Stupidity or Perseverance?

There are some times in your life that you look around and think, ‘How the hell did I get here,’ quickly followed by ‘How the hell can I get out of here?’ My first time in the ocean was one of those times. See I've never actually been in the ocean before. I played on the sand as a kid walked along with my feet in the water as an adult, but I've never been "IN" the ocean before. The most exciting body of water I had entered was a swimming pool that had a deep end of 12 feet.

That deep end was were I left off last time. I'll confess I was starting to feel like quite a pathetic loser. I mean if I couldn't get to the bottom of the pool, how was I ever going to get to the ocean. To clarify, it was like the diving equivalent of unemployment. I felt like Kevin Costner in Bull Durham - I was never gonna get to the show.

After my lackluster performance, I was reluctant to reenter the water, but I was persuaded to take on a new class. This class had people like me in it, one of whom, Bonnie had also taken an earlier dive class and struck out, as it were (To read Bonnie’s story click here). We made a vow that first night of class; we would get to the ocean or die trying (although no one actually mentioned dying since we were already pretty skittish about the whole water thing).

Well this time, from the beginning I started to work things out. All the stuff my first instructor had taught me suddenly made sense in an environment where I wasn't constantly struggling to keep up with people to whom breathing underwater was as natural as well, breathing.

After 4 weeks of the new class, it was decided we were ready for the ocean.

The day I both dreaded and dreamed of dawned clear and, once the sun came up, bright. Bonnie and I met up and set out for the 2-hour drive to Monterey. She was a little nervous, but I was resigned and quasi-confident. I guess my intuition was still sleeping.

When we got to Monterey it was chilly, but not too cold. Thanks to Rick, the father of one of one of the guys from the other class doing certs that day, I got a great parking space. We unpacked our gear and stood at the railing in a group watching the water.

Now I don't know much about the ocean, never having been in it before, but it looked like there were an awful lot of awful big waves. Still I was starting to feel excited. I was finally at the ocean. With a little luck and skill I could end the weekend as a certified diver. Did I mention that my luck has gone downhill since I got my 4-leaf clover tattoo?

When we first entered the ocean, it was in just wetsuits, to do some snorkeling. The scary thing about this is that you wear a weight belt and no BC (the thing that inflates and makes you float). This caused some alarm among people in my group, but I figured it would look pretty bad for them if I died, so it was in their best interest to make sure I'd be all right.

I asked one of the instructors if I was okay to go in. She glanced at me and said I was fine (I wasn't by the way-but I wouldn't figure that out until a gallon or so of seawater later). So in we went. We swam out, snorkels down, to a place a little ways from the shore. We floated there for a while. The instructor had us take off our masks and stick our heads in the water. Something about wanting us to know how cold it was so we wouldn't freak out and bolt to the surface when we took our masks off underwater.

After that we did something called a kelp crawl, which was fun and not at the same time. It was fun because it was almost like crawling on top of the water. It was not because kelp is pretty easy to get tangled in.

I want to take a moment right now to say that while many people believe kelp is simply inanimate plant life, they're wrong. I know that secretly kelp is out to get me. By the end of my ocean time that day, so much kelp had been pulled of my gear that had I kept it I could have auditioned for and won the role of swamp thing.

I believe it was about the time we completed the kelp crawl that someone pointed out that my snorkel was on the wrong side. In my defense, I never used the snorkel in the pool so I wasn't very used to it. I mentioned it to the instructor in the water with us and he said something like, oh it's fine. It wasn't until later after I'd reached the shore that someone figured out the reason I had swallowed so much water was because my snorkel was wrong. Uh Hi. And this water wasn't pleasant, if you ever tasted the ocean water in Monterey you know what I mean and if you haven't, well you're pretty lucky. To make matters worse I was sucking in giant gulps of it fully expecting to get air. I should have realized after the first gulp of water, but what can I say I’m an optimist.

Back on the shore we decided to rest for a bit and then get our gear together for our first scuba dive. I was still in relatively high spirits at this point. About an hour later in full gear we went once more to the beach.

Because the surf was so rough that day, it was decided we would put on our fins and walk backwards into the water holding hands with our buddy. About 10 feet into the surf I lost both my buddy and the instructor so I stopped. Then I looked around and saw my buddy had fallen to her knees because of the surf and my instructor was telling her to crawl in. I stood for a moment longer and then continued my walk in.  Finally I was in deep enough water where I could float. Making my way over towards my buddy and the instructor I realized that she was having a problem. Apparently her octo was free flowing and her air was going uselessly into the atmosphere. 

By the time I reached them, her problem had been taken care of and we swam towards our dive-con. This is easier than it sounds though because, lets be honest, everyone looks the same in a wetsuit. After some flailing around and a few calls, we found our dive con and floated in the water resting. A few minutes later, we swam out to our float. Now our float was, of course this is me, the farthest one out there. It was almost at the end of the wall at Breakwater. After a seemingly endless swim, we reached the float and settled down to wait for our instructor.

When the instructor reached us, she pointed to me and said, that I should go down first. Without even meaning to (I swear) I shook my head no. But of course what could I really do. I mean I was already there. So I tried to relax let the air out of my BC, cleared my ears and went under water – about a foot. Then I bobbed right back up to the surface. Apparently even with an un-inflated BC and all my weights I wasn’t quite heavy enough to sink to the ocean floor and while a comforting thought, it was also quite inconvenient.

Of course there was a solution to my problem. After all, the float was attached to a rope that was tied to something on the ocean floor. So when I submerged a second time I grabbed the rope and (even though I probably wasn’t supposed to) I pulled myself down to the bottom. Once there I grabbed onto the rope that ran along the ocean floor and hung on as I swayed back and forth.

I’m shivering now as I write this, which is funny because I’m warm and dry and sitting at a computer. Yet remembering it I can almost feel how cold it was. The visibility was nil. It was almost like being in some old horror movie about fog. Everything was sort of a grayish yellow color, I could vaguely see light above me, and because I was using the regulator I could hear each breath I took. The best word I can think of to describe the sensation was surreal.

After a minute or so, that seemed longer, everyone was down on the ocean floor. I glanced around me.  I could see my instructor and the other three people in my class, but I couldn’t see anything else. No fish, no sea life, I couldn’t even see any kelp. Who knew I would miss my old nemesis kelp? 

We went through the skills we had practiced in the pool. Mask off – Damn that water was cold. Out of air/share air – I couldn’t get my octo out of the little thing it was hooked to on my BC. Poor Bonnie. Then when I had to use her air source, everything was fine until I handed back her octo and tried to put my reg in my mouth. For some reason, my reg was free flowing, so when I went to put it in my mouth, it shot water down my throat.  I coughed and for a moment hovered on the edge of panic. I spit out the water and closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths.

Then I opened my eyes and moved onto the next skill, which was emergency swimming ascent. At this point I was all for any skill that had the word ascent in it. So we swam up to the surface, but we both screwed up because even though we vented our BC’s we forgot to put a hand on our weight belts to dump them in case of emergency.

Also not being one to do things right, I ended up somehow on somebody else’s rope and popped up in the middle of a dive class. The first words I heard where, ‘she’s not one of ours.’ It was like being in a bad movie again, but at least I was on the surface.

Bonnie, the dive con, and I headed back in toward the shore. This was one of the strangest experiences of my life because I would swim in with my face in the water, and when I looked up the shore would be sooooo close then I’d swim a little further and look up only to find that the shore was sooooo far away. In retrospect it’s kinda funny, at the time though it seemed a cruel joke of fate.

Finally we reached the shore, but the fun wasn’t over yet – Yes I’m being sarcastic. As I hit the shore i.e. water shallow enough to kneel in, the water washed over me. The dive con told me to crawl in, but when I leaned forward and put weight on my arms, they collapsed. I lay there for a moment face down in the sand, and just as I gathered my strength to push myself up, another wave came and battered me into the sand.

As each wave would go away I would struggle to move forward. Then when the wave came back I would get pulled back into the water farther than I managed to move forward. So I was slowly getting pulled back out. I remember at one point digging my fingers into the sand and watching the indentations my fingers left as the water pulled me back out. I tried digging in with my elbows with the same results. This was not looking good.  Then the dive con got an idea. In between waves she threw her body across my legs to keep me from getting pulled back out. Some nice stranger got my weight belt off of me. The dive con was telling me to move, but I couldn’t because she was still lying across my legs. Once we got everything sorted out, two really nice people helped me up and walked me to the steps.

To make things worse (or maybe better) one of them was a really cute guy named Rob. Yes I asked what his name was – he did help save my life. Okay so my life wasn’t in danger at that point but… He said something encouraging about not giving up on diving, but I wasn’t very receptive.  I was tired and not a little put off by the experience. Plus I had sand in places I’d rather not think of. Lets just say that sand and I were very close and in some cultures we would have had to get married.

I dragged my gear and myself back up to the picnic tables. I switched the tanks and sat there trying to rest. I ate some awful energy bar and chatted with some people. The phrase I heard most often that day was ‘Oh…. that was YOU?’ apparently my encounter with the sand had not gone unnoticed.

After about an hour or so it was time to go back into the water. I put on all my gear and the next thing I knew, I was standing in the surf asking my instructor if anyone had ever died doing this. He pointed to my weight belt and said; ‘Take that off and you’re a cork’ I was so tired I didn’t understand what he was talking about till later. The really funny thing is that subsequent tellings of the story produced a misunderstanding that instead of cork he said corpse. While a much funnier story, it probably would have been even less encouraging.

As the waves washed against me staggering my balance I thought of the float so far out there and the long swim back. Not to mention the whole re-entry thing. I made a decision. “I’m done,” I heard myself say. “I’m getting out.” What can I say? I’m a dumbass.

1 Week Later

The sun was shining the water was calm and I, ‘girl who doesn’t know when to quit’, was headed back to the water. My second dive was much easier than my previous experiences. We walked in to calm water and paused to lay back and put on our fins.

Since it was just my instructor and I we swam out to someone else’s float and began our descent. Of course it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I seemed to have developed a fear of water over the last week so it took me a little while to go down. Not an hour as previously reported, but a little while. Once I was down though it was a different world. I could see stuff, real actual honest to goodness stuff. There were fishes and crabs and I saw some sand dabs and a starfish. We did our share air ascents which I had dreaded, but really weren’t bad. Then I flooded my mask, which was no big thing since it seemed to be perpetually flooded anyway.

We swam around a little while and my instructor navigated for us. After a little while she headed us to the shore. It felt like we were going the wrong way, I guess perception is screwy under water. Gradually it got lighter and lighter and we were back at the beach. I stood up, walked a few feet and I was on dry sand.

On our second dive of the day, I did my weight belt removal and replacement, which was easy. Then I did BC removal and replacement, which was also a piece of cake. Maybe I was getting to be okay at this diver thing. My fan club of two cheered from the wall above as I completed my skills and a few people looked at me. It didn’t bother me though. I mean when the last time people stared at you it was because you were face down in the sand unable to move while the waves pummeled you, you don’t mind a bit of positive attention.

We swam out a little farther and descended on kelp  - Okay I know what you’re thinking, but I watched the kelp very carefully and it knew better than to attack while I was on guard. We swam among the kelp and looked at all of the sea life that lives among it. This was so amazing to me. A week ago it had been a cold cloudy nightmare and now it was a cold amazing undersea world. I finally got why people go diving. Wow.

When we exited the ocean, it was as calm as before. I was now just one dive away from certification. Unfortunately for me my instructor didn’t feel I should do the third dive that day. So ended one more weekend as a 'not' certified diver.

 

1 Week After That

I was back at Breakwater. It was beginning to feel like home I’d been here so much. Today I was meeting up with my original instructor. He’s a really cool guy and I liked the idea of finishing the class with the person who was there when I started out.

I got to Breakwater early and I sat on the wall, watching divers in the water. I looked over and saw a rescue taking place. I started to feel nervous. Was the water that bad? A few people standing near me were also staring intently at the drama playing out in the water. After about 5 minutes we all realized it was a rescue class and not a real rescue. I breathed a sigh of relief.

When my instructor arrived I was ready to go. We got our gear together and went for a dive. Everything went smoothly except for my weight problem. We decided to go down in shallower water and swim out to deeper water. The problem was I couldn’t stay down. Finally I got weighted better and we went down and swam out. The water was even clearer this week then it had been last. I could see all sorts of cool stuff. As we swam along my instructor pointed out even more cool stuff to me.

I’m not sure how long we stayed under water. For the first time I wasn’t paying attention to the 100 things I had worried about on my other dives. I was just swimming around, breathing underwater and being amazed by everything. And thinking to myself, this is so cool. After a while we headed toward the shore. As I stepped out of the water, it suddenly hit me. I was a certified scuba diver. WOW!

I got my SSI card about a week later and despite the lousy picture, I’ve shown it to everybody I know and a few people I don’t.

 

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