Somehow we arrived at the conclusion that our life was lacking in underwater adventures. Maybe Husband was the driving force behind that, but hey, I'm game to try almost anything. Especially if there's the chance to see critters in the wild. So we signed up for a basic certification course in scuba diving with Discovery Divers Tokyo. This course has both an academic portion (DVD, book, workbook, pen and pencil included in the kit) and two weekends of in-water training. The first weekend is in a pool setting, the second weekend is diving in the ocean and concludes with a written test.
We received the study materials far enough in advance to watch the DVD and read the book before we went to the pool portion. It's a little intimidating for a northeastern girl like myself without a lot of swimming experience. It goes through all the pieces of equipment and how to be safe, which was all well and good, then in a very factual and not-intended-to-be-terrifying way it covers how one can become injured, maimed, or dead-ified if something goes wrong.
I'm of two minds about scuba diving. I'm really interested in underwater critters and seeing them in person and I'm all for learning a new skill, but breathing and seeing are both very precious to me and both are kept as a fundamental part of my existence by two pieces of easily-removable equipment. More on that later.
Saturday morning we got up at dawn o'clock in the morning to take the train down to the Izu peninsula to the community pool in Yugawara. The facility was equipped with a shallow pool (a meter or so deep) and a deep pool (4.5 meters deep at the very bottom) for different types of exercises. Being a Japanese pool, I had to wear a dive suit (mostly spandex) over my bathing suit to cover my tattoos. Long sleeves, long pant legs, tight enough to be somewhat flattering to the jiggly bits. No problem. We also had wet suits (made of neoprene) as part of our dive gear. If you want to know what it's like to wear both types of suits at once, put on two pairs of latex gloves and imagine that sensation over your whole body.
We did a bunch of basic pool exercises, starting with being able to stay afloat in water for ten minutes straight. Easy. Then swimming a couple laps with no time limit. Not as easy, but doable. Then snorkels. I've been snorkeling once, and had a good time. But after the simple exercises with the snorkel and mask, I felt so much more comfortable with it. If I'd known how easy it was to get over my fear of bringing the snorkel below the surface of the water, I would have done it when we were snorkeling in the reefs around the Galapagos.
Fun fact: dive booties are excellent water shoes and help keep fins from irritating feet. They also retain water well enough that walking around on land feels like you've stepped in water balloons.
Even when the scuba gear came out, things were not as complicated as I was afraid they would be. Reading the book and watching the DVD ahead of time definitely helped. We went over all the pieces of equipment (regulator, tank, buoyancy control, weight belt), how to test them before use, how to put them on, and how to use them safely. It all made perfect sense.
Even the training on what to do if someone swims up to you while giving the "I'm out of air" signal was fine. Take your regulator out, give it to them, put in your backup regulator (conveniently hanging around your neck right under your chin), make sure they are okay. A little scary, giving away your source of air on a second's notice, but not so bad.
My problem came with the underwater mask exchange. Most of the exercises were easier to handle than I thought they might be, but I have some issues with removing my mask. Being blind and with water up my nose is really scary in spite of having an air supply through my mouth.
Husband and I tried once near the bottom of the deep pool (theory being that if something is difficult, it should be practiced until it isn't difficult) and we discovered that it's a very bad idea for me. It wasn't a medical problem in that pool, but it would be if it were at depth. In giving up my mask, I try to remind myself to keep breathing and that I'm not actually dying by breathing deeply (or hyperventilating, depending on how stressed out I am), which makes me buoyant. As I rise in the water, the air in my buoyancy control (a balloon between my back and the tank to help me control where I am in the water) expands, making me more buoyant. Being blind without a mask, I can't look at my depth gauge, and having both hands occupied with the mask I can't adjust the amount of air in the buoyancy control. The result is pretty much as soon as I remove the mask, I shoot to the surface. Luckily, there shouldn't be any reason for me to take my mask off deep under water.
So that covers Scariest Parts of Scuba Class. Now for Most Annoying Part of Scuba Class: pee breaks. Sweet mother of spandex. What a colossal pain in the butt. Especially when I came to the disheartening realization that I just couldn't wait another hour and had to get out of all the scuba gear.
Step 1: remove fins and mask/snorkel
Step 2: remove tank and buoyancy control
Step 3: remove weight belt
Step 4: walk as quickly as possible around the pool, take a quick rinse in the shower (I think it was expected that everyone entering or exiting the pool area needed to take a quick rinse), go upstairs to the bathroom, hope that it was socially acceptable to wear dive booties into the bathroom instead of the sandals provided (incidentally made for someone with feet half the size of mine)
Step 5: leap into a stall and shut the door
Step 6: remove wet suit to waist (zips in the back)
Step 7: remove dive suit to waist (zips in the front)
Step 8: tie long sleeves of dive suit together so they don't touch the floor (particularly important when using a squat toilet)
Step 9: slide all the stretchy fabric (plus bathing suit) down far enough to take care of business before bladder explosion becomes imminent
Step 10: take care of business (optional: breathe a sigh of relief)
Step 11: struggle with wet spandex back up to waist level, untie long spandex sleeves, slide back over arms a few annoying centimeters at a time (have you ever put on long, wet spandex sleeves?) and zip up front
Step 12: slide spandex arms through wet suit sleeves, zip up back
Step 13: return to pool, showering upon entry to the room, apologize to classmates for holding everything up and/or try to complete current exercise in half the time because the last ten minutes was spent struggling with wet spandex instead of starting said exercise
That process is reason #1 to look forward to the ocean dive. (Ha! Get it?)
The latter half of Sunday was spent in the deep pool practicing with the buoyancy control. It's not easy, but I managed for a little while to hang motionless at about 3 meters deep. That was very cool. Vertically is easy. Horizontally isn't, for some reason, but in a real dive we'll probably spend a lot of it moving horizontally instead of staying still.
Know what else is cool? Being three or four meters under water and looking up at the surface. It's a little surreal.
We also learned three ways to get into the water from a boat or dock or whatever, practiced all the usual hand signals, sharing air, controlled ascending and descending (must be done slowly to keep ears and lungs from exploding), and, in case we ever need it, rescue breathing on an unconscious diver. Essentially CPR at the water's surface. Not easy, but definitely good to know.
All in all, I learned a lot, I'm glad we read the book before the class, and I should be able to see some cool things in the ocean next weekend.