By Traci Blaha

Read part two here.

I hit send. It was Wednesday and I went to Target when it first opened to get a new prescription for the mask. I emailed the prescription to the dive shop as soon as I got home. Now to jump into the online class. I had only ten days to finish it. One hiccup at work and I would be spending an all-nighter trying to finish in time.

I opened the SDI/TDI/ERDI E-Learning website and created an account with the code that was in my packet. “That was easy! I hope the rest of it goes this smoothly.” I wasn’t too sure. There was so much to learn — 16 chapters! And a test at the end. All this before I even get into the water.

With a notepad, pencil, a bag of Fritos, dip and a drink next to my laptop I dove into Chapter One. It was mostly introduction, how to. Chapter Two dealt with water distortion, heat loss and thermoclines. Nothing too dangerous.

Chapter Three, on the other hand, discussed currents. This brought me back to getting caught in a current in the Galapagos Islands. I was not ready to re-live that situation. What if I get caught on the downside of a strong current again? What if I exhaust myself and can’t get back to the boat?

There was a little voice in the back of my mind that really wanted to be a certified scuba diver. It said, “Most of that trip was so cool and not life-threatening. Take a deep breath and one step at a time. Keep moving forward!” And I did. Chapter Four was better.

The next day at work diving became quite the topic for conversation. I told my clients that I was getting certified in scuba diving and they were so supportive. Cheering me on even though I had to juggle a few appointments to accommodate the two weekends of diving. I was amazed at how many of them are divers. We talked about all of their trips and dives. Not one of them had any horrible experiences. I was not disappointed. I was actually very encouraged and I thought to myself, if this person or that person could do this, so can I!

Chapter Five was about gasses. More to the point, how gasses expand and contract with altitude and depth. Ear squeeze, mask squeeze, lung overexpansion or arterial gas embolism could really happen! How does anyone come out of this alive? The more I read, the more there was to worry about! I kept reading. And breathing! Which was what Chapter Six is about. Breathing underwater. Decompression! I was really not sure I could do this.

At the end of each chapter was a short quiz, so I took notes. A lot of them! I was able to answer every question correctly. Chapters Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten were about all of the equipment. These were intense chapters because this was all new and different from anything I do in my daily life.

I read and re-read each of these chapters. I use a lot of different equipment at work, but I don’t have to rely on it to breathe. It was all a little nerve-wracking. How do I remember all of the pieces and how to use them? BC, regulator, first stage, second stage, SPG — the list goes on and on. How do I even move or swim with all of that stuff on? How do I keep track of it all?

The staff called from the dive shop to tell me that my mask would be done in time for the class. Relief was not quite the right word to label my feeling about this. I was happy to be able to be in a smaller class, but I was still anxious about the class being so soon. I wanted to get through it, but I felt I need more time to prepare. More time to get mentally prepared. The instructors at the dive shop didn’t seem to think so.

The rest of the chapters dealt with suiting up, checking the equipment, checking your buddy’s equipment, getting in the water, emergency skills and navigation. It was overwhelming. Walking into the water, stepping off the boat, seated roll — so many ways to just get in the water! It was also unnerving to be responsible for a buddy’s equipment when I wasn’t even sure about my own.

Every time I read about a new emergency skill I was absolutely sure I wouldn’t be able to perform it in a pool or open water. Just the thought of having to clear my mask underwater or taking out my regulator and putting it back in my mouth was making me a little panicky. Imagining running out of air or having to help my buddy to the surface because they had run out of air was out of the question.

Then my friend showed up at the door. He is a diver and just found out I had signed up for the course. He was excited that I had decided to take this on. At first, he thought maybe I had bitten off too much. “Maybe you could do the Scuba Discovery first?”

“No! This is all or nothing! I really want to do this all the way. I need an all-consuming challenge.” I sounded sure and confident, even though I was way less than sure in my head.

Then he was full of encouragement, “You can do this!” and “Good for you!” The phrase that really did it, “Let’s go to Belize and dive!”

“Belize? Ok!” Now I couldn’t back out, right?

So, I took the final exam and only got two wrong. I guess obsessively taking notes paid off. I was hoping the in-water part of this course went as smoothly as the online part.

Saturday came sooner than I wanted. I was standing at the door of the dive shop before it opened. There were another couple, two twenty-something girls and a teenage boy waiting with me when the door opened. We all introduced ourselves and found a seat in the meeting room that also served as a classroom.

The owner of the shop, Rick, started off introducing all of the divemasters and instructors. “These guys will all be around for all of the dives. You will not be alone for a minute.” He discussed the online class and answered all of our questions. He went on to explain what would happen at the pool the following day. He then handed us over to Tom.

“Today we will fit everyone with a BC and a wetsuit. You will take a tank with you for tomorrow and then exchange it during the week for two tanks for the lake dives.” He talked about dives that the shop had coordinated and dives that were coming up. Soon we filed into the other room one by one to get a wetsuit.

Kevin and Scott were in a storage room that held maybe a hundred BCs and as many wetsuits. They handed me a two-piece 7 mm wetsuit to try on and I stepped into the fitting room. I stripped down and rolled the pants on one leg then the other. Then I stepped into the ‘jacket’ piece. It was way too big. Kind of doing a penguin waddle, I stepped back out to show the guys.

They found a smaller size and I wrestled out of one and into the other. It was tight around the ankles and the wrists. When I zipped it up to my neck I felt how my clients must feel when I tighten the neck on the cape too much. This was just the wetsuit. How am I going to swim in this and the BC with that heavy tank on?

“Is there a different suit I could try?” I stood there with my arms out wide and I couldn’t bring my legs together. Penguin!

“It will be better when you get in the lake and it gets wet.” Scott handed me a BC and regulator. I took it to my seat and put everything into the dive bag they had provided.

As I waited for my tank in the shop I checked out a really soft one-piece 3 mm wetsuit. It would have been so much less constricting. “Should I just buy one of these?” I asked Kevin.

“It is too thin for the lake. It won’t be warm enough.” He replied, shaking his head.

“Okay, thanks.” I grabbed my bag with all of my diving necessities and Kevin lifted my tank easily carrying it out to my trunk. “We will see you at the pool tomorrow morning.”

“Bright and early!” Kevin turned to go back in. “You can do this!” He waved as he went through the door.

“Bright and early! I hope so!” I got in my car and turn onto the street.

Read part four here.

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