harder to breathe

Update: As of 17th, I cleared the exam too with only 5 wrong answers (nerd alert). The Jups is officially an Open Water Diver. And that means one new year’s resolution has been CHECKED like a mofo!

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I have been up since before 6 am, when the rays of the bright Hong Kong sun snuck their way into my bedroom. My exhaustion should be apparent from the fact that I went to bed at 10.30 pm, well-fed and satisfied about a hard day’s work. You see, yesterday, I passed all the physical tests I had left to get PADI-certified.


I don’t think diving is easy by any measure; I never expected it to be. I did somehow expect, though, that I would be a natural at it. That somehow my love for all things oceanic and my affinity for water would translate into me being a fuck-off-I-am-all-sorts-of-awesome-at-this diver extraordinaire. I thought it would be like snorkeling but easier and rendering me able to go more places.
(Day 1)
I had a rude shock on day 1 during my confined pool session and I faced the crushing fear that I could walk away from this experience license-less and adding more sport to my repertoire of extreme suckage. What happened? I suited up fine, I remembered all my readings. I did the 200m continuous swim and the 10 minutes of treading water. I could breathe comfortably through the regulator and could easily do the snorkel-regulator switch. But then we descended to the bottom of the pool. I stayed there maybe a minute, with three other students including my own buddy, Minsky, and my dive instructor. I was kneeling down on the floor of the pool. And then I panicked. I was surrounded by WATER on all sides – this is nuts, completely unnatural. And this is just the pool. Imagine the open sea!
I swiftly ascended (using wrong methods mind you), came up to the surface and screamed. “HOLY SHIT. OH MY GOD”.
 Breathe, breathe, Jups, for fuck’s sake, breathe. Now put the regulator back on and breathe. Deflate your BCD. Go down again. You’re going to be fine, Jups.
 Nope. I shot up about 3 minutes later.
 This is fucking unacceptable Jups. You have literally already booked a trip to Tioman. You have to know how to dive before that. You have to get that license. Failure is NOT a fucking option, so quit being a gigantic wuss and get your ass down to the bottom of the pool! “Okay, okay. I can do this” I told myself audibly and went down again. And this time, I stayed down. I did some of the tests but my instructor didn’t make me do all of them. He moved on, which did add some pressure. I had to keep up or get left behind.
 I did a fin pivot – that’s when you are balanced on the tips of yours fins and you move up and down as you inhale and exhale. I felt like a genie. My instructor did the little underwater clap which means I had done it correctly. Well done, Jups. Then he asked me to take my regulator off and put it back on. I did both methods correctly. Alright we are making progress. I didn’t simulate regulator free flow for ten seconds. Moving on. Now came some tough stuff. Flooding the mask and clearing it underwater. Taking the mask off, putting it back on and clearing it underwater. Umm, no thank you. I wasn’t ready

 I also learnt how to skin dive. Skin diving was the most exhilarating part of the pool session. It was easy, there was no gear involved except for the weight belt. You take a deep breath and you plunge to the bottom of the pool, you swim around as much as you can and you surface for breath. It was amazing! (Mind you, I usually can’t plunge down under the surface, I just bounce right back to the surface; maybe I am too buoyant, the additional weights helped).
 Several hours passed and I had cleared many of the tests along with the other students like taking the BCD, weights off underwater and on the surface. However, given our slightly later start, Minsky and I had about 6 or 7 more tests to go. Some of these were easy – diver tows, handling cramps, etc. Swimming without a mask underwater from one end of the pool to another and back and then putting it back on and clearing it of water seemed the most daunting. Since I wore contact lenses I would have had to do all of those things with eyes closed. The tendency to panic was very high. But I had to do it.
 First step. I flooded my mask and with some effort, cleared it. Then my instructor stuck his hand out. Uh oh. Here goes nothing. I shut my eyes tightly, slipped the mask off. Don’t open your eyes Jups. Don’t breathe through your nose. Stay calm. Keep breathing through your mouth. If you breathe through your nose, you’ll fuck this whole thing up! I spun around with my instructor holding my tank from above me and swam the length of the pool and back. It wasn’t as scary as it was unnatural. This would be horrible in the open sea. After an eternity, he handed the mask back to me and I carefully slipped it over my face. There was water everywhere. With three attempts, I forced all the water out, opened my eyes and saw the silent applause. OH YEAH!
7.5 hours of soaking myself in a disgusting chlorine (and presumably) piss-filled pool later, I looked like a gigantic prune but I slept easy knowing that the license was not completely unattainable.
(Day 2)
The very next day, we were to spend an afternoon in Sai Kung, a little piece of green paradise in Hong Kong that boasts of lovely beaches and impressive volcanic rock formations. I tried snorkeling there 3 weekends ago but there was really nothing to see. The visibility is comparable to the inside of an exhaust pipe and the reefs are all dead. The idea of learning to dive here isn’t particularly appealing obviously. Day 2 didn’t go well for Minsky or for me. We both seemed to suck hard at neutral buoyancy although I question the idea of being “neutral” and being at eye-level with a knot in a rope – it isn’t exactly a stationery object, even less so when the waters are as choppy as they are in Hong Kong. So of course we got shouted at loads by our Nazi instructor. Minsky had to return to the boat after a while cause her ears weren’t equalising. And I went for a bit of a swim with the instructor and the other girl. This was mildly fun. At the bottom, he made me take off my mask and be without it for a while. I had some issues but I managed to clear it enough to pass the test. (Update: I am better at this now).
I went home, changed and as a reward, had a lovely date with a guy I met on lovestruck.com and went to bed well-fed and happy about a largely productive week.
(Day 3)
The following Saturday was the real deal – a whole day of diving in Sai Kung which would basically determine if we were good enough to move on to the exam stage. I was so nervous I think I gave myself diarrhoea which doesn’t say much about my feelings towards mr.nazi instructor. It was not an easy day, made worse by the fact that my BCD had a leak so when I jumped into the water, I couldn’t inflate it and stay afloat. With all my weights, I was sinking, swallowing water and gasping! I did better afterwards and managed to get my buoyancy right. Minsky needed a bit of help but he didn’t separate us. We went for a long swim, passed our CESA and compass navigation tests (navigation and me? Who’d have thought?!), took off the BCD in the water, and several other smaller tests.
Our instructor made us do some quizzes (I got 39/40, huzzah) as a preview to the actual exam and basically said that we would get certified if we didn’t cock up the exam too badly. Minsky scheduled an additional session to work on her buoyancy. (Update: she is also certified!) On the way back, we sat on the roof deck and took in the breeze and the lovely views of the little islands of Sai Kung. What an exhausting day it had been. All that was left to be done was a silly exam and come on, Her Geekiness, Lordess Goddess of all things geeky was not going to have trouble with that.

P.S. Admittedly this post should have been published BEFORE I wrote a tome on my first dive in Tioman but well, things get stuck in draft mode sometime between work email, gmail and blogger drafts. Will blogger ever come up with an app?
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