Monday, February 13, 2006

Remedial Scuba Diving - Nha Trang

Why would someone afraid of large bodies of water, notably the ocean, take a PADI certification course to become a diver? I asked myself this very question every day for the last four days in Nha Trang while I tried to learn to dive.

I am the world's worst scuba diver. I have no natural talent for it. There are many things that I am better at than scuba diving, including playing pool, speaking German, remembering the names of places, people and restaurants and being on time for things. This is saying a lot considering that these are all talents that I am severely lacking in. I am awkward and have zero intution for what to do once I get into water. It gets worse when I dip my head below the surface. Yet somehow, after 5 hours of movies, two sessions in a pool, two days of diving in the ocean and an exam, I managed to pass my course. I am now a PADI certified diver. I can't believe it.

Following a morning of movies, I was tossed into a pool to begin my confined water skills. My time in the pool didn't go so well. The weather was grey and cold, and my wetsuit didn't fit properly. I was terrible at most of the skills - removing my regulator from my mouth underwater, clearing my mask after letting it fill with water and ascending to the surface when my air supply had been cut off. I had to do many of the skills two or three times before I mastered them. Sadly, if there had been a remedial diving course, I would have been in it. Instead of feeling like I was improving, I felt like I was regressing. Underwater, my instructor Dan often stared at me, closed his eyes, sighed audibly and shook his head as if though I were the worst student in the world. I was happy to get out of the pool alive, and wondered what I was going to do when I got into the actual ocean.

The second day went slightly smoother. In the morning, Dan and I reviewed the materials from the day before and some of it began to make more sense. In the pool I was slightly more graceful. I managed to learn to control my breathing and Dan's you-are-the-worst-student looks became fewer and fewer. I passed all of my quizzes (one area where I seemed to excel was the written examination), got 98% on the final written exam and was begining to gain confidence.

Unfortunately this confidence did not carry itself into the ocean. My first open water dive was a disaster. This is not an overstatement. The visibility was poor - only one meter in front of me (decent visibility is 7 - 10 m, good visibility 10 - 15 m and excellent visibility 20 m +) - so I was freaked out when we descended. My eyes are poor close up, the effect being that everthing visible to me at the bottom became blurry. As a result, I spent most of the time swimming in Dan's fins, being kicked in the head (something you are not supposed to do). I am certain that fish were swimming past me, but I was admittedly so scared by the limited visibility that I don't remember seeing much of anything other than green cloudy water.

Then my nightmare happened. Somewhere along the way, I lost my instructor.

Now, at this point I must mention that I was Dan's last student before he leaves Vietnam for Tanzania. He was a good instructor, but a little distracted. In my confined water dive he was goofing off, turning summersaults underwater to try and make me laugh, resulting in him kicking me in the head. He was often late and frequently forgot things that I had to remind him of. So during the first ocean dive he seemed unaware of the fact that I was swimming behind him - worried about dying and trying to keep up - while he chased fish, examined coral and leisurely swam through hoops. So my claim should be revised to read that MY INSTRUCTOR lost ME (after all it is his job not to lose me, right?).

The last time I saw Dan he was chasing a fairly uncool, generic fish. Ditched for a lame fish? I swam to catch up and suddenly found myself floating in empty, cloudy water. I turned around to look for Dan and realized he was gone and that I couldn't see the bottom or the surface because of the low visibility. This freaked me out. I looked for Dan - which amounted to me pretty much spinning in circles for 30 seconds - while trying to stay calm and remember what the damn PADI book said to do if you lost your buddy. Finally, I remembered that I was supposed to look for him for a minute and then ascend slowly on my own if I couldn't find him. At the surface I bobbed for almost 10 minutes (I don't think he realized that he had lost me for 10 minutes!) until Dan came up, giving me the you-are-now-OFFICIALLY-the-worst-student look. I countered with the you-lost-me-because-you-weren't-concentrating-on-being-my-instructor-and-were-instead-following-fucking-fish glare. We swam back to the boat in silence.

Fortunately my subsequent dives improved. The visibility was slightly better and I was calmer realizing that I was not going to die if I lost Dan (which happened a second time!). I actually began to enjoy myself on the last dive because I got to see some pretty cool marine life. Maybe I am the world's worst diver, but I am certified. It's just like university - once you have your diploma, no one asks about your marks, right? They just care that you have it.

So, anyone up for a little remedial diving? Meet you in Nha Trang.


Blogger Ann D said...

One of our mutual friends (I'll let you guess who) tipped me off to your blog. Since my biggest adventure in 2005 was my trip to Winnipeg, I'll live vicariously through you. Happy trails!

1:52 PM  

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