My Open Water course and first dives

I took up diving in 1986 on a dare from my best buddy Gary, who was a commercial diver. I had never learned to swim properly and had already been carrying (for 10 years) a nightmarish Jaws-inspired terror of being half-swallowed alive. I sweated about the decision for a few months and ultimately decided to face my fears. I signed up for a group open water course offered for $49 with the mandatory purchase of mask/snorkel/fins. 

I quit that course when I was required to flood and clear my mask for the first time. Kneeling in shallow water in the pool, I pulled the mask from my face,  snorted water up my nose, coughed out the regulator, swallowed more water, stood up, coughed my guts out, wiped the snot from my face and left the pool without looking back. The instructor never stood up to see how I was doing. I told the front desk on the way out that this sport just wasn't for me. I can't do this.

Gary harassed and shamed me until I eventually went back and learned enough skill to pass the course.  I never completed the swim test. 

I only ever went diving with Gary twice. On my first dive as a certified Open Water diver, he took me into a 5 knot current at Active Pass and planned a 30m/100 foot free descent without dive lights from a live 16 foot aluminum boat, seeking to land on a seamount and gather scallops for dinner. Yikes! Woohoo! We missed the first time, dropping to 35m/120 feet and drifting for a few minutes into the Georgia Strait before he finally decided that we'd been carried past the seamount and gave me the ascent signal.  The boat picked us up a mile from the point of entry. We swapped tanks and Gary nailed it the second time. There were thousands of scallops resting on the dimly lit seamount and as we landed they started to swim off like a vast flock of video Pac-Men. This was the moment that I learned how to laugh into a regulator. Swimming and crawling along into the still-strong current, my ill-fitting mask half flooded, we filled our goodie bags and I had my first close encounter with a huge Giant Pacific Octopus swimming in open water.  A totally awesome, terrifying and overwhelming first two dives! And a great feast with stories to still tell 30 years later.

I know now that I never should have agreed to do that dive and that Gary was irresponsible for taking me there. It was way off-the-charts beyond my skill level. But I'm very glad to have done it. I eventually lost touch with Gary and have never been able to thank him. 30 years later, scuba diving is very much a core pursuit and value in my life.


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Posted on February 1, 2013 .