Tuesday, January 23, 2007

New Sports

Never let it be said that I let little things keep me from trying new adventures. Little things like, oh, FEAR OF IMPENDING, HORRIBLE DEATH.

Last year when I was snorkeling in Hawaii, I kept kicking off the snorkel, holding my breath, and getting down with the fish. I decided right then that I absolutely must learn scuba diving.

Thus it came to pass that I signed up for scuba lessons. Now, while I paid for the lessons in July (when Underwater Sports had their annual sale), things kept coming up to prevent me from actually taking them. Finally, here we were in December, booking a trip to Hawaii in February, so if I didn't take my lessons soon, it wasn't going to be in time for the original intended purpose. So, in the middle of winter, here I was taking a class that involved going outside and jumping in the water. That alone made it sound pretty questionable.

However, cold was actually not the worst problem. After all the time I've spent in the water, swimming, surfing, and even snorkeling, I was actually quite ashamed of how much it freaked me out to sit underwater and breath. Also, my habit of holding my nose while underwater was finally catching up to me, as one thing you must be able to do to get certified (not to mention for practical safety reasons) is be able to take your mask off, continue breathing through the regulator, and put your mask back on. Now, this is where my body panicked and went DEATH IMPENDING! GET OUT OF WATER NOW!!!

As ways to die go, drowning would be one of my least favorite. Really, I'd rather be burned at the stake. I'm sure there are, in fact, plenty of much worse ways to die, but maybe drowning just seems worse because it's very real to me after all that lovely time in the water.

I think I spent at least half the class wondering why I was still there, being sure I wouldn't finish. Due to this newfound idea I have of following through on things, though, I kept going back for more. It did help that we had a cool teacher, Bob. Bob looked kinda like a truck driver, beard, baseball cap and all. He turned out, though, to be, as he put it, "mother-hen-ish." He really looked after us and wanted us to do well, and he was very practical. On the last pool class (there were 4 pool sessions and 2 "open water" sessions in the Sound), I showed up early and did some practice, and that did make me feel better. Besides which, I figured diving had to be better if I were floating along with something good to look at (like a reef and bright-colored fish), instead of sitting at the bottom of a featureless pool deliberately doing things that made me uncomfortable.

Still, the open water dives were really trying, and through the first one I was back to wondering why I was there, I wasn't going to make it, etc., etc., but by then I was so close I had to try, even it was to say "Been there, done that, and now I'm never doing it again." In addition to having to do all the practical safety skills (read = things that make you uncomfortable because it's for when things go wrong), the water was, well, 46 degrees. Forty six degree water surpasses cold; it's just painful. Seven mil wetsuits keep you at a reasonable temperature (wouldn't call it "warm"), but it doesn't keep you from feeling screaming pain on your face when you put your head in the water, nor does it prevent those first few seconds when the water first gets into the suit and you have 46 degree water running against your bare torso skin. On top of this, we were wearing about 60 lbs of gear, including the wetsuit. Seven mils of neoprene makes it hard to even lift your arms; forget trying to do anything behind your head with your hands, because you just can't bend your joints that much.

The other good FEAR OF IMPENDING DEATH moment is dropping into dark water. Millions of years of evolution tell you that your head going underwater is BAD, and sinking into dark water that you can't see the bottom of is REALLY, REALLY BAD. So, when we had to swim out to the little float and then drop down the line... that was another time I had to fight off panic.

Of course, that skill I'd been most bothered by, mask removal and replacement, was the very last skill in the very last dive (2 each day for 2 days = total of 4). But, sure enough, when the time came, I'd been psyching myself up for it so much that I didn't, after all, have a problem with it. After that was done I had such a sense of relief, none of the cold or dark or anything else we might have to do bothered me a bit. After we finished the skills on the last dive, we went on a "tour," in which we swam around with Bob, the instructor, and looked at nifty stuff on the sea floor.

I can't really think of anything to compare this to in terms of sense of accomplishment. I certainly put a lot more work and time and agony into my academic degree, even within a comparable length of time on many occasions, but I don't think there was ever a point where I was in doubt that I would finish. It's more like things at work, when I fix a bug that I started out having absolutely no clue about and thought maybe it couldn't even be fixed (without something unreasonable like, you know, fixing a browser bug). I don't do many things that I want to point to or get attention for, but I like to send people to the Live Maps site, and after I finished the last dive, I definitely wanted some way of saying, "I finished." I suppose this is it.

I guess the bad thing of not admitting how hard something is for you... when you get to the end and you feel like you deserve a pat on the back, nobody's around to give you one because they didn't know you needed it.



Anonymous Michael said...

Holy crap! That's awesome!! I've always thought of learning to dive as a tropical thing, but going through it in painfully freezing water is the real test of whether you can do it or not.

I too have a terrifying fear of drowning, and can't tolerate cold water at all. I think I'd end up underwater for about oh...four seconds, then pop out like a piece of toast from a toaster and make like the Roadrunner to the nearest hot tub.

Where I'd stay submerged for half an hour.

Once you've done something you thought you couldn't, it just adds more bricks to the wall of "Dammit, I can DO this!" And it helps psyche ya up for the next Herculean feat.

Again, congratulations, Amy! *Pat-pat-pat* Way to go! :-)

1/24/2007 2:30 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Aww, thanks :-) Yeah, doing something like this is a great confidence builder. The teacher even said that if you can dive in the Pacific Northwest, you can dive anywhere, and apparently there is a lot of good diving here (I want to see the parts of the floating bridges that sank...). And the cold water is only bad for the first few minutes; after that, your face gets numb, and the water in your suit warms up :-)

1/24/2007 9:06 AM  
Blogger Nikki said...


You know, I'm not sure I would have done it. (But then again, what are your options? "No thanks, I came all the way out here and paid this money and spent all my time and put all this gear on, but I don't think I'll go in after all.") It's your attitude, though, that's awesome. I love how you can psyche yourself out of and into things just because you realize it might do you good or have some reward at the end. An At-Least-Do-It-Once approach. What's all this again about lack of willpower?? ;)

Go you!!!

1/29/2007 8:51 AM  
Blogger Nikki said...

ps -- "pop out like a piece of toast". HAAAhahaha! Good one, bro.

1/29/2007 8:53 AM  

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