PADI Open Water Course

[February 2017: Dahab, Egypt]

Day 1 of Diving

We met Frank, Sherif, and Scott at 9:00am. Frank was our instructor, Sherif was in training to become an instructor (incredibly sweet guy), and Scott was giving diving a try, but wasn’t sure he would take the entire course with us. After doing a chapter review and discussing the skills that we would learn for the day, we made our way to the back to put on our wet suits…

I’m short and plump. Putting on my wet suit was a work out in and of itself. Throughout the week, it got a little easier to put on, but most days, I needed help hiking the suit up above my giant calves. Team effort. I ripped up my knuckles trying to get a solid grip and I had to tear off every single finger nail that evening. I don’t think I got it on properly until the last day. When we got in the water, I couldn’t bend well enough to put on my fins. Frank called me Cinderella each time I laid back to have someone slip them on for me.

The first day of diving was rough. I like to swim, but diving is different in many ways. Breathing under water is incredible, but I had a mild panic attack just before our first descent. I think this was due to my buoyancy and lack of flexibility in my wet suit more than anything else, so my breathing was out of control. I was sinking when I shouldn’t have been. I was face down when I should have been vertical or on my back. I couldn’t adjust myself. I was confused. I was scared. Luckily, Sherif straightened me out, put air in my BCD, and helped me slow down my breathing. This never happened again and only lasted a matter of seconds, but even with a regulator in my mouth, I was certain I was going to drown. It was an adjustment getting used to having all that equipment on my back.

Next, we started our confined dive in Banner Fish Bay. I thought we were 3 meters or so under water but I’m told it was only 30cm when I was certain that something was wrong with my ears. Something didn’t feel right. My right ear hurt, so I kept indicating to Frank that I wanted to go to the surface to talk about it. I’m a musician, after all. My ears are my everything. He said no, but I persisted and we finally went up. He said, “I know bullshit when I see it. There is nothing wrong with your ears. At 30cm, it’s impossible.” I told him, “I’m not faking it. Something is wrong.” I was trying to listen to my body. I just wanted to know what was happening. I was very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to equalize my ears when we went deeper.

In hindsight, it was probably just my ears filling with water. After all, when I swim, I swim at the surface. My ears are exposed to the water, but I’m never fully submerged. Unfortunately, Frank was convinced that I wanted to get out of the water. I had no intention of doing so, but I can be sensitive, so when I felt like he wasn’t listening to me, I became more anxious. I decided to just trust him. Fortunately, as we went deeper, I was able to equalize. My ears, however, did not feel right until the next day.

When we were finished for the day, I told Kyndall, “I have all the feelings.” I had experienced fear, thrill, and everything in between. We took a slow stroll along the water, giving ourselves space and quiet to reflect.

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Before reaching home, we met a Bedouin family that invited us in for tea. We had a lovely evening with them before enjoying a BBQ at our villa.

Day 2 and 3

Over the next couple days I experienced waves of enthusiasm directly related to my success (or lack thereof) underwater. The Open Water course covers a lot of practical skills for all what-if situations. Everything from removing water in your mask, to running out of air, to removing and replacing your weight belt and BCD underwater and at the surface.

Day 2 of diving was an up day. I didn’t feel defeated in any way, shape, or form… Sure, I realized that I breathe too fast, fin poorly, and had no idea how to control my buoyancy, but I still felt great! Day 3 on the other hand…

We did two dives on day 3 and spent a lot of time discussing the dreaded task of the weight belt and BCD removal. I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of shooting to the surface the moment my weights came off, but I watched Frank model the process and felt ready to give it ago. Unfortunately, it didn’t go nearly as well as I had imagined.

First, my suit didn’t fit quite right. I always felt like I was being pushed forward and I couldn’t kneel on the sea floor the way I needed to in order to complete these tasks. Right away, Frank was trying to force my legs into position, but I sincerely couldn’t stay in place. The more he forced it, the more I vertical I became. This led to the the addition of ankle weights on day 4.

I continued anyway. I got my weights off, I put them on my upper thigh, and then… I didn’t turn properly, I didn’t move fast enough, and I didn’t have enough strength to make the necessary adjustments. As Frank tried to help me, I drifted further and further away from Kyndall, who was patiently waiting for her turn on our sandy hill 10 meters under water. Frank tried to anchor me. He tried to turn me. I felt like I was on a rollercoaster. I’m sure I heard him cursing at me through his bubbles.

Things didn’t look much better when I tried to remove and replace my BCD. Getting it off was no problem, but when I was putting it back on, Frank kept swatting my hand and grabbing my BCD. It wasn’t until we were at the surface that I understood he was trying to show me that I needed to grab the pocket of my BCD after slipping my right arm through.

On top of all that, Frank did not change his air tank between dives. He would have had enough air if I had been more successful, but he had to work really hard, thus using a lot of energy and oxygen in order to help me. I took so long that Kyndall only had the opportunity to enjoy my spectacle rather than trying it herself. Luckily for her, Frank decided that I had to repeat the skills the next day anyway, so she’d have her chance.

My dreams were occupied by weight belt technique that night. I woke up again and again, tense and turning, anxious about the next morning. When I woke up, my arm muscles were so sore from swinging around my weights the day before. I didn’t expect to feel it so much. Everything is easier underwater, right?

Last Day of Diving

As we prepared for our last confined dive, Frank put some real muscle into pulling up the material on my wetsuit. It finally felt right! Between his help with my fins and my wetsuit, I told Frank, “You’re a keeper.” This made his day.

During our final confined dive, I was able to complete both skills, but not without assistance again. When I got my weight belt situated, I went to close the clasp only to discover that my weights had shifted which blocked the clasp from closing. I giggled at my conundrum as I laid there nearly kissing the sand. Frank couldn’t see what was holding up the production, so he let me struggle through it. I wasn’t strong enough to shift my weights, so after a minute or two, he took a closer look and helped me make the necessary adjustments.

Having the ankle weights on really helped me stay in place, so if anyone experiences the same dilemma, I recommend giving those a try. That said, having them on while finning was exhausting, more so on my right foot than my left. I wouldn’t need extra weight if I was more fit, and it wouldn’t have been exhausting if I was more fit and finned properly. Those are both goals to work towards.

We went for our final dive at “The Lighthouse” that afternoon. We had a computer with us to help us track our depth. Open Water Divers are only certified to 18 meters, so Frank told us that we owed him a beer for every 10 centimeters we went beyond 18 meters. I hit 18 right on the money!

We saw an eel, coral, clown fish, a big rainbow fish of some kind… While it was an overcast day and we didn’t have the best light or the clearest visibility, it was still unlike anything I had ever done. I was all smiles at the finish line. All that work and anxiety was worth it!

Dahab has a number of sites that I’d still love to go back to dive. So, who knows? Maybe I’ll be back soon to get my Advanced Open Water certification allowing me to go to 30 meters depth. In the mean time, I can’t wait to start adding my exploration of the underwater world to my travel plans.

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