nycmermaid: (bowling for nipples)
[personal profile] nycmermaid
So, as I mentioned here and about a billion times on Facebook, I got my open water scuba certification this weekend. :) It's something I thought I was unable to do for years until I got the courage to give it another try this summer, and thanks to the encouragement of 2 lovely scuba instructors, I am now fully PADI certified for general open water dives. I can only imagine what would have been had that first instructor I had in college encouraged me to keep trying despite my sinus squeeze issues. Well, the fact is it is an expensive sport and I couldn't have afforded the expenses then anyway. But now at 31 I am certified!

I did my certification dives with Empire Divers, a shop on the upper east side, and my instructor's name was Debbie. Debbie is what I imagine Madonna would be like were she a scuba diver instead of a singer. Sassy, self-confident, physically fit, fashionable, wise, and warm. Needless to say, I like her a whole lot and that was a huge part of why it was such a good experience. Don't get me wrong, I liked my pool instructor, Peter, too, but I was much more comfortable with a female instructor for some reason. The dives were done in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at a dive park called Dutch Springs. It's a quarry that was used until the miners hit water, then it was allowed to fill up and turned into a diving/adventure park. There are several platforms and wrecks inside at different depths. We did a total of 6 dives all weekend; the first 4 were for our certification. Basically those involved going down 27 feet to a platform and doing different skills, like mask removal and clearing, buddy breathing, and compass navigation. Since I was diving with a new mask, I initially freaked out that it was filling with water and panicked during my first descent. Debbie calmed me down, told me my mask was fine, and helped me slowly descend to the platform. (She later told me she at first thought I wasn't going to make it, and when we got out of the water she was really excited I had made it and gave me a huge hug.) On our first dive we swam around for a bit, including around a fire engine that was sitting at about 15 feet beneath the surface. There wasn't much to see in the water itself, some bass about 8 inches long, and the water was like swimming in an uncleaned fish tank. The quarry is also covered with zebra mussels, an invasive species that cover and corrode every surface, but do help keep the water cleaner by filtering it. We did 3 dives like that the first day. I didn't get dizzy or queasy once and handled it just fine. I think it helped that the weather was cool and it was drizzling all day.

I should also mention that there were 4 in our group of open water students, 3 guys and myself. There was also another instructor and a woman there to do her dives for her advanced certification. Her name was Cathy and we shared a hotel room. Her boyfriend is in Hawaii right now doing his divemaster training. I really got along with everyone on the trip. My dive buddy was named Alexei, and at first he looked like a scraggly little guy but then I realized he had ridiculous strength and he was very helpful getting me into my equipment. That stuff is HEAVY. The tank alone is about 20 pounds. Then I had 16-18 pounds of weights in my buoyancy vest. Carrying that to and from the water, along with fins, while dressed in head-to-toe neoprene, is no easy feat! Of course, once you get into the water you feel light as a feather. One of the other guys was British, from Leeds, and he was cute, but also seemed rather full of himself and didn't seem impressed at all with the fact that I've been to Leeds on several occasions. Whatever dude!

Saturday night we all went out to dinner at a restaurant called Bocca di Beppo, which was a gaudily decorated, family-style Italian place, where we sat in the "Pope room" at a large table with a bust of Pope John Paul II on it, and ordered a ridiculous amount of food, and PJPII stared at us every time the lazy Susan spun around. My friend Karen, who recently started her doctorate program at Lehigh, joined us, and she and I went out afterwards to a local bar. I had 2 glasses of wine with dinner and Debbie told me as I was leaving that I was not to drink any more alcohol or she would not let me dive the next day. Yes scuba mom! I met Karen's new boyfriend and we had a fine time even though I wasn't drinking at all. Yes, scuba diving does not go along with my alcoholic lifestyle, but anything that makes me drink less is a good thing.

On Sunday we only had one dive to go before certification. It was our compass navigation dive, and it was easy! We surfaced and Debbie said "What we have here are 4 newly certified open water divers!" Yay! Then she let us dive down again and swim back to shore underwater. Every dive you make gets recorded in a log book and basically counts as a record of your experience, so the more dives you have under your belt, the better. After lunch we went for our deepest dive yet, to a sunken helicopter. I was nervous about how I would do, since I do have still have some equalization issues, but I have found that if I go slowly I do just fine. After about 25 feet, I found that further depth didn't bother my ears at all, and I made it down to the helicopter, and swam through it, and around it, and under it! It was without a doubt one of the coolest things I have ever experienced in my life. Generally, my interest is more in wildlife than in diving wrecks, but I just loved it. Scuba diving is, in a way, like flying -- you can go over, under, through, up, down, wherever you want. I kept checking my depth gauge because I couldn't get over the fact of how deep I was. We went down to 56 feet. It was cold, but I was really comfortable in my wetsuit. That's another thing that made the experience great -- the wetsuit I rented from Empire Divers was in great condition, fit well, and was not smelly.

All in all the whole experience was great. My ears however are kind of clogged still, which worries me a little. I'm going to Empire Divers tonight because Debbie said she would get me a better mask and would take back my old one even though I didn't buy it through her. I'm going to ask her what she thinks about my ear situation. I really don't have time for another damn doctor's appointment so I really hope it goes away on its own soon.

So, now here I am, the first day of my last week of work before my trip. I am now trying to figure out what to do with my time in Cairns. A 2-day live-aboard snorkel/dive boat would be my best option, but they are expensive, and I want to know that the boat I choose is eco-friendly and well reviewed. There's so much to consider, but I feel so accomplished and excited! Now I'm probably going to want to go on dive trips in addition to all the other vacations I already want to take. :b Apparently, Eilat, Israel, is a hot scuba diving destination. Wouldn't it be funny if scuba is the thing that ultimately gets me to the Holy Land?
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