as it should be easier to don or remove. Wetsuits come in many sizes, including "ML"... To fit that size, I need to shed another 14 pounds (seems like a worthy goal) both to control the battle of the bulge, and enjoy the additional perk that those are the initials of my name. Wetsuits can be custom tailored as well if an off-the-rack suit does't fit properly. Equipment choice will undoubtably be a future article, because of selection, bells & whistles, and value. I picked up a waterproof case to keep my iPhone dry for my upcoming dives, because I don't want it to get accidentally splashed and ruined. It states it can be taken down to 100', but was told the phone would crush at 60' -- I tried very cautiously to take a picture just under the surface but the water (or water temperature?) prevented my ability to take a picture as the iPhone was unresponsive. With it playing music, you could hear the music underwater.

    The student took a long time, yet my patience was rewarded at last. At 7:00 p.m. I began to get my gear together and noticed that the ever-so-important O-ring was loose, somewhat crushed and fraying. I asked for a new one, and carefully worked it into the groove with my thumbnail. The O-ring is key to sealing the regulator to the air tank, and any leak is wasted air not to mention very dangerous. Having spares with you is recommended, and I'm planning on doing just that. I assembled my BCD (buoyancy compensation device) and valve, affixed the regulator to the air tank, installed the weights, inspected the gear, air quantity and second stages, and was ready to put it on. My dive buddy Kevin assisted me. Facing him, I lifted the BCD vest as he lifted the tank by the regulator, and placed the weight of the tank on his knee. I quickly turned around, slipped my arms into the vest, and took the weight onto my shoulders. Next, all the velcro and buckles were snapped into place, straps adjusted and tightened, and then I was ready to proceed with Big White Rabbits Are Fluffy buddy check. BCD, check. Weights, check. Releases, Check. Air, Check. Final okay, check. Kevin enjoyed slightly torturing me, and extra tightened my straps like a drill sergeant. Carefully I reached down to retrieve my fins (not flippers, says Kevin yet again!), and mask & snorkel. As I walked around the edge of the pool to where I was going to enter, I realized I didn't use the defog gel in my mask yet. With the full weight of my gear, I lowered myself to dip my mask into the pool to get it wet as Reggie reminds me that "your mask needs to be dry for the defog gel." Okay, my mistake. Standing up, I didn't keep myself centered and went crashing to my left, breaking the fall with my hand. This weeble did fall down, in full gear. Unhurt, I got back up. (Fall down with gear on, check. Got that off my bucket list, and will try to really focus on keeping my footing in the future.) The 5mm wetsuit did a great job of helping me bounce off the concrete unscathed actually.

    I was allowed to pick how I'd like to enter the pool, and I wanted to try what Kevin had done earlier. He stood at the edge of the pool backwards, then when ready fell backwards from a semi-squat position. He's been doing this for years, I'm doing it for the first time. I checked to make sure no-one was in my area, got my mask on, regulator in my mouth, and held both with one hand while using the other to hold the mask strap to the back of my head and bent my knees slightly as I fell backwards into the pool. What you see is a ton of crashing water & air filling your immediate view as you initially submerge, and then the water clears and you can get oriented in the face down position. I added a little more air to the BCD to help me float a little bit higher, and was ready. For three more hours, we did various tasks. One was to remove my mask entirely, and swim a full lap in the pool at depth. Not being able to see a thing, I used my hand to stay near the wall and determine where I was. I couldn't find Reggie where I expected him at the one lap mark. Turns out he had been following me closely to make sure I was fine at all times, and he tapped my shoulder to get my attention. During this moment as I turned around and looked up, I also felt the need to equalize once more, but out of confusion attempted to clear my mask, which I wasn't even wearing. The mistake resulted in my sucking in some water via my nose, and I started to choke a little. I knew I needed to cough the water out of my lungs into the regulator, to regain normal breathing, but apparently while I was doing that I also was attempting to rise as well. I don't even remember that, but Reggie pushed me back down to make sure I couldn't ascend. Breathing resolved quickly, and I proceeded to get the mask back on and cleared, and once that was done I felt a lot better. He checked with me, and I gave him the Okay sign. After this, we ascended to discuss how it went, and why I appeared to be anxious at that one point. That is when he told me he actually had to press me back down, which I wasn't aware of. The confusion of equalizing vs clearing the mask threw me off, but he told me that at no time did he feel I was panicked, and that I worked my way through it well. He reminded me to always think to be able to work through things underwater. (Plus I got to cough out water through my regulator. Check that off my bucket list as well. hehe)

    Working on neutral buoyancy was next. Find that sweet spot, and then hover using only your breathing to rise and fall mere inches if that. That was tough. Each time I thought I had it, I'd rise too much so I'd let out some of the air in the BCD to drop down and try again. This time when I thought I had it, the fins touched the bottom of the pool, so I added a pinch more air. The goal is to float without using your arms or fins to move around, staying very contained and balanced. After about 5 minutes or so, the thumbs up sign was displayed saying it was time to surface. During my playtime later, I decided to revisit that skill, affixing my eyes on one of the pool jets as a target to measure my location against.

    One skill is to take off all your gear at the surface to hand up to the boat, and then to get it back on while treading water. I sat on the tank with the vest open behind me, slipped my shoulders into the vest and pulled it up onto my back to secure it. Surprisingly, that was easier than it looked. Another skill was to pass your weights up to the boat, and have them hand back heavier weights and get those reinstalled by touch only, securing them. Not hard, but I was in a pool. I'd imagine in some current that will be tougher. I also opted to do that backwards roll into the pool off the concrete wall once more, since it makes me uncomfortable and I don't want to let that hold me back.

    This next exercise was my most challenging. I had to dive to the bottom of the pool, and take off my BCD and tank (and weights) while in the 5mm wetsuit that makes me float. Reggie demonstrated how to do so very carefully, showing me how to get the tank very close to his body the entire time. Once it was strapped back onto his back where it belonged, it was my turn. I unbuckled the latches, kept my hand on the straps and removed one arm from the vested BCD. Next I had to bring the entire tank and vest around me to rest on my knee, which would hold me down. At that point I'm still breathing from the regulator, but I'm only in my wetsuit. If your gear is tangled and you need to see what the problem is, this skill teaches you how to see to get it free and still breathe from the air tank. I found myself listing to the right, and the weight fell off my knee and immediately I found myself rising due to the buoyancy of the wetsuit. My instructor stopped me, aborted the skill and we rose to discuss what went wrong. Donning my gear again, we went back to down to try it once more. I was determined to get it right. Reggie said he was allowed to stand on my fins to help keep me down, and Kevin affixed a few spare weights to the heels of my fins like earrings. I knew it looked dumb but hey, whatcha gonna do? As I carefully extracted myself and reached behind me to grasp the vest and tank, I gave it a bear hug even as I started to rise a bit -- I'm reallllly good at floating it seems -- but I got my signal to proceed, so I slipped into my gear, got it back on my back, snapped and strapped down again. Success!

    After that, I got to play in the water for 10 minutes, swim through a blast of air bubbles, toss around toys, practice neutral buoyancy, and generally give Kevin a hard time since he loved messing with me. He'd sneak up on me and snap on dangling weights that would change my balance, make me swim harder and/or adjust the BCD. I'm just glad he didn't turn off my air. I did learn how he could make those underwater bubble rings, but I didn't try it myself.

    I did some skin diving, clearing my snorkel with air displacement instead of the blast method, and got measured for weights. With all my skills completed, all the gear had to be broken down, rinsed well, put away and then I dried off. I still had reviews and the final test to complete. The questions were covered, and any I got wrong were discussed thoroughly, and then I had to take the final exam. It is 50 questions long, and covers items like decompression sickness, when you can fly after dives, how to use a dive computer, etc. I missed a few because I wasn't absolutely positive what answer PADI was looking for, but scored 90%. The ones I missed we reviewed once more. And with that, I passed. I got home around 11:30pm, and didn't have to come back Sunday. I'm now certified for confined water dives. Any swimming pools out there are mine. In 10 days, I'll pick up my gear from We B Divin' for the Open Water dives in Glen Rose. We will be lake diving Saturday and Sunday, and this section of my log book will be filled in thereafter.

    Then the world's oceans will be mine, at last.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Scubaman's Avatar
      Scubaman -

      Welcome to the real "Water World"! Congrats on taking the first steps to getting certified; you will not be dissapointed by the experiences that await you.

      Scuba Baby!!
    1. melev's Avatar
      melev -
      Thank you Scubaman. If you have the desire to do some write ups for our SCUBA section, please be sure to let me know.