Scuba diving for beginners can be scary. Think about it: you’re basically tricking your body out of all its natural survival instincts that make you swim and float, to sink and breathe underwater. Once you overcome any vertigo or underwater claustrophobia, scuba diving can be a peaceful experience. But getting to that stage takes being mentally and physically comfortable in the water. Southern California, one of Cali’s best regions for scuba diving, offers many other things to do as alternatives to scuba for those less inclined to the water. But when I had my first scuba lesson last week, my P.A.D.I. certified instructor (professional association of diving instructors) showed me these techniques to relax in the water…and I discovered that world of water beneath the surface is a quiet place, teeming with wildlife waiting for exploration.
Scuba is actually an old acronym for “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus”. It is the entire system of an oxygen tank and a single hose with two regulators strapped to your back that allow you to breathe underwater. There are several types of diving: recreational, technical, industrial, deep diving, cave diving, military diving, wreck diving, to name a few. If you’re not sure whether scuba is for you or not, and you don’t want to fork over the big bucks for your certification, try a P.A.D.I. Discover Scuba Diving course that introduces you to the equipment and breathing underwater in a safe, controlled environment.
If you’re not even sure whether you like breathing in the water, snorkel first. Grab a mask and a tube from your local Walmart for less than $30 and try putting your face in the water. If you can get used to breathing through a snorkel tube, you’re halfway there to scuba diving.
2. Don’t Hold Your Breath
This is very important to be aware of, because humans don’t have gills like fish, so we have a natural tendency to want to hold our breath underwater. Holding your breath underwater can lead to lung injuries and panicked breathing, which then might throw your rhythm off and send you (by instinct) shooting to the surface. Rising too quickly can send nitrogen bubbles into your blood stream and cause all kinds of painful aneurysms, and even death. Instead, breathe in a slow, relaxed manner and exhale fully. Try not to change your breathing too much, unless you are used to regulating your breathing to control your buoyancy in the water, something your dive instructor will show you how to do.
This is probably the backbone of all scuba rules. Never, ever, under any circumstances, dive alone. You aren’t supposed to stray more than ten feet from your partner. Always check in with each other and frequently give each other the “okay” hand signal (forming a circle with your index finger and thumb). Diving with a partner can mean the difference between life and death. It is also a good idea to do a pre-dive equipment check with each other to make sure all systems go.
4. Conservative = Safer
My dive instructor gave me great advice when I was worried at the beginning of our session. He told me the more conservative of a diver I am, the safer I will be. If I follow the rules, I won’t get hurt. It’s as simple as that. Think about it like driving in winter time. If you approach the roads cautiously and don’t accelerate too fast, chances are, when you hit an ice patch, you’ll keep control of your vehicle. Same goes for diving. If you dive conservatively, you will be safe.
5. Fix Foggy Goggles With Saliva
Foggy goggles freak me out. Not only can I not see anything around me in the water but having something covering my face underwater gives me an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia. I told this to my dive instructor and he said goggles get foggy because they are not the same temperature as our bodies. The heat from our bodies against the glass creates a steam/vapor. To fix this, simply rub a finger-full of saliva on the inside of the lens to equalize the temperature. It sounds gross but it really works.
6. Equalize Your Sinuses Every Three Feet
If you were to hold a balloon underwater, and push it deeper underwater, the oxygen in the balloon would compress. The same balloon that’s the size of a watermelon on the surface of the water will be half as big when pushed a few feet under water. The same thing happens to your air-holding cavities in your body when you’re in water, namely your sinuses and lungs. If you descend too quickly, you’ll feel a sharp pinching feeling in your sinuses as they contract too quickly. Descend slowly enough to allow yourself time to equalize the pressure on your sinuses by pinching your nose (over the outside of your goggle mask) and blowing semi-hard through your nose. You should feel a slight pop and the pressure will be relieved.
7. Ascend slower than Your Bubbles
For the same reasons that you equalize sinus pressure on the descent, you must ascend slow enough to give your body’s air pockets time to adjust to the expanding oxygen in your system. If you ascend too quickly, the oxygen in your lungs and sinuses (and blood vessels for that matter) will expand at an alarming rate, pushing nitrogen bubbles into your blood stream that can cause serious injury and death. A good rule of thumb to avoid this is to swim upward slower than the stream of bubbles issued from your exhale. If you scuba by the rules, get certified by an instructor and study dive charts that give you safe ascent/depth ratios, you’ll be fine.