What? Scuba Diving
I am and have always been happiest in the water, Coasteering aside (see previous trauma) so on my day off I thought I’d try my flippers at something new. Scuba. I enjoy swimming and free diving but the idea of having to inhale underwater filled me with dread.
My briefing for beginners was also attended by a Swedish father and his 10 year old son, both of whom were in fact seasoned pros. So as the instructor emphasized that the dive was over if anyone surfaced, I tried to wear my weakest link status with bravery.
I’ve worn a few wetsuits in my time- this was to wetsuits as carpet is to bedlinen. 7mm thick by the time I’d tried on one which did not accommodate my abnormally long torso and escaped its suffocating clutches I was exhausted. It was like trying to put on a unitard made of car tyres- suffocating. To get the second suit one of the guys had to lift me, suit and all off the ground to get me in it.
Once we had driven down to the beach I was buried alive in what felt like a 100kg coffin- my breathing apparatus. There followed another briefing- by which point I needed the loo, quite badly. But could I really hold the entire dive up to de apparatus and suit? No I would just channel my inner surfer- wait till I was in the water and wee in my wetsuit. For those of you horrified you have clearly never braved the north Atlantic. So down to water we went. Clutching on to each other to put our enormous fins on. Then it was time to check the respirators and plunge our blind faces into the water too cool them down sufficiently for our masks to stick.
Instructor: ‘See it’s fine, just like breathing normally.’
Me: ‘No. It feels like I’m slowly dying.’
My mask sufficiently salivated in- yes, that’s normal water sports practice too- I let myself be dragged down into the water. I had some serious buoyancy issues and right from the outset my mask started filling up with seawater. I tried not to panic- not wanting to end the dive for the entire group 3 minutes in- but when you are floating helplessly blinded by saline it’s tough. The instructor very patiently tried to adjust my buoyancy and help me clear my mask with a combination of manhandling and charades, whilst I clutched onto his arm in a death grip. Eventually ears pressurised and boyouncy adjusted I just came to term with the fact that there would be some liquid sloshing about in my mask for the whole dive.
Scuba diving hand signals are the epitome of streamlined efficiency. There is no room for the word ‘sorry’ neither can you express any nuance or emotion. So I found myself shrugging the ‘ok’ sign back trying to convey through my shoulders and mask framed eyes- Yes I’m alive but I’m far from alright. Eventually 8 metres down, and quite a while later I tried to resolve one of my earlier discomforts. But a combination of having my muscles subconsciously tensed and performance anxiety from my watchful instructor swimming in reverse to keep an eye on me put the kibosh on this. Dear Lord I tried. But you really need to be relaxed and as my cramping jaw muscles informed- clenched for dear life to the respirator- I was not. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the breathtaking beautiful underwater world. Beautiful shoals of fish swimming around my head comical stilt like spider crabs being handed to me- it was like a Jacques Costeau film. Except Jacques Cousteau wouldn’t be scared to push off the sandy bottom for fear of stone fish. He also would not be thinking about urinating for the entire dive.
It became very clear why the 7mm was so vital- after 30 minutes I was freezing. Scuba requires minimal movement and I could feel my muscles solidifying under senseless skin. Despite my earlier panics I had used my oxygen sparingly and our dive lasted an hour. Then it was time to flop back onto land and adjust to the extra gravitational pull like men returning from a sojourn in space. Once unpeeled and unburdened I could unburden my excess liquid ballast and reflect on the underwater wonders from a better perspective.
Would I do this again? Yes. Was it a wok out? Only for my cortisol production.