scuba and me

  For clarity's sake, the logo on my BCD actually says " Shift ."  I've had it for 10 years, and I still do a double-take every time I glance at it, too.

For clarity's sake, the logo on my BCD actually says "Shift."  I've had it for 10 years, and I still do a double-take every time I glance at it, too.

Let me begin by saying that there is absolutely nothing about me that would suggest that I enjoy any sort of physical risk.  I cry on rollercoasters, even the kiddie ones.  I feel slightly dizzy looking over even a 2-storey bannister.  If I drive 5 miles an hour over the speed limit, I consider myself out-of-control. 

So really, the fact that I'm a certified SCUBA diver makes absolutely no sense. 

The decision to become certified came on a whim:  back in 1999, I was speaking with a coworker, Donna -- you know, idle around-the-water-cooler chatter.  "I really ought to become a certified diver," I was half-joking.   "I mean, I'm from the Caribbean, a place that's known for diving.  I feel like I have an obligation as a West Indian to become a diver.  Think about it: if you met someone who grew up in the Swiss Alps and you learned he didn't know to ski, you'd wonder what the hell he'd been doing all his life, right?"

Donna looked at me keenly.  "Are you serious?" 


"Are you serious about wanting to be a diver? Because I've wanted to learn how to SCUBA dive all my life.  Do you want to take the course with me?" 

"Are you serious?" 

"Are you?" 

We went back and forth like this for a few minutes, obliquely daring each other to commit to learning how to dive.  Donna finally decided to do a search to determine if there were any SCUBA diving certification schools in the area, and it happened there was one about 1/2 mile from our office, with a course starting the following week.  So before either of us really had a chance to think about it, we were both suddenly enrolled, and about 8 weeks later, we were officially divers.

I don't have many dives under my belt -- only about 25 or so -- but I've managed to make those dives happen in some of the most awesome places in the world:  Cayman Islands.  St. Lucia.  Oman.  The Canary Islands.  Santorini.  Tobago.  Jamaica.   I've been very lucky.  And it turns out that I love it, for two reasons that I hadn't considered when I signed up:

1)  Once you get comfortable with it, it's an incredibly meditative pasttime.  The trick to diving, you see, is conserving your air for as long as you can, and to do this, you have to  breathe ... very ... slowly.  Also, because you're underwater, it's really quiet, so it's incredibly peaceful.  A dive sort of feels like this: 

... breathe in ... slowly ... look around at the beautiful coral and fish ...  slowly ... breathe out ... slowly ... listen to the bubbles you're exhaling as they rush past you face ... slowly ... breathe in .... slowly ....

... and so on. 

2) It is the perfect activity to do on vacations both with friends and/or all alone.  First of all, if you're going diving, you're likely going somewhere very beautiful (dive spots are rarely in ugly places, after all).  Secondly, diving is an activity that requires that you be paired with someone else -- so if you're experiencing the underwater world with another friend, it's awesome, especially afterward when you're sitting at a seaside bar somewhere, enjoying a tropical beverage and rehashing all the beautiful sea life you saw earlier in the day.  But I've also taken a few solo dive vacations that were great too, because you are required to meet people if you go on a dive alone (if only since you'll be paired with the diver leader if no other partners are available).  So you're guaranteed to make a friend who enjoys the same thing you enjoy.

So even though I wouldn't call myself a particularly adventurous diver (you're not going to see me chasing after a shark or barracuda, for example), I became really passionate about the sport.  In fact, when Marcus and I got engaged, I told him that one of the requirements to marrying me was that he had to become a certified diver himself.  Luckily, Marcus is a daredevil sort, and he didn't think twice about signing up.  And early in our marriage, we had a few really lovely diving adventures together.

And then we became parents. 

Suddenly, our going diving together seemed riskier with a young one.  At first, we would stagger our dives -- one of us would go diving, while the other stayed with Alex back at the hotel -- but it really wasn't that fun for me to go without Marcus.  And so, after a dive in St. Lucia back in 2006, we never really bothered to dive again.

But next week, I'm going to be in Australia, home of the Great Barrier Reef.  It has been a long-held dream of mine to dive the reef, and now it looks like it's going to happen.  I'm thrilled, but I'm also a bit nervous -- it has been 7 years, after all.  So last week, to help get myself together, I pulled out all of my old scuba gear and tried everything on.  Everything was in perfect condition, save for my mask (which had gotten a little yellowed and brittle), and my old wet suit (which I purchased back in 1999 in my very early 30s, and since then, I've gotten a little more ... well, let's just say I'm a bit more "succulent," shall we?).  

Then on Friday, I headed over to my old dive school, Houston Scuba Academy.  I bought a new mask and snorkel, a new wet suit (one that doesn't cut off the circulation to my extremities), and even spent a couple of hours there having a private refresher course.  Gary, my patient instructor, put me through a few drills -- testing to see if I remembered how to put my mask back on and clear it if it suddenly gets knocked off of my face, what to do if I lose my regulator (that hose that goes to the air tank -- sort of an important bit of equipment, in my estimation), how to signal to my buddy that I'm running low on air, that sort of thing.  I ain't gonna lie, I was a little scared.  But after about 30 minutes, especially after we did a few laps around the bottom of deep end,  it all came rushing back.

Gary and I surfaced.  "Wow," he said, pulling the regulator out of his mouth. "That last time around the pool -- something clicked, didn't it?  You were totally there!" 

I took my regulator out and grinned.  "Yup!" I responded, jumping up and down a little in the water.  "I remembered!  That was awesome!" 

I did a few more laps, to confirm that I was getting comfortable again underwater, and I'll probably go back to the pool again at some point this week, just to practice.  But otherwise, I'm starting to feel pretty confident.  So Great Barrier Reef? 

Bring it


Song:  Underwater by Midnight Oil.  Thanks to  Tori for turning me on to this Australian band!