Turns out scuba diving is harder than it looks

Posted at 10:02 PM, Jun 03, 2016

For an upcoming trip, my brother and I decided it would be fun to go scuba diving. Since we didn't want to spend our vacation becoming certified, we each signed up classes.

My brother is in Colorado, so we couldn't do our certification together. I saw a "Learn to Scuba Dive" LivingSocial deal and jumped on it. It was significantly cheaper than the other options and it only required 4 days before the open water dives - win, win!

Since I'm a swimmer, I'm pretty comfortable in the water. I was confident that my strength in swimming would help my scuba diving endeavors... they weren't quite as relevant as I would have hoped.

I signed up for a UTD certification as opposed to the more popular, PADI course. What I didn't know at the time was how much more difficult the UTD course would be. 

In the first pool session of a typical PADI course, students will go in the water with their buoyance compensator (BC) and air and sit on the bottom of the pool. With UTD, our first two pool sessions were spent learning our neutral buoyancy and breathing with just our lungs and a snorkel, which was particularly frustrating for me. I'm not very good at breathing with a snorkel and not using my nose, but I got it after some practice. 

Another big difference between UTD and PADI is the demonstration of safety skills. In UTD, we perform our skills while maintaining proper buoyancy and trim - so we are floating, horizontal in the water without hitting the bottom or floating to the surface. In a PADI course, the skills are learned while on the bottom of a pool or sitting on a platform. 

I have to admit, it was hard to see why the neutral buoyancy and breathing with a snorkel was important, since we'd have air and hundreds of feet before the bottom of the ocean, but I soon found out why when we hit the quarry.

All said and done, it took four pool sessions and one dry land session to be ready for the open water portion of the course. Over Memorial Day weekend, we went to Hydes Quarry in Westminster to complete the open water. 

The quarry has a max depth of 60ft and the temperature was around 50-55 degrees, requiring us to wear wetsuits, hoods and gloves. This was the first time I had put on all of this equipment and it was tough to get it all on. Not to mention, the air temperature was 85 degrees or so, making me extremely uncomfortable. 

Plus the tank and equipment is really heavy. It was quite a workout just getting ready to get in the water!

Once I finally got in the water, I tried to take deep breaths and get ready for our swim. The plan was to just go for a casual dive around the quarry. The quarry was very crowded, so the visibility was extremely low. When went under, I had a really hard time seeing everyone and keeping up with the group. As we dove deeper, not only was it murky and unclear, but the air became much darker. I became uneasy and started to breath more heavily, but my lungs didn't feel like they had enough air.

Long story short, I started to have a panic attack and began to rush for the surface. I couldn't get comfortable with diving for the rest of the day. I even debated not returning for the class Sunday. 

But, I persevered and came ready to go Sunday. I was extremely task oriented and all I wanted to do was get my certification. Luckily, Sunday was far less crowded and visibility was much better. 

After a few hiccups initially, the instructor was patient with me and took me down individually to demonstrate my skills. We go through all six basic skills. It was enough to give me the confidence to return underwater for our second dive. I had to demonstrate the Basic Six without instructor demonstration, all while maintaining neutral buoyancy, trim and natural, steady breathing. 

By some miracle, I was able to complete it all - it only took two very long days from my weekend, but I am all set to scuba dive in a couple weeks. My instructor is even convinced I could be a dive master, but one thing at a time. 

Have a terrific or terrifying scuba experience? Let me know. Follow me on Twitter @KateMills_ABC2 and like me on Facebook.