Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Finest Wilderness is Beneath the Waves (Part 1)

After I almost drowned in the ocean as a child, I had always been hesitant about water-related activities. Hundreds of Venezuelan Bolivares were wasted on swimming lessons so that I can later specialize in sunbathing and people watching. This had to change! I am firm believer of taking extreme measures in order to face your fears. A few years ago I went skydiving in order to conquer my fear of heights, and I decided early on that it was time that I did the same with my fear of the wilderness beneath the waves. 

Dont touch me! I'm tanning!
A fellow OkiJET referred a local dive shop and it was there that I made my appointment to become a certified Open Water Diver (OWD). Unfortunately, an ideal three-day weekend had been completely booked by local OIST University students and, because of this, my ocean dives were scheduled 3 weeks after my contained dive lesson. 

The day of the contained dive, I packed by bikini and headed to Onna Village where met with Jan my diving instructor. Jan was a German fellow who moved to Japan sometime ago and settled down with a Japanese wife. At first, his accent was a little rough and hard to understand, but I could sympathize with the difficultly of expressing in a non-native language. He packed the gear and we met with  French dive-mates at a pool where, after basic equipment instruction, I shimmied my way into a ridiculously tight wet suit and strapped on my air tank.

This was the first of many problems as I struggled to stand with the heavy tank strapped onto my back. Moreover, the back plate (which adds weight to level out my buoyancy in the water) was digging into my hips bones from the back. Eventually, the straps were readjusted, but the tank was still too heavy as I made the trek to the pools edge. Once I was in the water, the elephant-sized tank felt as light as a feather, but I passingly worried about my exit from the water.

Once in the water we were asked to perform various skills that are essential for safe diving. The first skill was simply breathing with the regulator. It's human nature to hold you breath, but doing so could result in damaged lungs. I accomplished this skill without any issues. The next skill was breathing in with the regulator but blowing the air out through my nose. However, I could only blow out a few snorts, until the water filled my sinus making it seem as though I was drowning. This specific skill was just not happening for me and it turned out it would be the bane of my scuba experience. The next skill involved removing water from inside of the mask while underwater. Guess what that involved? You guessed it! Blowing the air out through my nose! As I lifted my mask to fill it with water I began to slightly panic once again because the water that collected into my nose had gone into my sinus. I tried to blow the water and air out, but the air would escape out through the sides of my mask instead of the bottom. I tilted my head back so that my bottom of my mask would be the lowest point, but I ended up swallowing water through my sinuses. Once again, I failed this skill.

An example of mask clearing. You know, that skill I can't do.
You could image my frustration as I was told that I could not become certified if I could not perform this skill. Moreover, this skill will be more difficult to perform in the ocean. As the day progressed, I doubted my decision to become certified. Aside from the issue with clearing my mask, the only other issue I had was equalizing my ears. As you dive, the pressure builds and you need to be able to release the pressure. We do it often in airplanes and elevators through swallowing and yawning ("popping your ears") but since those a bit difficult to perform while something is in your mouth, it needs to be done a different way. You guessed it! By breathing out through your nose! F&%$!

I'm just kidding! Well, you do need to breathe out through your nose, but you pinch your nose so that the air escapes via your ear canal simultaneously releasing the pressure. Surprisingly, I could do this, but it wasn't without its difficulties. I had to equalize my ears often and it took me longer to dive down because of it. I would sink a foot or two and I would feel a squeezing pain within my ears. This isn't necessarily a skill issue because everyone's body is different. Moreover, Jan reassured me that it is fairly common, for those with sensitive ears, to need more time in order to adjust.

Since I had a few weeks until the ocean dives, I bought a mask from the dive shop to fit my small face. I tried to practice the mask cleaning, but the results were the same - failure. Therefore, I used the best source of information acquisition known to man: The Internet. There, I found a simple little life hack that would change everything: 

If you flatten your tongue to the roof of your mouth, you will always blow the air out of your nose!

Did you try it?

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