Just Breathe | Teen Ink

Just Breathe

February 4, 2009
By Jared Dauman GOLD, Chappaqua, New York
Jared Dauman GOLD, Chappaqua, New York
16 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Were human beings really designed to stay under water for hours at a time, with only an air-filled hunk of metal between them and a watery grave? I was about to find out. It was time to learn to scuba dive. I have always wanted to try it, because scuba fits right in with my enthusiasm for extreme sports. The problem was that I had to beg my parents to let me add another dangerous, possible deadly, sport to my repertoire. I had just turned 13, and I guess that was the magic number for them to give me their approval.

With the warm Hawaiian sun beating on my back, I began walking to the scuba diving lesson area. My dad is one of the few people who wants to come with me whenever I try these extreme sports, and this was no exception. We had both snorkeled before, so how much harder could this be? My friend had told me that I only had to go through a quick five-minute lesson before I could hit the water. With introductory courses, short is good, because, sometimes, the instructor just keeps repeating the same directions until I've forgotten why I wanted to learn the subject to begin with. Of course, when it comes to extreme sports, I'd rather be bored than dead.

Soon after we arrived, a short man walked over and introduced himself as Don, our instructor. He started with a joke, always a good sign that he was going make this a fun process. He started immediately with the dos and don'ts. They began with the obvious, 'Never, never, never stop breathing!' and 'Never open your mouth under water!' Before I knew it, the instructions had escalated to a whole new language designed to keep me alive while scuba diving. I soon began to realize my friend was not good at estimating the time required for scuba training! It had been almost thirty minutes, and Don was still going over safety precautions.

Don explained that he was going to take us into the pool and do some basic breathing exercises and safety drills in only three feet of water. If we ever felt scared or even anxious, all we had to do is stand up. Even though that sounds simple, I felt nervous that I wouldn't remember some of what he had told us. After we had completed this first step, he would take us deeper in the pool, ten feet under. There, we would get comfortable swimming with our flippers. We would also get practice descending and ascending in the water, from depths of three to ten feet. I was starting to wonder if I'd be ready for an ocean dive after only this basic course. My dad looked even more nervous than I was.

The more important training we would undergo was also the most critical to surviving and enjoying scuba diving, balancing pressure. As Don explained, there were three parts of the human body that needed to be balanced, and each needed to be balanced differently. One is the lungs, which you balance by simply breathing. He quickly made a reference back to one of his first instructions, 'Never, never, never stop breathing.' The second is your eyes and nose, both of which are housed in your mask. To balance them, you have to slightly exhale through your nose, but not too much, or your mask will fall off. The last, hardest, and most important things that need to be balanced are your ears. They must be balanced often, or your ears will feel like you've been on a plane that had a bad descent. Balancing your ears requires you to hold your nose through the mask, and blow as hard as you can until they softly pop. If you don't stop to clear your ears, your eardrums may explode and you may never be able to listen again. I started thinking this was an awful lot to remember when my life and the life of my ears were on the line.

Finally, after almost forty minutes of verbal instruction, Don said that we were ready for the pool. We were told to get a drink, go to the bathroom and meet him by the pool. Most importantly, we had to sign some forms that made me understand why scuba is called extreme -- one that specified we might die, and others that said he was not liable if we did. Now we were ready to get suited up for our pool dive. The gear we were handed consisted of a wet suit, flippers, a mask, a weight belt, and a tank. What Don failed to tell us was that with everything on, I weighed almost twenty-five pounds more! I felt as if a baby hippo had just jumped on my shoulders as we waddled to the pool. Amazingly, the second we entered the pool, it felt as if all the weight had been removed from our backs; the water had become our partner.

The first thing I did was to put the regulator into my mouth. I nervously took my first breath above water to make sure everything was working, and that oxygen quickly flowed into my mouth. Now it was time to plunge. Even though I knew that I could resurface at any time, I'm pretty sure my palms were sweating despite the fact I was in cold water. Slowly, bit-by-bit, I brought my head below the surface until it was submerged. I took my first deep breath completely under water. Even though I had been told this system worked, I think this was the first time I truly believed it! I was quickly brought out of my daze and into reality by Don giving us instructions via the hand signals he has trained us to recognize. My pool dive had officially begun.

Don had a series of things he had told us we were going to do in our dive. First, we practiced locating all our gauges and the emergency back-up regulator. Just as I was feeling confident, suddenly, Don reached out and yanked our primary regulator from our mouths. He had warned us on land that there were going to be some surprises but nothing of this magnitude! As instructed, I started blowing bubbles and resisted the temptation to hold my breath -- Never, never, never hold your breath kept ringing in my ears. Thankfully, Don had told us how to relocate our regulator if we lost it. I fumbled, quickly found it and was soon breathing normally again. Apparently this was a safety drill, with a little prank mixed in. This was much funnier to him than it was to us.

We were ready to go down to ten feet. Don signaled my dad was to go first. He slowly drifted down into the murky pool water, balancing the whole way down. Finally he hit the bottom, and I could see him give the 'I'm good' signal. Now it was my turn. I slowly crept off the pool ledge and was pulled downwards; my weight belt was like an anchor. Every couple of seconds, I balanced, even though I felt like I was doing it too often. Still, I'd rather work a little harder but know I am safe. I continued the balancing cycle as I descended into the watery abyss. Soon I was next to my dad on the pool floor, looking like two large sea turtles sitting side by side.

It was time for another one of Don's pranks. He ripped our regulators from our mouths and held them, forcing us to use our emergency back-up one. I nearly panicked, but quickly found the regulator and was breathing again. Once that little joke was over, Don taught us how to move around efficiently with the tank and flippers. Soon, we were swimming as if we were born to live under water. All too soon, Don gave us the signal that our small practice tanks were becoming low on air, and we needed to return to the surface.

We were soon back on land. Once we shed the all that equipment, I turned to my dad. I caught his eye, but no words had to be said. Tomorrow we were going into the ocean.

The author's comments:
This is a memoir of my first scuba diving experience in Hawaii. If you have never tried and love the ocean, I highly recommend it. It is a bit scary the first time, but the more you do it, the more you love it. Read my memoir to find out more...

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