My first experience of breathing underwater happened in a tiny little dive training pool just off a main highway in Kuala Lumpur. It was surreal. I never thought I’d scuba dive. Oh, I’d entertained the idea and filed it under “things I really should do in my lifetime” but the reality of it was a whole different ballgame. Specifically my concerns were: pressure and the dreaded “equalisation” – what if this was beyond me, what if I panicked; oh… and being far from the surface and running out of air.
When I arrived at my first confined water introductory session with Andrew Keogh, one of the directors of Seasfire a dive and marine educational and conservation organisation with the mandate: Explore. Discover. Create.  I had a vague idea that the training would involve some theory, and practical experience in the pool before culminating in the final certification that would occur in open waters.
Andrew began by introducing the components of the dive gear to me, and explaining from the start how to check equipment e.g. always check the tank for date of last inspection; check filters for damage or blockage, etc. It is fundamental that each diver be aware of the good condition of their dive equipment. We also assembled the BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) by hooking it and the regulator to the air tank. He then proceeded to talk about the gauge that would indicate how much air I would have while underwater; in short: full tank of air, 200 bar and at 50 bar you and your dive buddy have to surface — no negotiation.
Yes, I was also introduced to the Dive Buddy System. Basically no one dives alone. So you and your buddy do a safety check prior to diving, stick with each other the whole time throughout and pay attention to each other; and resurface together. The Dive Buddy system ensures that in the event the worst happens (ok so that’s my worst fear, running out of air 10s of metres from the surface) you will always have an alternate source of air close by. Also if you run into a little trouble, get caught up in something, you’ll have someone aware close by to help.
In the first confined water experience, I learned a few of the essential skills required for diving, namely, two ways of clearing your regulator should it become filled with water if it leaves your mouth for whatever reason; clearing your mask of water (underwater); equalising; and using the inflator and deflator buttons on my BCD to control my buoyancy. Buoyancy control is EVERYTHING in a good dive experience. I also learned that the most fundamental thing in diving is something we take for granted but that in diving you simply cannot and that is: you must always breathe. Inhaling and exhaling continually prevents your lungs from exploding upon resurfacing due to pressure change.
There’s still a ways to go, I have more skills to learn; videos to watch; theory to understand and remember, basically things that minimise risk and ensure safe diving experiences. However, I will always remember my first breath underwater. I breathed deeply, realising that I had embarked on my first steps to a new world. I felt like an astronaut in training, ready to explore new planets. And I hadn’t even left the pool yet.