Bali Diving Academy
Throughout this travel experience, though I consider myself slightly on adventurous side, I have come to terms that a lot of things freak me out. That said, I'm not claustrophobic nor agoraphobic, but I would imagine that diving would be categorically impossible with either or both of these conditions. But breathing under water? Oh, yea. Clumsily splashing my way across the pool, exhausted and totally out of breath, I also knew I wasn't the strongest swimmer.
To prepare for my eventual endeavor at a diving license, which a few of my good friends were already held in enviable possession, I took swim classes while still working in NYC to improve my 'skills.' Technique still needing improvement, timing the breathing was and still is my Achilles' heel. No matter, I was still going to go for the Open Water PADI. The normal course takes approximately three days, consisting of four** instructor-led dives. Passing a written exam, and by the consent of the instructor, after these four dives, you would be certified, which allows you to go to the depth of 18m (55 ft) in a recreational dive setting.
Gearing up for class involved putting on a full wetsuit. Keep in mind, it is 33°C+ (91°F), and water temperature at a cool 30° (86°F). For those of you who have never donned a wetsuit, this piece of neoprene is about as comfortable as a tight rubber jumpsuit. Getting the wetsuit on was a most interesting accomplishment, and in hindsight, the toughest thing I had to achieve for the PADI. Built like a child vertically, but not horizontally, proved to be a challenge when finding a suit that would fit. Super loose and baggy in some places but tight in others... mregh. I'm sure viewing audiences got a kick out of me getting into these bad boys.
Once suited, the next part is the BCD. Well. This is a glorified life-jacket that houses the harness for the air tank. Air... invisible to the eye and light as a feather. You can only feel it when the gentle breeze blows across your skin. That is, until you need to breathe under water and the only way to achieve this feat is to compress air into a aluminium tank** weighing 14 kg (31lbs) when empty. Despite being strong for my size, the weight and positioning of this tank was such that it was almost impossible for me to stand upright with the tank strapped to my back. Looks like I was going to opt for suiting up in water.
Wetsuit, check. BCD, check. Mask, check. Given my hesitation in breathing while swimming, I was still wrapping my head around the concept of breathing underwater. After the half day briefing, our instructor, Sven*, let us know it was time to deflate the BCD and let yourself sink to the bottom of the pool (initial dives are done in an enclosed pool or in shallow sea water, depending on the logistics of the dive shop). Gasp. Gasp. Slight panic. Breathe through mouth. Whoa! I can see. And breathe. And I'm underwater. Cool! Panic-disaster averted!
Looking back on those first days, I can see myself fumbling around with the buoyancy, mask, suit, and the general clunkiness of all the gear strapped to my body, particularly because all gear is proportionally more consuming on my small and inexperienced frame. Nonetheless, each time under water was easier than the previous dive. Because I had contacts, swimming without and clearing the mask were slightly more challenging but manageable.
Falling backward into open water with gear on? No problem. In fact, I realize how controversial the following statement will be, but nevertheless: one of my favorite parts of the dive is the thrill of letting go into the water. Yes, seeing all the fish and coral is amazing, but with that drop into the ocean, you entrust your life in this vest, mechanical equipment, diving buddy, and your own diving/swimming abilities. The rest is icing on the cake.
Due to my rugged nature in Bali, many, but not all, photos in and around the island were snapped with an iPhone 4S. There is even a photo of a gentleman and his chicken. Or rooster.
*I did my open water on Nusa Lembongan in Bali with Sven at Bali Diving Academy. My camera does not go underwater and I don't trust that thin bag that is meant to be impermeable by water, so I don't have many photos of the diving itself, but fellow divers did capture a few precious moments of my initial diving days.
**Some corrected mistakes. Four dives, not five. We used aluminium tanks, not steel tanks. Thanks, Sven.