By: Kim Mason
Let’s talk about bucket lists. People laugh at the term, but let’s face it, it’s an easy way to say, “That’s something I’ve always wanted to do.” Bucket Lists often involve overcoming fear. My bucket list includes sky diving. It also includes scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef. So when Knoxzine’s editor asked if I would take a “Try Scuba” class,” I said YES!
Knoxville Ski/Scuba Center offers a variety of diving classes, trips, scuba certification, and more. The 3-hour Try Scuba class is a perfect way to sample the sport before committing to the $413 certification course.
While people as a young as 10 years old can be certified (and your certification does not expire), some health conditions require a doctor’s authorization before being allowed to dive. These are largely conditions relating to heart and lung function, but some head injuries and back surgery may also apply. Your instructor will also ask if you have a fear of enclosed spaces.
LAND BASED INSTRUCTION
Upon completing the legal waiver and health questionaire, we watched a short video and listened to a lecture (less than 30 minutes) about scuba diving. We learned about:
Now it was time to get in the water!
The Knoxville SkiScuba Center has a dive pool on its premises and we started out in the shallow end, which is about 4 feet deep.
We were each given a dive vest with cylinder and taught how to properly wear it. The dive vest or buoyance control device (BCD for short), keeps you strapped to the dive cylinder. It can also increase your buoyancy by being filled with air. Our instructor showed us how to add air from our dive cylinders and from our mouths. Next we were taught how to let air out (because you don’t want buoyancy when trying to down!)
The BCD also has several hoses and meters. There is the primary hose and regulator that the diver uses. There is a secondary hose and regulator that another diver can breath off, if necessary. There is a third hose with gauges for tank pressure, depth, and it includes a compass.
We were also given a swim mask to allow better visibility and to protect our eyes from pressure.
Staying in the shallow end we practiced putting the regulator in and out, both above and under water. We learned how to clear it of water and how to clear our masks of water. I was a little nervous about how comfortable the equipment would be, but once I was in the water, the dive tank was almost weightless, and the regulator fit in my mouth without making me feel like I was sitting in a dentist’s chair.
I also discovered that I float. I could not stay down and rest on the bottom of the pool. Fat creates buoyancy and it’s not uncommon for women (who have a higher body fat ratio than men in general) to have issues with buoyance while diving. The instructor gave me a couple weights that fit into pockets on the BCD, which compensated for the buoyancy and allowed me stay down.
EAR PRESSURE & DEEP WATER
Once we were comfortable with basic skills in the shallow end, the instructor prepared us to move into the deep end.
There is air in your ear canal. As you descend in the water, you feel pressure in your ears. If you do not equalize this pressure you can seriously injure your eardrums. You equalize the pressure by forcing air out through your ear, similar to when you’re in an airplane and you yawn to relieve pressure. You can also hold your nose and mouth shut while blowing. We each sat underwater on the edge of the descent, and the instructor slowly brought us down to the bottom of the pool, stopping every couple feet to let us equalize our ears.
It was a weird sensation. When I held my nose and blew out through my ears, I heard a squeaking sound. Once this happened, my ear felt normal and I continued descending. I had to do this two or three times before reaching the 10 foot bottom of the deep end. Once we were all down in the pool well, the instructor had us walk from one side to the other and then swim from one side to the other. Once we passed this test, he let us play by getting used to being underwater and breathing with the equipment. We swam around, sat on the bottom, did somersaults, and played with a weighted Frisbee.
WATER TEMPERTURE & HAND SIGNALS
The water was a warm 80 degrees, but without much physical activity, I began to get cold. Water is a better thermal heat conductor than air. It draws heat from your body. This is why you see divers wearing wet suits even in warm waters. A wet suit will protect your body from the heat pulling of the water.
Throughout our time in the water our instructor would periodically check on us using a set of hand gestures he’d taught us earlier. A “thumbs up” meant go up or rise. A “thumbs down” meant go down or descend. An “ok” signal meant everything was fine. And a “so-so” motion meant there was an issue.
The time passed quickly and before I knew it the instructor was signaling a thumbs up and pointing to the shallow end of the pool. We all rose, chattering and excited. The instructor asked us about our experience and if we had any problems. Next, we took off all the gear and got out of the pool. At this point I was shivering and cold, but a hot shower in the bathroom warmed me up enough to change clothes.
The instructor talked to a little more about classes and trips available and how long it would take to get open water dive certified. Yes, I do want to get certified. I was a high school and college swimmer. I love the water. Scuba diving allows me to descend deeper than I could on my own, and it allows me to stay underwater longer. Being able to scuba dive will allow me to experience the wonder of nature in a different way. Someday I will swim the Great Barrier Reef!
If you like this story, we might also like Kim Mason’s article “On Being a Woman Warrior.”
© Kim Mason, 2014.