Friday, 10 August 2012

Trying to dive

On Monday evening I attended the Try Dive session at London School of Diving (LSD). I chose LSD for its convenient location in London, the website description of the pool and facilities and the cost (£25).

The centre was about a 10 minute walk from Gunnersbury Overground (Chiswick, South West London). When I found the address I thought I was at the wrong place as it looked under construction and in the middle of an industrial part of town, but one of the instructors was outside and helped to direct me round the back and up a staircase to the main building.

My initial impressions were quickly changed as I walked into a large open reception with a TV showing scuba images, lots of comfy seats and magazines. I was then greeted by another instructor who showed me around the kitchen so that I could make a cup of tea.

Everyone there was so friendly and then my instructor for the evening introduced himself (John) and took me into a classroom to wait for the rest of the group.

I work in Financial Services, and what struck me was just how happy and relaxed everyone at LSD was compared to the usual bankers and accountants that I meet. You could just feel the passion for diving oozing from them, it was great!

LSD teach lessons with a maximum of 6 people – for my dive it ended up only being 4 of us and I think more than this would have felt a bit cramped and risked having a few fins in faces! A father and son showed up for the Try Dive, but the son had a very bad cold and the congestion meant he wouldn’t be able to equalise so he had to reschedule (after a few tears and tantrums!). Completely understandable though, as I felt the pain of not equalising enough on my initial descent (discussed below).

So the four of us sat in the classroom with John ready for our introduction to Scuba; there was myself, a girl who wanted to surprise her finance that she could scuba dive on their honeymoon, a 16 year old boy and his 14 year old friend.

After a 30 minute briefing on scuba diving that went over the equipment, underwater language, the dos and donts we were given a short multiple choice test. A test? I wasn’t ready for this, surely I needed to revise? Prepare? Make notes? Actually, it was pretty easy after having such a good introduction and an incorrect answer would just mean we went over that point again rather than banning me from going underwater for life.

After changing into my swimsuit and T-shirt, the T-shit is not required but protects you from the Buoyancy Control Device (BCD), I went into the pool ready to take the plunge….sorry couldn’t resist a quick pun.

The equipment was all set up for us so after selecting a set of fins and a mask and John providing a bit of banter on the wonders of spit for preventing fogging, we got into the water and were helped into our BCD. We practiced inflating and deflating our BCD and to see what breathing through the regulator felt like above water.

My initial reaction was a slight panic of: “this doesn’t feel like breathing normally, which means I’m not getting enough air.” This feeling that you’re not getting enough air or that it feels constricted soon disappears once you are underwater and breathing slowly and deeply.

In fact, the only thing you do notice is - I am breathing underwater! At one point when I was underwater, the enormity of this set me into a mini panic when I thought how crazy it was. But I just stayed still for a bit, concentrated on my breathing and I was quickly enjoying it again. I've seen a lot of people post on the internet about how any fears you have are all in your head, so it's just a case of calming yourself down, mind over matter and understanding that you have a tank of air, you have a regulator, you can do this!

The pool we were in had a ledge that was one metre deep, which dropped off to the rest of the pool, which was 3 metres deep. We stood on the ledge and practiced the following exercises:
-       Going underwater to see what breathing feels like, then coming back up.
-       Going underwater, removing the regulator, then recovering it
-       Going underwater, poking a finger into your mask to slightly fill it with water and then clearing it.

The latter was surprisingly easy and effective and brought back memories of how frustrating I used to find a leaky mask when snorkelling.

After a few “ok” signs we were ready to swim off the edge, deflate our BCD and being our descent. I’m not a big fan of ever having to “blow through my ears” to create that unsettling popping, but underwater this doesn’t seem to bother me and I’ve read from other divers that it’s something that becomes second nature. When I was nearly at the bottom I suddenly felt a sharp pressure in my ears that I couldn’t seem to clear, the instructor made a motion for me to ascend, I went up about half a metre, equalised, and descended to the bottom with no further issues.

Interestingly the 16 year old boy made a rapid descent and appeared fine, but then had to make a motion his ears were also bothering him, so he made a brief ascent and descent and all was in order.

We swum around the bottom, went through some hoops, played catch and generally just marvelled at the fact: we were breathing….underwater.

Something else that struck me that I didn’t expect, was all the bubbles that come out of the regulator. This was something I soon got used to though.

We ascended and the instructor checked on how we were doing, we were all beaming with delight so made another descent. When we ascended the next time I was slightly disappointed the lesson was over so soon, but nope, we were just practicing and were all excited to go back down.

At nearly 9pm the instructor made a motion for us to start making our way to the surface towards the ledge of the pool. I was impressed we were there until so late, much longer than the website indicated.

So that was it – my first diving experience and one I keep thinking back on with excitement about when my next dive will be. After a quick shower I thanked the instructor and made my way home.

The next day, I booked onto the PADI Open Water Diver course…
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  1. Thanks, very detailed! How did you find balancing yourself, I heard this can be really tough?

    1. At the start I found myself floating up a lot, so the instructor added some weight to me...but then I ended up always having my fins hit the bottom. It's fun to play with you breathing to see how much that can make a difference to how you float/sink. I guess it's just a case of finding the right weight for you and then practicing all the different bueoncy techniques.