What it was like the first time...

By Susan Dearing

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

When I first decided to try scuba diving I was skeptical, but I was on a cruise, and in Jamaica, the water looked beautiful. Diving was an afterthought.

Ready for scuba diving.This was back in 1983. My boyfriend wanted to dive really bad, but I was content to snorkel. He begged me to try diving. The guide gave us a tank, strapped to a backpack, told us to walk in and breathe through the regulator. I think I remember something about "holding your nose and blowing" (now I know that's to equalize your ears), but basically, we were on our own. The "teacher" (and I use the term loosely), didn't even dive with us. 

OK..breathe...hey!..this works!Well, I went down for about 15 minutes, scared to death, breathing that air out of the tank like there was no tomorrow.  My boyfriend was having a great time. In fact, he forgot about me, and was lost to the ocean and its wonders. I, personally, wondered why anyone would want to do this sport! What if the regulator quit? What if I couldn't get to the surface before my air ran out? What if I got into some fire coral? Forget it!!

This isn't too bad!!That was my first experience. And in spite of it, I was talked into taking a scuba course by that same boyfriend. I couldn't keep up with the other students and almost dropped out. I had problems clearing my mask, establishing buoyancy control, and simply swimming in those old heavy Scubapro jet fins! 

I couldn't do anything right, and was last in my class. The only other woman quit. That left me and 20 Navy Seal-type guys. No fun. At least, the instructor (who was also a Navy Seal-type), told me that I could come back on my own, without the pressure of the other macho "Navy Seals" and practice. I did, by myself, and that's what got me through it. One thing that really bothered me: my instructor was good--but only if you were good. He had his money up front, and if you didn't pass, that's the breaks!

Laurie's first backroll entryWe went for our open water certification dives in Honduras. We had to do a backward roll entry off a 65 ft. boat (that was about 6 feet down to the water), then drop down to 50 ft. The water was clear, so I didn't know it was 50 ft. until I looked at my depth gauge. At that point I started hyperventilating, and my dive was almost over before I completed my skills!

Teaching a group of new diversIf someone had read a crystal ball and told me that I'd be an instructor within 5 years, I would have called their bluff! But, I would have lost the bet. I am now an instructor, and have taught thousands of people, many of which were just like me in the beginning. We now have a wonderful  program, sanctioned by all the major divingThe first dive is easy from the beach organizations, that lets a beginner try scuba diving under controlled conditions, with the supervision of an instructor. You dive off the beach, not drop down to 50 feet, unprepared. You learn all the rules, and practice them in the safety of a pool. No more scary, "What if this goes wrong?"--you've got someone to take care of you all the way!

The barracuda looks fierce but is rather timid.However, getting back to the first dive, although I was terrified, I was in awe of the fish swimming around me. A big-eyed jack swam close enough to touch. I saw a barracuda, and remembered all the scary stories. My heart started to race! "Please don't eat me!" I prayed. (Later, I found out that barracuda aren't really dangerous at all--although I don't think I will ever feed one!) 

My mouth is moving to breathe, not to scare you. I saw aSmall hawkfish hiding in some coral. green moray eel, whose head was bigger than my thigh. He looked menacing, but I later learned that he is not really trying to bite you, he's just breathing. I saw an octopus--just a little one--and was fascinated to learn that he changed colors and squirted ink. In every coral head there was another surprise! Hawkfish, blennys, juvenile angelfish and damselfish, tiny arrow crabs, brittle stars--don't forget to look close!

Small fishes everywhere!Other smal fishes and crabs that I didn't know the names for. Sea cucumbers that moved so slowly I thought they weren't really an animal at all. Sea stars, some Lots of different kinds of starfishspecies at a slow crawl, and others rapidly getting out of the light to hide under a rock. Even the sand held wonders. I saw rays, guitar fish, sand eels, and a crazy fish they call the razorback, who, when threatened, can dive into the sand and swim through it! 

Shy and timid, the snake eel is harmless.There's even a slippery little guy--called a snake eel--that feeds on all the tiny critters on the bottom. If threatened, he starts digging a hole in the sand with his tail, and slowly submerges until you can no longer find him! He's docile, and not at all intimidated by divers, which is a good thing, because he's fascinating to watch, and divers hover over him to see what he'll do next.

A coralhead in Santiago BayAnd what about the sounds? Have you passed close by a coral reef and heard the sound of "crackling bacon"? That's all the little coral animals chewing and eating! Dolphins click and sing! The waves crash and you hear the sound and feel the surge. When you dive close to a pebble beach, you'll hear the rocks rolling in the surf.

Brightly colored wormsSome things you'd pass by unless they were pointed out. I was fascinated when my instructor showed me these marvelous little worms called "Christmas Trees," and "Feather Dusters." They come in all colors, and when you get close to them, they retract their plumage and disappear into their hard shell. When the "threat" is over, they come out again--to feed on the organisms in the water.

It is feeding time for the turtles at the sanctuary.Some of the events that have happened to me since I've been diving are unforgettable. Have your ever let a 400 lb. turtle pull you along? Have you gripped the rough skin of a giant Pacific manta and taken a ride? Did you ever watch a whale shark feeding on krill? Have you held an octopus in your hand? Have you watched dolphins at play and listened to their haunting song?

Quite a handfulThat first time underwater, being in awe of all the amazing things, got me to take a real scuba course. It changed my life and now I'm an instructor. I'm still in awe of the ocean and its wonders. Now, as I turn others on to the sights and sounds that have given me pleasure for more than 19 years, I flash back to what it was like in the beginning. They call me Mother Ocean now, but 25 years ago they called me "chicken."

Best of luck to all you new divers!

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