Many people have the whole ‘shock and awe’ when I tell them I moved to Oklahoma from Florida and THEN became a scuba diver. It sorta baffles me that I’ve always had this dream of swimming with sharks, but never considered getting a scuba certification in Florida. Which is literally the shark bite capital of the world (look it up, it’s a fact). Clearly, Florida has plenty of sharks to swim with. But, as fate would have it, my scuba diving experience first started in Oklahoma.
Everywhere I go, I try to share my love with sharks, and work is no exception. After explaining my dream to one day swim with sharks, a coworker said ‘hey, let’s get scuba certified’. By the end of the day we had a group of 5 people semi convinced that getting a certification was a good idea. And thanks to the power of social media, my good friend Jay knew someone who had just recently been certified as an instructor.
Within two weeks we were sitting at a table and Jeff, our future instructor, was telling us of all the amazing things he had experienced while diving. The corals, the fish, the wrecks and of course my first question was ‘have you ever seen a shark?’. Even after he said yes, I was still a little skeptical. I mean breathing underwater sounds cool and all, but isn’t it dangerous? I love the water, but drowning just seems like the worst way to go. Either way, everyone else was on board so I had to do the same. Let’s be honest, there really wasn’t a choice. 1. I wasn’t about to be the only person to say no and 2. I certainly wasn’t going to miss out on a potential opportunity to swim with sharks.
The Book Work
The open water certification process is no walk in the park. It requires reading a book, taking some quizes and passing a test. We also watched some pretty corny videos. Ya know, like the 80’s HR videos that businesses still show during orientation? Ya, very entertaining. I will say, I learned a lot and it sorta scared the crap out of me. The books talks about the potential dangers of diving. Before you worry too much, and I know this sounds simple, but the number one rule of scuba diving is to breathe. Remember this, and you’ll be fine!
There all of these skills that you have to learn, even some sign language. Just in case you’re wondering, you can’t talk under water, so sign language comes in handy. And remembering the signs is crucial. Nothing like being in the middle of the ocean and you’re running low on air but don’t remember how to tell someone (maybe i’m speaking from experience, but you’ll never know).
PADI Open Water Diver Manual with Table
Once you’ve mastered the skill of reading and writing you move to the pool where you have to pass a swimming test. Basically, you swim for 5 minutes and if you don’t drown, then you get to make it to the next round. Lucky for me I got the all clear. Putting on the gear is a little daunting at first, but you get the hang of it. They teach you all these fun acrynoms to help you remember how to do your safety checks before getting in the water. BWRAF: Burnette Women Really Are Fun. BCD, Weights, Releases, Air, Final ok!
We used a friends pool for this part of the certification and it was COLD. I had the great (sarcasm) opportunity of putting on a wet suit. Which is probably the only thing I hate about scuba diving, they are literally the worst! But, our first skill was to take a breath underwater. I wish I could formulate into words how amazing this moment was. All I’m saying is I felt like my little girl dreams were coming true and that instead of wishing for feet, I was going to grow a tail and be the little mermaid. If you’re not mentally singing Under the Sea, then I’m disappointed.
The pool will require four total dives that are about 20 minutes each. During each dive you’ll complete certain skills, like clearing your mask, which means that water has entered your mask and you essentially blow it out. You also have to perform skills that include removing your regulator and putting it back in. Let me just say, the regulator is how you breath. No regulator, no breathing. This was scary at first but a super important skill to learn if you want have some awesome pictures of you smiling under water!
You’ve passed all your dive skills in the pool, now it’s time for the real test. Open water…. Again, I live in Oklahoma, so open water location was at a lake called Lake Tinkiller. We each went one at a time down to about 30 ft and I was the last person to go. I’ll be honest, I was extremely nervous. I was nervous that I was going to completely forget about all the training I learned over the last couple of days. And I was also nervous that I was going to panic and forget the number one rule, to breathe.
The lake isn’t that pretty. It’s not clear, the visibility is maybe a couple of feet and the fish are scarce and ugly. But in truth, I didn’t care. We had to perform all of the same skills that we did in the pool and by the end, I felt like it was a piece of cake. I could not contain my excitement after my first dive. I was still a little nervous but each skill only made me more confident and comfortable in the water. The open water portion was actually the easiest once my fears had subsided. I also appreciated completing those dives in a lake because I wasn’t distracted, or intimidated, by the big open ocean.
My first diving experience was memorable for more than just the breaths I took underwater. One of my favorite things about diving is the community itself. We had multiple people at the lake talking to us and encouraging us before/after our dives. We’ve met some really cool people who are always willing to teach and help. I hope this article sheds a light on my experience, but also encourages you to consider diving as a hobby. I know you may have excuses, but location clearly cant be one of them and never be afraid to ask questions!