Sunday, October 4, 2015

I can breathe underwater, and that’s pretty cool! Part One.


A couple weeks ago, on a warm Labor day weekend afternoon, I was floating a mere inches above the floor of the warm Adriatic Sea just off the coast of Pula, Croatia. Sea cucumbers, urchins, and schools of tiny colorful fish, all blissfully ignorant of my intruding presence, surrounded me. I looked up and could see the distorted rays of sunlight filtering down through several meters of clear, blue Mediterranean water. I took a deep breath and exhaled, bubbles flowing across my mask as I breathed underwater for the first time in my life and, also for the first time, with no sense of panic or fear of being eaten alive.

Just a preview and maybe spoiler for the end of this story.
How did I end up here?

Char and I made the leap a few weeks ago and signed up for a NAUI basic open water SCUBA certification course. I don’t know what I was thinking, but somehow, in the back of my mind, I was pretty sure it would never happen. The course would be cancelled due to lack of participation or funding or weather or natural disaster or alien invasion. I believed this because for my whole life I never truly believed I would ever actually go SCUBA diving and would never enjoy it or be able to do it.

Part One.

Origins

As a kid I dreamed about growing up to be a marine biologist. I gleefully watched Jacques Cousteau effortlessly swimming along the bottom of the sea pointing out the impossibly colorful and varied life and narrated by his calm yet enthusiastic and accented voice. I was glued to the television weekly to experience the newest adventure of the crew of the SeaQuest and Roy Scheider as they explored the deepest depths of the unexplored oceans.

But as I grew older, my own relationship with water, especially open water, turned sour. Maybe I watched Jaws one too many times. Somehow Roy Scheider both motivated to get in the water, and terrified me of it.

That's a big pile of nope for me!
By the time I was an adult, I could barely swim across a pool and had an irrational fear of the open water. What was swimming underneath me? What just touched me? What was about to eat me?

Over the last couple years I’ve worked hard to overcome that fear. I’ve spent countless hours in the pool relearning how to swim and even competed in a few sprint triathlons, but almost suffered a panic attack in my first open water event. I’ve gone snorkeling several times, and almost always have to quell the sudden urge to flee the water and make a break for shore at the first shiver of anxiety.

When Char informed me that we’d signed up for the SCUBA class (we?) that same sense of panic that I usually experience when chest deep in water that I can’t see through gripped me while I was safely ensconced inside a hotel room on a work-related trip. Char ensured me that I’d agreed to this plan some weeks before, however, in the moment of commitment I had no recollection of making any such life-altering, and assuredly life-ending, decision.

I think you're right, Roy!

Treading Water

Less than two weeks before the class began, Char and I were in the pool where I had just struggled to finish a solid mile of lap swimming. In preparation for the upcoming SCUBA lessons she informed me that we’d need to tread water in the class and that we should begin training now. Remembering my swim training from Boy Scouts I assumed the requirement wouldn’t exceed more than a minute or two, which was good because that’s probably all I could manage. My body was built for sinking, not floating. Regardless, I side stroked down the pool to the deep end, lolled along by Charla’s irresistible siren call. With legs and lungs already exhausted from swimming I began treading, watching the clock on the wall deliberately. When a full minute elapsed I glanced over at where Charla sat perched, on top of the water, bobbing along effortlessly, naturally buoyant and relaxed while I strained against the pull of the deep, my pained face barely clearing the gently lapping waves of the indoor pool.

Another minute passed before I finally asked her, “so… how long are we supposed to do this?”

“For about ten minutes, babe.”

Fortunately for us both, I was too tired to reach out of the water and shake her violently. Instead, it was all I could do to maintain the motion of my cramping and burning and exhausted legs and arms and keep from drowning only four feet from the edge of the pool.

I managed a full five minutes before I was too spent to keep kicking and was tired of staring angrily in her direction.

This was not going well.

To be continued...