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01 May 2011 @ 10:50 am
down in the diving bell  

We’re back from Malta, where we spent the last week getting certified as PADI open water scuba divers. While we were gone my gmail account got hacked, so if you got spammed, I’m sorry. :p

Malta didn’t particularly win my heart, but then, it didn’t have much chance to. We were doing scuba stuff 4 of the 7 days we were there, and not much else the other three days. It was, as I said to Ted at one point, the best possible vacation to have forgotten our cameras on. Oops. But Dad had his, so there are pictures anyway! Hah!

What was awesome was being offline. A whole week with no concerns about what was going on in the world or whether my email was piling up (or, as it turned out, being hacked…). I should try to do that for at least a couple weeks every year. That was really nice. I even got to read some! And because the whole family went (parents, sister & family, all of us!) there was great family time, and that was really nice too.

But since all we really did was dive, I’ll put a bit about diving behind the cut, and call it an entry. :)

Ted enjoyed the whole experience a lot more than I did. He found diving to be extremely serene, which it unquestionably is. But it was chillier in Malta in general than I expected, and in terms of diving, I was mostly physically miserable from cold. After our first open water dives I ended up saying to Ted that I was so cold before and after that I couldn’t remember if I was having fun in the water. But the last day of the class was a lot warmer, air-temperature-wise. That helped a great deal. We also did something in the third dive that put the rest of it in perspective for me: we went to 18 meters.

Eighteen meters is the deepest you can go on the basic PADI certification. At the inversion layer in the water where it got noticeably colder as we went deeper, for the first time in the whole class I actually got *excited* about what we were doing. And the ground kept sloping down, and I was damned ready to swim all the way down–and to my *total* dismay, the instructor turned around and headed back. I was like, “No, wait! Wait! This is just starting to get good! Wait! You’re going the wrong direction! I WANT TO GO THAT WAY!”

I said as much when we surfaced, and the instructor, bemused, said, “You’ve got the deep demons. Boys usually get those.”

Ted, however, was totally unsurprised that I had wanted to go deeper, and once I’d had that taste of excitement I was able to articulate why I hadn’t enjoyed it to any remarkable degree up to that point (aside, I mean, from freezing my toes off). Ted’s right: it’s serene. But I get that kind of serenity from lap swimming, so that wasn’t a new or revelatory sensation for me in the water. I think up until we hit that inversion layer, essentially I was feeling that what we were doing was so thoroughly within my ability to do without equipment* that it wasn’t really exciting. The inversion layer said “Hey, now we’re getting serious!” to my lizard brain.

Had I not experienced that, I would probably be willing to continue diving as an idle Thing To Do, but up until that point I’d had no interest in continuing on to get more certifications. Now I am: I obviously want to get the deeper water dive certificates–40 meters is the limit of what they consider recreational diving (after that it’s umbrellaed under “technical diving”, though for a while after 40 meters you don’t really add much technicality)–and I want to get at *least* that. And I clearly need to do the dry suit course because, well, I was goddamned cold. Ireland’s supposedly got just about the best diving in Europe, but the water here is never gonna get balmy.

Ted asked, after our third dive, how much air I’d used. About half the amount he had, it turned out, which surprised neither of us, since 1. he’s a lot bigger than I am, and 2. as I said to him, I’ve spent far, far more time in the water concentrating on controlled breathing than pretty much anybody, thanks to being a team swimmer. Turned out I’d only used about 25 bar more than the instructor, who was smaller than me and, of course, an experienced diver. Ted thought that was particularly impressive on my part.

And it turned out to be a damned good thing, too, because when we went to get our air tanks for the fourth and final dive, two of them had been stolen. I had, by a fair margin, the most air left of the three of us students. The instructor intended to trade tanks with me because hers had more air than mine, but couldn’t because they had different valves. So I went down on the fourth dive with my original tank and about 85 bar of air (as opposed to the 210ish one normally starts with). We were down 25 minutes–six minutes less than the first dive, and I came to the surface with 20 bar left, so I used about half the amount of air in a dive almost the same length as the first one.

It was interesting being that much more aware of the air. I didn’t have enough to screw around with, so I ended up being far more efficient about managing my bouyancy through breath control. That, I assume, is generally what you do more gradually as you dive more and become more accustomed to it. So aside from the deep demons, in the end I felt my technical proficiency was worthy, and that was also satisfying.

But yeah, ultimately I suspect the first diving experiences were not, for me, like they are for many people. Scuba really isn’t difficult to do, and I’ve spent so much time in the water that it wasn’t a challenge in and of itself, or even an especially novel experience. It was only when we went deeper, and when I had to ratchet up the learning curve for bouyancy, that I really got something out of it. But I’m glad we learned to dive, and I’m particularly glad we did the deep dive and that I *did* have the air tank thing to work with, because that really did make all the difference for *me*.

Well, and seeing the octopus and the cuttlefish was neat, too. :)

*Whether this is true or not isn’t the point. The point is, even rolling over at 12 meters to look up through 40 feet of water triggered a mild “that’s a lot of water” response, but no excitement about it. I can swim a 25 meter pool underwater without taking a breath. My brain is pretty confident of being able to dive unassisted to a comparatively impressive depth. Not to stay there for twenty minutes, perhaps, but the depth was what triggered my enthusiasm, not the length of time spent under da sea.

(x-posted from the essential kit)

hegemony hedgehogagrimony on May 1st, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC)
Not at all the same thing, I know, but I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed snorkeling at Discovery Cove when I went on the cruise and we were in Orlando. I'd love to do more snorkeling (though I'm still a bit iffy about actual wildlife touching me due to some past experiences in the water, so I'm not sure about actual /wild/ snorkeling, but the snorkeling at Discovery Cove was much fun). Beyond the layers and layers of buoyant fat, I'm not sure I'd be inclined towards actual diving since I can't even go to the bottom of a pool since an ear infection I had when in high school left me with an ear that is painfully sensitive to water pressure.

But snorkeling was a surprising joy for me and I'd have done more of it at Discovery Bay if I had bought the water shoes /earlier/ in the day. The snorkel area was hard on my bare feets, so I minimized my time in that part of the place.

Also, I got to swim with the dolphins, which was beyond nifty. :)
Geek of Weird Shit: sensualgows on May 1st, 2011 03:37 pm (UTC)
<-- is not at all surprised you have the deep demons. Also thinks that phrase should be worked into a story somewhere.
martianmooncrabmartianmooncrab on May 1st, 2011 06:31 pm (UTC)
Congrats on the Cert!

Before my internal body temp went wonky, I used to dive without a wetsuit (I prefered a oversized tshirt over my swimsuit) and my dive buds thought I was crazy. But then I was in the tropics too.
kyle cassidykylecassidy on May 1st, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC)
i really want to do the certification thing this summer. was thinking of going to egypt or something and doing it in the red sea. malta now -- that sounds like a good idea too. anywhere but the muddy atlantic off the coast of new jersey.....
Jannejanne on May 1st, 2011 06:45 pm (UTC)
Holidays are good, not surprised the more challenging dive appealed to you.) (Personally, I get a vague feeling of claustrophobia just reading about diving, so I'll just be standing on the beach and cheering or something :)
Wolf Lahti: antimonywolflahti on May 1st, 2011 07:23 pm (UTC)
Cousteau called it 'rapture of the deep', and it can lead to nasty results - the urge to go deeper and deeper (just a little bit deeper), until one has run out of air.
Xixpioti on May 4th, 2011 06:50 pm (UTC)
I got to go on a tourist-dive (I don't remember the correct name) on the Great Barrier Reef and absolutely loved it. I don't know how well I did technically, but I found it to be very much like snorkeling, which I also love. For the dive, my travelling companion and I each held the arm of a dive instructor and he towed us around some very gentle waters; I wanted to go a 2nd and 3rd time, but my travelling companion hated it, so I was good and didn't go on my own. I've heard that there's very good diving off PEI in Canada, but I suspect it's pretty cold.