When I decided to get certified I was so sure that it would all come naturally to me since working at a dive centre gave me the unique opportunity to be quite familiar with all the dive equipment. I pored over the textbook wanting to get every single question right and I read everything I could possibly find online to help me prepare for the task at hand. I was more excited than nervous in the end when the day of my first dive approached. But no amount of practice and experience really prepared me for what turned out to be a whole lot of uncertainty about whether I was doing things right. I know that most people recall their first dive fondly as a magical experience of transforming from a mere mortal into a mermaid but for me (an over thinker) it was mostly wondering about how many times I needed to equalize and thinking about whether I was descending properly. Although I had learnt everything I was supposed to know and I was briefed thoroughly and I had cleared all my doubts and questions regarding scuba diving with my instructor (plus i had done the skills twenty million times) I still felt like I was going to end up doing something stupid. And of course it was my first dive, so as per my fears I did end up doing so many stupid things. So here’s my take on being a newbie diver and maybe a few tips that could help if you, like me, find it easier to know exactly what to do and what not to do on your first dive.
Chew gum while on the way to the dive site – one of the things I found difficult was to equalize. Not that I had a cold or anything but I guess the whole thing was just quite unnatural for me at that point and chewing gum let’s you swallow frequently and equalize your ears before even descending. It makes it a little easier to equalize once in the water and of course remember the golden rule. Do not dive if you have a cold unless you’re particularly fond of pain in your ears.
PADI Open Water course teaches you the Valsalva method of equ8alizing, which is probably the easiest – but it’s not the only way. Learning about a couple of techniques at least took away the fear that if I did have difficulty equalizing with the Valsalva method I would still be able to equalize using another method. All these procedures help you open your Eustachian tubes, but a certain method might just be easier for you over another. Here is a list of useful methods recommended by DAN: goo.gl/B13wQF
Don’t kick your feet as you descend – as OBVIOUS as this seems my natural instinct, the minute I hit the water, was to kick my feet (cause how else do you move in water right) but I guess this one doesn’t even need an explanation. If you kick while descending you’ll just end up being left behind at the surface so just keep still and concentrate on deflating your BCD, breathing calmly and equalizing your ears and you’ll be all right. Just make sure that as you start to go down you need to slowly exhale or you would most likely struggle to descend.
Conserving air underwater – I wanted to try so hard to not be the reason we had to cut the dive short and therefore read a few articles on how to maintain a steady breathing pattern underwater. Although there’s no hard and fast rule (especially since each person is different and uses different amounts of air) I found a useful article (goo.gl/YJa2iC) which suggested inhaling for 4 seconds, pausing for 2 (not stopping) and exhaling for four seconds. This method worked quite well since I still had a good 150 bars at the end of the dive. This isn’t going to be useful for everyone but for people who at least want to know a proper rate of breathing it really helps to be able to count a good pace. You wouldn’t need to be conscious of just how many seconds you’re spending on inhaling and exhaling every single time but once you get into a steady rhythm your body kind of adjusts to a relaxed breathing pattern.
Familiarize yourself with the equipment- once again the course itself teaches you where everything is and how it works. But when you’re actually strapped into all your gear and floating around underwater you really need to be familiar with exactly where dump valves and all are so that you can move easily and adjust your buoyancy when required. Even though you’re mostly free to move your arms and legs it’s still quite different from when you adjust straps and all on a buddy compared to doing it on your self. It would be a whole lot easier if you knew exactly where everything was before jumping in so that even with the limited view from wearing your mask plus even with the BCD strapped tightly to your body you’ll still be able to make necessary adjustments.
Illusion of depth – if you’re standing on the ground and you were asked to move about two feet forward chances are you could walk to an almost accurate distance of two feet. However things are different underwater. Depending on the dive site there might be drops, trenches, pinnacles, overhangs and caves which makes depth perception next to impossible (especially at safety stops where you probably can’t see much – and especially when you’re new at this) you might end up going deeper than the allowed depth without realizing something is wrong before you feel a slight pressure in your ear or you might hover way above or below the point at which you have to complete your safety stop. Unlike land it’s kind of hard to perceive depth underwater and that’s why your computer is your trusty sidekick. Always be conscious of your own safety even if you’re diving with a guide or your instructor and check on your computer just as you check your gauge to ensure you’re well within limits. Even if you’re left awestruck through most of the journey make sure you are also following the signals of your instructor and the readings on your dive computer.
Wetsuits are meant to hug you tight enough to block the continuos flow of water – for my first water skill session I looked at the wetsuit choices and decided to go with the one that was snug but still didn’t take a lot of effort getting into. I figured it was snug enough to keep me warm especially in the tropical waters of Maldives but boy was I wrong. This was not even a proper dive, it was just the confined water skill sessions in 5 meters or less and by the time class was over I was shivering so hard I thought my teeth would fall out. For my actual open water dive I decided to go with one size smaller albeit the hard work I had to put into getting it on. It was a complete success and the aerobics required to put it on and take it off was worth it since I could easily do two dives and still relax with the wind in my face while heading back to land without feeling even slightly cold. (Tip for hijabi’s and anyone who’s not fond of wearing a super tight wetsuit: just wear a loose t-shirt or hoodie on top of your wetsuit so that you don’t have to feel self conscious while enjoying your dive)
No matter how your first experience of diving went, one thing is for certain. Much like riding a bike, this would be a skill you get better at each time you have a go at it. Don’t give up just because a dive went badly.
Because a bad day diving, is still better than a good day at work right 😉