Scuba diving is not natural. Wearing a belt with lead weights and letting the air out of your BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) with the awareness that these two actions will make your body go down underwater is against our survival instinct. Even if it is you who decides which depth to reach. Because nature has not provided us with gills and of a diving reflex-like dolphins have. But the blue-green sea of Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic was calling me, watching fish and corals through the mask from above seemed a partial experience, and also I wanted to understand my son’s passion and maybe overcome my worries when I knew he was cave diving or at great depths in the cold Pacific ocean, home not only to whales but also to great white sharks.
The Discover Scuba course, created mostly for vacationers, seemed an opportunity. It seemed easy. With great enthusiasm I put on all the gear and, accompanied by a young instructor, I went to the resort pool to try to breathe underwater. I must have not understood well and when the instructor motioned me to take the regulator out of my mouth and then put it back in I breathed water and felt drowning in three feet of water of a resort pool a few feet away from some children playing with balls and giant rubber ducks. I took off the mask and started coughing in the grip of a mixed sensation of panic and sense of absolute ridiculous, of inadequacy. Not even that spectacular and warm sea, not even the perfect atmospheric conditions could make me change my mind. My experience with scuba diving ended there and then. My survival instinct and my fears did not allow me to live the coral reef, the corals and the fish that live a few feet deeper than one can see snorkeling on the surface.
I felt defeated. I lived my vacation at water level and came home with in my mouth the sweet taste of the beauty of the places and the bitter taste of my defeat. I did not think about it anymore. We are humans, I told myself, and sometimes we are not able to overcome our fears. Then came Covid with long days unraveling in a suspended and surreal atmosphere. My son, who could not work, spent most days underwater and I watched him with an incredible desire to live in the ocean, to have a shared experience and passion. Since my children were born, I always preached that we must face and try to overcome our fears. What example was I giving not being able to overcome my fear? So one day of these suspended months I asked him to make me try to dive in the pool. I put on the wetsuit, fins, mask, BCD, tank, regulator, weights and I was able to go under three feet of water. The desire to take off the mask and start breathing was almost irresistible but with the rationality of my thought, I kept myself under control and remained underwater for more or less half a minute, for me almost an endless time. Then the minutes became two or three and then I decided that the time had come and on a cloudy day at the end of October I signed up for the Open Water course which would have trained me and certified my ability to reach a depth of sixty feet.
This seemed to me an unreachable distance, almost as if someone told me to climb Mount Everest. But the decision had been made. Aware of my limits, I opted for a private course. I did not want to have, on top of my fears, the distress of wasting other people’s time and feeling like a ballast for those who had no fears. I studied the theory, took and passed the test and then came the time for the practical test in the pool. The instructor, a former marine, made me feel calm and at the same time left no space for my anxieties. I swam, took the regulator out of my mouth and put it back in with great tranquility, totally focused on his hand that slowly repeated the gesture indicating inspiration and expiration. And I did it. I could not believe it. The next step would have been the test in the open ocean, hence the name of the course.
Booked the first available date, December 12. Meeting set for 6 am at the scuba center where we would have gotten the gear for the first dive from the beach. That day it drizzled and it was dark until almost 7 am. Why? I thought to myself. The answer was simple: the desire to comprehend my son’s passion and maybe one day share this experience with him. Loaded with a gear heavy for me, a middle-aged lady, I went down the steps leading to the beach and I found the ocean waiting for me. The waves were almost non-existent on that day but the water was a cold 61 degrees F at the surface. Cold. Very cold. Past the shoreline, I put on my fins and, without losing sight of the instructor, I pushed the BCD valve and I started to go down. I was so concentrated on the technical aspects that fear found no space to sneak into my mind and, instead, dissolved. The world in which I had lived until a few moments earlier seemed far away, I was completely immersed in the water that became a primordial element, surrounded by a silence interrupted only by the rhythmic noise of my breath and the water bubbles.
I felt light and free, in my element, serene, carefree, fascinated by the life I discovered in that ocean where the soft color of rocks and seaweeds was dotted with the bright orange of the Garibald fish (Hypsypops rubicundus) and California sheep heads (Semicossyphus pulcher). I was happy. My heart was filled with joy and I could have gone much deeper than sixty feet, who knows what I could have found if I had gone further down. Scuba diving, however, must be tied to prudence, attention, safety, limits, discipline because it is not the natural world for us, who wear rubber fins and have no gills.
I could have spent a whole day underwater instead of that half-hour. A half-hour in which I discovered another dimension, immersed in a sort of meditation whose mantra were my air bubbles and my breath. It’s been a sensation similar to flying, a feeling of freedom and communion with nature. Like flashes, images came to my mind: Jacque Cousteau on his Zodiac of many documentaries, my university boyfriend who, fearless, dived without all the technological tools available today, and in a moment I understood my son’s passion. I felt like in a video game when you open the door to the next level and a new adventure begins, at the same time a chakra opened up, a door of my awareness and from that day life has become more beautiful.