by: Julia Saper
After recently passing my PADI instructor examinations, I tried to encourage a few close friends to let me certify them as Open Water Divers. To my surprise, many of them contested this offer due to a deluge of concerns.
“What if I panic?”
“I might get claustrophobic”
“I am not a strong swimmer”
“I am worried about equalizing my ears”
“What about sharks, stingers, giant people-eating Queensland groupers…etc”
“There are too many unknowns, too many things out of my control in the ocean”
Their responses led me to recall my dear friend Summer’s scuba story. Having experienced a near-drowning incident herself as a child, Summer feared the ocean and water in general. Then, on a vacation to Thailand in her early 20’s, Summer’s friends convinced her to try a Discover Scuba Dive. Her dive guide stayed with her, as trained to do, led her to kneel on a sandy bottom where she remained, eyes wide open, in pure awe of the life surrounding her during her first descent under water. Not quite confident enough in her swimming abilities to start her Open Water Certification, when she returned home, she enrolled in adult swimming classes. Two years later, she had accumulated a plethora of specialty certifications, over 200 dives and earned her PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor certification. In fact, I first met Summer when I was jumping into the pool to complete the confined water portion of my Open Water certification, as she was exiting the pool on her last confined water session of her Instructor Development Course. The next year, she co-certified me as a rescue diver.
Today, if you ask Summer for her favorite dive she will answer:
“My favorite dive is the last dive I dove, and the next dive I dive”
Is Summer’s story incredibly inspiring? Absolutely, however, I am realizing that is not unique. Upon learning of my friends fears, I reached out to other trusted diver friends. Some of them had similar stories either of their own initial hesitations to try SCUBA, or of students or colleagues they helped overcome their trepidation about the ocean, the unknown aquatic realm or whatever it was which made them reluctant to try diving.
Whereas being comfortable in the water or a strong swimmer can be a helpful precursor to learning SCUBA, us water lovers love easing fears of others so they too can experience diving the way we do. Worried about being claustrophobic? Fortunately, you get a trial run during the pool sessions of your open water course. Not a confident swimmer? As long as you can swim 200 meters/yards continuously, without any time limit, you can begin your course. That is two laps, out-and-back, in an Olympic sized swimming pool.
Concerned about not being able to equalize your ears? We can share with you our own tricks of the trade, such as descending down a fixed line very slowly, or give you names of friendly dive doctors in the Townsville Region to discuss more in depth medical advice.
As for fearing the ocean? Whereas being absolutely terrified of the ocean can, understandably, be a deterrent to giving scuba diving a fair chance, changing that fear into a healthy respect may actually be beneficial in adhering to safe diving practices, not to mention, extremely empowering. The more you are able to face your fears in calm conditions, relatively safe environments with the comfort of peers or responsible dive professionals, you may be surprised at how quickly your petrification turns to pure amazement, just like Summer’s did.