Thursday, October 27, 2005

The nervous beginning scuba diver

So now I'll tell one of my favorite intro dive stories. I'll try to keep it from being too long, but this won't be a short post.

Several years back, when I was working for another company, I was set up to do an intro off the boat for a woman who was there with a dive certified gentleman. I can't say with absolute certainty that they were a couple, but it appeared they were headed that way. He was on the island for a conference and they referred to themselves as travelling companions. Anyway...

After meeting her and sitting down to review the flip charts (there are pre-made flip charts with basic scuba info for these dives, which we go through a page at a time to ensure all the necessary information is presented) I asked the usual questions I ask to try to determine watermanship skills/comfort ahead of time just so I have an idea to expect. She said she was a frequent swimmer and enjoyed snorkeling, OK so far... We go through everything and it's off to the boat.

After the certified divers got in the water and I'd reviewed what we were to do, I got into the water and waited for the student to roll into the water. The captain helped her on with the gear and explained the process again and it was time for her to roll into the water... everything cool so far. She hit the water and immediately went into a full blown panic attack. I was right there and immediately lifted on her BCD so her head would be about 9 inches out of the water - it's amazing how fast a person can calm down once they realize their chin is out of the water - and took her back to the swim step. After about 30 seconds on the ladder she said she was ready to give it another try, so it was slip into the water... then back on the ladder to calm down again.

I'm real low pressure on these intro dives as it's not for everyone, sometimes it turns into a day of snorkeling rather than diving, but she kept saying "I can do this, I have to do this" so I wasn't about to argue with her. After another minute she was able to get in the water and get off the ladder without panicking. At that point I had her put her regulator in her mouth and try to put her face in the water... back to the ladder for another minute of "I can do this".

After a couple more attempts we were able to get her off the ladder with the regulator in he mouth, so she was basically snorkeling on scuba, and it was time to go to the front of the boat to the mooring line. I guess I will preface the remainder of the post by saying that typically, the vast majority of first time divers have no troubles with rolling into the water and making it up to the mooring line right off the bat. At that point we need to go through some surface skills (regualtor clearing and retrieval) and then we drop a foot or two beneath the surface and practice a few more skills (reg clearing, retrieval, mask clearing and use of alternate air source). This portion typically takes anywhere from 2 minutes to as much as 10-15 minutes if students are real nervous. The nervous group typically has not been snorkeling recently... I can't stress enough how much some snorkeling helps if done within days prior to the intro dive.

OK, back to the story. We're at the mooring line and practicing the surface skills, once again she is panicking, doing skills she essentially has done already back at the ladder. She calmed down quickly and was able to complete the surface portion of the skills. It was time to go underwater a few inches. I think she may have made it about three inches down... back to the ladder for a minute or two of hyperventilating and "I can do this, I have to do this". When she was ready to give it another try, I had her do the surface breathing off her regualtor with her face in the water to the front of the boat and the mooring line. Everything cool so far. I had her repeat the surface skills, everthing cool so far. It's time to go down again... one foot down... back to the surface, but this time she's not hyperventilating. She says we should give it a try so we go down and she signals OK. I demonstrate underwater reg clearing, she signals OK and it's ready for her to try... regulator out of the mouth... back to the ladder for more hyperventilation...

She still wants to conntinue, so it's back to the mooring line and another failed attempt, but this time she's not completly breathless. We are at a dive site called "golden arches" which is a very nice fishy site, infact there are fish around us as we are doing skills, so I have her surface snorkel on the regualtor for a minute and she's ready to give itr a try in another minute or two. The captain is throwing popcorn on the water so she'd get a good show from the fish coming up to eat it. I have her repeat the surface skills and then it's down a foot and we try regualtor clearing... success! Fabulous! Now it's time to try regulator retrieval.... back to the surface for another 5 minutes. Anyway, 10 minutes or so and two or three more attempts and success!!!! Now it's time to try a partial mask clearing...

Now partial mask clearing is generally THE skill which gives intro divers troubles if they are going to have troubles. This case was no exception, but by this point she had progressed beyond complete panic and hyperventilation. Several attenpts, and a bunch of surface snorkeling, later she was able to complete the skill. At this point, all the other divers had already returned from a 65 minute dive, were starting lunch and the water was getting choppy. At this point we only have one skill, which is basically making the out of air sign and then doing a regulator clearing which she has already done successfully several times.... No luck this time. After a couple of tries I suggested we break for lunch and told her we would pull inot a real protected spot for the next dive and we'd try it again. She had to be tired, after all she'd been through, and agreed.

Once back on the boat, her "traveling companion" said, "You don't have to do this, I'll wear the suit".

Now what's that all about?

So now the story comes out. He'd been wearing shorts and a tee shirt all week and she wanted him to go out to a nice dinner wearing a suit. He was a certified diver and wanted to do some diving anyway so he made her a deal. He would wear the suit at a nice restaurant if she tried diving. I don't believe he knew what he was getting her into.

As it turns out, when she said she enjoyed snorkeling she had left out a little fact. She had only snorkeled in a pool - because - she has an overwhelming fear of FISH. Apparently she had never so much as put her toes in a creek, river, lake or ocean because of this fear.

Now that is taking on a challenge. At this point both he and I are telling her she needs not continue. She still wants to do it.

So we go to the next site, which is one of the fishiest sites we have, but it's very calm annd is protected from the chop which has built up on that day. Before going in I run through the program and tell her we will repeat all the skills we did earlier and then the alternate airsource skill is just a matter of signalling, taking the regulator out, blowing bubbles and then taking the regulator I hand her and clearing it - which in itself is a skill she'd done numerous times earlier. If all went well we could be diving is less than a minute - ALL WENT WELL. She completed all of the skills on the first try and we were diving in less than 45 seconds.

She had a great time. We were swimming right through schools of raccoon butterflies and yellow stripe goatfish and you could see her smiling and giving two handed OK signs the entire time. The dive was right around 40 minutes long and she came out of the water hyped to find a dive op in Maui to sign up with when they arrived there in a couple of days.

A very frustrating experience had turned into a very good experience, for both of us.



1 comment:

haley said...

That was a very nice story. I'm glad it had a happy ending. When it started I was worried that maybe it wouldn't.