Looking back at my year living in Costa Rica, there were lots of ups and downs (including when Mario ransacked my little house, and fighting expat loneliness), but my only bona fide regret is that I didn’t go to diving school to get SCUBA-certified. So during my recent vacation, my friend Bobbi Jo easily talked me into doing the one-day DSD course at Diving Safaris. I tried not to think about it, and I’m glad I didn’t. If I had stopped to imagine being alone trying to do something so outside of my comfort zone, I know I would have chickened out. In the end, one of my friends agreed to go with me, and the excitement mounted. Yet even that didn’t prevent me from eventually chickening out…
But then I redeemed myself!
When we arrived at Diving Safaris, Melissa, my SCUBA newbie partner in crime, and I couldn’t stop giggling and cracking jokes. No surprises there — those are two nervous girls for you! I was so excited, it was ridiculous, but also so uncomfortable. Doing anything new is scary, but I am also not even the slightest bit sporty. I wasn’t prepared for how awkward I would feel.
Melissa was much faster than I was getting into her gear. Me? Yuck — I couldn’t believe I was expected to get into this weird rubbery bodysuit and then do anything remotely athletic with this heavy gear on my back. As I would find out later, on that note, I was right to be nervous…
At Diving Safaris, we met Paul, who is SCUBA-certified but wanted to do the DSD class as a refresher. We knew right away that he was in another league, even though he tried to be humble and convince that he really did need the class. Just his lack of nerves alone put him miles ahead of us.
During the DSD class, you go over all of the basics and practice breathing under water in the pool. I actually quite liked the breathing part — but everything else drove me nuts. I am too much of a perfectionist and kept coming up out of the water with a million questions, even as our saintly instructor, Mark, kept trying to tell me stay down. We went in circles around the tiny pool, and the humongous gear made Melissa and I feel like manatees. With four adults in the pool, and all of that gear, I started to feel really claustrophobic. That’s when we were told we’d already spent more hours in the pool than most beginners. (We were not surprised.) So we gathered our things and headed out to open water.
Our captain? Dani, who I’ve known for years. I had no idea how calming he would end up being!
Melissa and I were cursing these unwieldy outfits, blaming them for our discomfort and for our feeling like beached whales. And then… Lisa stepped out looking like a supermodel. That difference right there almost made this city girl quit everything and move back to the beach!
And then it was the moment of truth. I looked at them like they had to be kidding. You fall in backwards?
Paul of course went right in and disappeared like a fish with the other pros.
Melissa and I? Graceful we were not…
A miracle did happen, and we both finally ended up in the water. And that’s where the trouble started. We had been so excited to get out of the small pool, but we had been picturing the ocean as having a flat surface so we could practice like we did in our chlorinated oasis. Oh, no. The waves were lapping against the boat, and the gear felt so different, and we were even MORE claustrophobic with the three of us holding onto a rope with the waves slamming us into each other.
There was no way I was going to make it down without a one-on-one teacher, and without more space. But when I realized how difficult it is to swim with all that darn gear on…
They got the gear off, and within seconds I was swimming around, calm as a cucumber. But I don’t take defeat so easily. I climbed onboard in a huff. Then Dani turned everything around — The next site was “mas tranquilo.” Smoother waters?
Sweet! I started to plot.
Melissa got out of the water and told me that it was better one-on-one, but she hadn’t been able to neutralize her ears. Together, we figured out what to do at the second site. Mark, obviously, had no patience for our scheming. (No matter what happens, always, always, always do what your instructor says.) But who can resist us?! We convinced him to throw a line out with a buoy and just let us bob around, holding onto the rope. He was worried that one of us was going to go rogue and swim down without him. Us scaredy cats? No way. He’d be lucky if I swam out ten feet towards the buoy.
Or so I thought.
Once out there, Mark taught me how to drag the rope down so I was all the way under the water. Thinking that was as far as I would go (I did it! I really did it!!), I calmly bobbed up and down with the buoy in the waves, holding onto the rope beneath the surface. Then Mark started doing these wide slow-motion flicks with his hands. Huh? He hadn’t taught us that hand signal. Ohhhhh…. Let go.
And I did!
I was not taking photos (these are Bobbi Jo’s) — I was too busy hanging onto Mark for dear life. But we saw some really cool fish, and the experience was almost otherworldly. We followed a sea turtle around, and I saw a barracuda. The only thing that freaked me out the teensiest bit was when we’d get up close with something, before I was graceful at “backing up”. I was always worried I was going to bump into something! At one point, I felt my neck get stung by something — but nothing was going to stop me from staying under there as long as they’d let me.
There exists a photo of me flailing about, grabbing onto Mark, but I am relieved to say that I honestly can’t find it.
**Ed Note: Supermodel Lisa found that exact flailing-about photo. I was not lying when I said I was holding on for DEAR LIFE.
Bobbi Jo, next time I’m doing the full certification. It’s only taken three years, but I am finally ready!
I was a guest of Diving Safaris, but all opinions are my own.
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