There are four of us. We’ve spent the past five minutes floating at eye level. The sweet spot. Where we’re neutrally buoyant between the weights strapped to our waists, our own natural propensity for displacement and the air in our BCDs. The point where we’re expending the least amount of energy. We’re watching our instructor spin clockwise on a lateral axis – he’s unbuckled his weight belt and is demonstrating the technique for replacement. A few key things to pay attention to here: one, he’s holding the belt in his right fist; two, the buckle end dangles somewhere near his ankle; and three, he begins the roll face down. Combined, all of these steps ensure once his roll is complete his weight belt will be resting on top of him 360 degrees later. This also guarantees he’ll thread the right end through the buckle on the left, leaving his belt in the standard pull-right release. Simple. Problem is, I naturally roll counter-clockwise.
I really roll counter-clockwise.
And even though I’ve hooked my right thumb into the D-ring on my BCD to drop my right side, it only serves to lock me there, dangling my allotted 10 lbs, unable to flip over onto my air tank and complete the roll. It’s awkward, but eventually I get it. With a few haphazard kicks and shoulder thrusts and a few more wriggling attempts I find the right propulsion to execute the move repeatedly in increasingly more graceful swoops and it gets added to the growing list of skill scenarios we’ve played out in the 12 foot confines of four pool walls.
Now on to releasing my BCD and climbing on top of it, still weighted, careful not to lose contact lest I go plummeting to the bottom without air. I have to raise both hands and show my instructor I’m securely astride the tank.
I make it out to be more tedious than it really is. Truthfully I’ve been loathe to leave the pool these past four nights. Climbing out sometime close to midnight after hours spent gaining comfort with a series of skills required to master Open Water Dive certification. I donned the BCD the first night, inserted my regulator and timed my first intake of breath to my slide beneath the surface. Each subsequent descent and each night following has eased the pressure in my ears – at first requiring prolonged stops every foot to pinch, blow, grind jaw, frown by the last class I easily slip from the surface to bottom with barely a flex of my throat muscles. This is good because come Saturday I’ll be traveling five times deeper.
I’ve passed my written exam and now, come Saturday, in the 55-degree open waters near Mukilteo, Wash., I’ll be demonstrating at a depth of 60 feet my mastery of the 20-some skills I’ve become comfortable with at 12 feet: The flooding and/or loss of my face mask; the loss and retrieval of a regulator; the loss of air and safety ascent procedures; manual calculation of dive tables; hand signals and so on and yes, removing and replacing my weight belt and BCD. The most rewarding skill Ive learned is the ability to exert subtle, micro-control over ascent and descent by varying the amount of air in my lungs. Eventually, I’m told, this becomes second nature and integrates seamlessly into a regular breathing pattern. I’m almost there but new focus will be required against the currents of the Pacific Ocean.
We all know comfort breathes familiarity. And familiarity can mean the difference between something magical and an open invitation to disaster. Repetitive practice and mastery of these skills keeps them ready for retrieval, drifting in the back burners of our minds, allowing us to commence with firing the imagination and sinking into the upcoming view below.