Part 1 – Frustration
After the deep exhilaration of breathing underwater for the first time, and overcoming the inherent pressures of equalising – pun well intended – my second confined water experience with Seasfire director Andrew Keogh turned out to be a lesson in humility. When I got to Diver’s Den I was enthused but at the back of my mind I was aware something was a little off. The old head felt a little stuffy – sinus issues that tend to flare up in the morning. But it was a stunner of a day, blue skies and tropical rays and I was convinced I could pull off equalizing. Andrew ran me through the necessary surface water skills first, testing my swim endurance levels – all divers are required to be able to swim at least 200 metres, and snorkel 50m wearing full scuba gear. We practiced removing and replacing weight belts at the surface and adjusting cylinders that have slipped out of harness.
He then proceeded to guide me underwater and within seconds I realised I simply could not equalise. We practised the regular procedure that I’d gleaned from the PADI Open Water manual of what to do when a diver can’t equalise. Ascend a little, hold nose and blow through ears gently as you descend slowly … no cigar. The pain in my ears continued and I could not clear them. My disappointment was palpable but Andrew insisted we stop trying because the fundamental rule of good diving is adhering to safe practice: you do not dive if you cannot equalise.
Part 2 – Going Under
Cut to a couple of weeks down the line. The moment we hit the water and started our slow descent I knew I was home free. Equalising was a cinch this time. My ears cleared smoothly and as my knees gently settled on the bottom of the pool.
Confined Water 2 is tricky. You need to remove your mask completely, breathe continuously, replace it, all without panicking. Then, and this is interesting, you need to experience air depletion.This is where your instructor cuts off your air supply completely underwater as you observe your SPG (Submersible Pressure Gauge) so that you can feel what it’s like to have that moment when you are underwater — with no air!
Just imagine it. That has to be every person’s worst fear. No air supply; suffocating to death.
In the latter part of Confined Water 3 this is taken to the next level where you actually take the Alternate Air Source attached to your Buddy, signal ok then the both of you clasp arms and slowly ascend at a safe pace to the surface. The practice is important so that you know where your next breath is coming from.
Part 3 -…..aaaaanddd breathe
Speaking of breathing, we focused on breath control during this session. I had already learned that continuous breathing, never holding your breath, is the most fundamental principle of diving, it is literally what keeps you alive — avoiding serious injury or even death due to lung overexpansion or decompression sickness. But there’s more to it than that. Breathing is also what allows you to truly enjoy the diving experience. Through breath control you achieve a fundamental function of good diving: Neutral Buoyancy.
Negative buoyancy is when you are sinking (too much weight) and positive buoyancy is when you are too light (too little weight ) and you float upwards. Neutral buoyancy is when you are literally…. hovering or flying in an ideal position and in which you have total control of your body position. This sounds difficult and it’s hard to get your head around but when you do what it boils down to is you use your own breath to control your body position — provided you are correctly weighted to begin with. Breathe in, you rise, breathe out, you sink slightly. Just breathe, and you’ll fly, baby.
It’s then that it really hit me that diving, is an incredible metaphor for life. Think about it. All you have to do is breathe. You can breathe through any problem. If you focus on slow, deep breaths, all will be well. The most important thing in life is slow, deep measured breathing, and when you can just do that then you can not only survive any problem in life, you can also rise to greater heights.
So far, learning to dive has been incredibly liberating, helping me test my limits and conquer internal fears; claustrophobia, fear of suffocation. There is still a ways to go because the real challenge will come when I hit the open water and there are metres of water above me. The training is meant to help me stay calm and focused and face challenges as they come … much like the experience of Life itself… if you stay calm, breathe deep, practise what you are taught with slow, ninja-like precision and keep the mind on breath as you let muscle memory take over, you’ll most likely work through a rough patch. As long as you’re breathing, it’s all good.