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a person swimming in a body of water

Anticipation for Open Water Certification

I earned my Open Water Certification through Hawaii Eco Divers in my first two weeks of arriving in Hawaii. Reading my Open Water certification manual, I felt nervous. I learned to swim very young, and felt comfortable in the water, both as a swimmer and as someone who participated in recreational water sports; wake boarding, surfing, etc. But as the manual listed danger after danger, and tried to explain what seemed like complex gear, the easy familiarity I felt with water vanished.

What would happen to me underwater? Could my body handle the pressure? What would happen if I ran out of air? If it happened to anyone, it was going to happen to me! Or what if my gear, whose operations I did not fully understand, somehow failed? Nitrogen absorption and the ominous phrase the bends worried me. So even though I maintained a brave face – I’m from the south, where manners trump anxiety – I wrestled my nerves all morning.

On Dry Land

I met up with my instructors at Sharks Cove, one of the most popular spot off the North Shore of Oahu. Waiting for everyone to arrive, I established an easy rapport with the two instructors. Both were friendly and extremely knowledgable – their obvious ease comforted me. So three peers and I sat in a circle on the grass ready to go over skills vital to scuba diving.

First, we started with a knowledge review. This took the form of a 25 question quiz on what we should have already learned, either from a manual or an elearning course. After going over every question, we began going over gear. As the instructors explained each different component, what I construed as complicated reduced down to a couple easy, extremely necessary tools. Reviewing functionality and placement helped ease my discomfort. Next, we moved onto gear assembly. Once we had shown we could assemble and disassemble everything three times, we headed down to dive.

Walking down to the water proved tough! I stained under the extra weight. The instructors traded jokes with me about building muscle, and that too made me feel better. The more I dive, the easier everything will be. Next came a predive briefing and final check. We learned about why Sharks Cove is called Sharks Cove (an interesting local story), how deep we were going, the different conversation efforts in place, and different aquatic life to expect. Then, finally, with our wetsuits zipped up, our BCD jackets in place, and our tanks turned on, we stepped into the water.

A Secret World

Everyone always says you will never forget the first breath you take underwater. This is true. There you are, weightless, wrapped in silky blue, descending slowly, doing the impossible – breathing underwater. It takes a minute to trust your regulator to deliver oxygen, another to get used to breathing through your mouth. To hearing your own whooshing breaths. The first day of the Open Water certification course introduces you to skills that will sustain you through your diving career.

Flooding my mask with water, squeezing my eyes shut tight against the salt, I panicked and grabbed the instructors arm. He gently squeezed back – a kind way of saying “You’re okay, I’m here, I won’t let anything happen to you.” I took a second to work through the panic. Took deep breathes through my mouth. Then, slowly but surely, I worked on clearing my mask by blowing air through my nose. I opened my eyes to a waterless mask. My instructor flashed an okay and what looked like a smile around his regulator. Gave me a fist bump. Then moved on to his next student.

Diving is as much, if not more of, a mental exercise then a physical one. To dive, you must take slow breaths. You must remember to check your air often. You need some mastery of your mind to slow down and think things through. But diving serves as one of the most rewarding mental exercises I’ve ever done. Because cruising along a couple feet above the ocean floor means cruising through a secret world. A school of yellow fish that let me swim along side them. The coral I pass dotted with urchins I’m scared of hitting. A giant monk seal gliding along a little ways from us, so majestic it stops us in our tracks.

If an Open Water Certification challenges you, it also rewards you, and my recommendation for anyone interested is to swallow your nerves and sign up! You won’t regret it.


Mahalo for reading,

Divemaster Candidate Nikita