The strange feeling of breathing underwater

In the spirit of doing things I can’t or wouldn’t do back home, I started my courses this week to get my PADI scuba diving certification. It’s not something I ever expected to do, but the diving in Southern Africa is spectacular in many places and I have friends who run a dive company. It seemed like something I shouldn’t pass up.

Friday I completed my pool courses (strangely at a pool on a military base that didn’t even have a guard – can you imagine that in America?). I still have four open water dives to complete. The first two will be tomorrow in Cape Town and the final two will be next week in the bathtub-warm Indian Ocean off Mozambique.

When I first submerged my head and started breathing through the regulator I had a short feeling of panic. Your body is training to not breath while swimming underwater, but the number one rule in diving is never hold your breath (it’s to avoid seriously injuring your lungs as pressure changes at different depths).

My body was clearly confused by the idea of air entering my lungs while underwater. It’s also strange because you can’t breath through your nose as you would while resting on the surface.

My first thought was “I don’t know if I can do this.” But within 30 seconds the panic had subsided and I started to appreciate the fact I was just hanging out underwater. Even in a pool it’s a pretty magical feeling to be sitting below the surface knowing you don’t have to return for air within a few seconds.

Sean’s brother Rowan is an instructor for their dive company and was kind enough to give me a one-on-one lesson. We spent a few hours in the pool going over the basic skills such as maintaining neutral buoyancy, replacing your mask if it falls off, clearing the regulator of water, etc.

We dove until I had pretty much emptied my air tank, which was quicker than I imagined. Rowan explained that new divers tend to suck down air much faster than experienced divers because the stress of an unusual environment increases your air consumption.

I wasn’t sure if I’d like the experience, but I found myself having a blast during the pool session. We’ll see if I have the same feeling once I leave the confines of a closed pool and actually get in the ocean. I’ll post an update after my first dive.


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