Scuba: My First Dive

Since 1946, when Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan first commercially marketed their Aqua-Lung brand regulator in France, modern technology has advanced so that even a child can become a licensed scuba diver. Today, it's possible to explore God's previously hidden creation like never before in the history of mankind. In November, after much preparation, my son and I went to Cozumel and enjoyed scuba diving in the ocean for the first time.
by Jon Hanna

Scuba diving is fun and exciting, allowing exploration of earth's final frontier. However, diving is a sport to be taken very seriously which is why classroom and pool instruction is mandatory to become licensed. It's an equipment intensive sport. An untrained person will most likely hurt themselves or worse. If your not comfortable around water then this sport is definitely not for you.

During training at the Buckeye Diving School in Greater Cleveland, my 20-year-old son Brian and I became acquainted with a variety of scuba gear and discovered which equipment would be best for us. Next to safety, it was a comfortable fit that determined which gear we purchased. Stiff fins were exchanged for more pliable ones and ill fitting leaky masks traded in for a nice dry fit. Selecting a snorkel was much easier. These are the basic necessities for dive training as everything else can be rented as needed until you determine if diving is really for you.

Because we were preparing for warm water diving, we purchased lightweight wet suits. We decided to rent our buoyancy compensators, regulators and, obviously, air tanks on the island.

Our dive class started out with 7 people; 4 men and 3 women. For one reason or another, two of the women dropped out. However, halfway through our training another women, already a certified diver, joined us for a refresher course. Also, a young man who had experienced resort diving joined our class to secure his Open Water Diver's License.

A portion of the class and reading materials acquainted us with marine life which I found very helpful. A week before starting the class I just happened to watch a documentary, which highlighted the dangers of the barracuda. The program featured a couple of rare occasions where people were attacked. To add insult to injury, I continued to hear news reports of shark attacks, which took place mostly off the coast of Florida. For a moment, I seriously considered nixing my dive plans.

During classroom instruction I learned that of all the shark attacks in 2001, not one diver was attacked. In reality, the majority of attacks happened to swimmers flopping and flailing around on the surface of the water who unintentionally imitated a fish in distress, an opportune meal for any shark.

I learned that most sea creatures, including eels, only attack people when they feel threatened, and that 5 or 6-foot tall creatures wearing scuba gear and exhaling noisy bubbles are not on their food chain.

We were trained to maintain and assemble scuba gear, how to be properly weighted, how to share air, how to ascend and descend safely, how to monitor depth and pressure gauges, how to read dive charts and much more. We finished the 6-week course with great anticipation of our first open water dive.

A week later, in early November, we were off to Cozumel. Initially, our dives were delayed by the large waves left behind by hurricane Michele, so we decided to do some snorkeling in Xelha, a beautiful area south of Cancun, where the fresh water of a river meets the salt water of the Caribbean.

After two days of delays, Brian and I finally made our destination. The numerous coral reefs of Cozumel make it one of the world's top 15 dive sites. It also hosts over 200 species of tropical fish. Check with your travel agent to discover which resorts have dive shops or cater to divers.

With my history of motion sickness, I purposely booked us at a resort on the southern end of the island, closer to the reefs to avoid those long nauseating (for me) boat rides.

It was a perfect, sun-splashed day and after a quick 5-minute ride the boat captain cut the engine. That was our cue to don our BC units and tanks. My heart raced as I took that first plunge into the unknown, yet inviting 82-degree, turquoise waters of the Caribbean. As we descended to a depth of over 40 feet, and with visibility of at least 100 feet, I felt as if I were floating in a very large room. Suddenly, a variety of life forms began to make themselves known. Hills of coral and plant life everywhere. A small school of medium sized fish appeared. Then a pair of large black fish, then yellow fish. Suddenly, I spied a long silver barracuda heading my way. My rate of breathing immediately picked up. Exhaled bubbles increased, exposing my apprehension. It got closer. I know things appear 25 percent closer in the water but this fish had to be no more than 7 or 8 feet away from me. He got closer. I noticed the back and forth movement of that big left eye of his (or hers). It seemed to sense my nervousness. I rolled onto my side and then onto my back, watching its every move, purposely moving my fins in a slow steady rhythm. This fish with its big, bad reputation and razor sharp teeth, was checking me out. It briefly circled around behind me before continuing its journey. What probably only took 10 or 12 seconds seemed like minutes.

I breathed a sigh of relief and just as I rolled over, another barracuda appeared above me on the right. This one wasn't as curious and maintained a steady course away from my direction.

Steve Bowles, owner of the Buckeye Diving School had a similar experience on his first dive. "A barracuda followed me for an hour. It saw me enter the water and never left my side until I left the water." Steve added, "I was so freaked out by this but I learned that they are like cats and will follow you until they get bored."

The ocean current seemed to just carry us along as a variety of unique life forms passed under and around us. A calm and peaceful feeling enveloped me. As I breathed air from a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, I thanked God for the opportunity to see such amazing things up close and in person. All of it, His creation.

Some divers, however, are primarily interested in wreck dives rather than just swimming with the fish. Lake Erie is host to a variety of historical wrecks, including paddle wheel boats from the 1800's. Fox 8's Bill Martin is a fan of wreck dives and recently helped his wife become a certified diver as a birthday gift, "My wife likes the shallow reef dives and I usually go on the deeper wreck dives of over 100 feet," Bill explained to me.

Perhaps an old curiosity is revived or a new interest is forming inside of you. If you desire a new adventure and want to experience the underwater world first-hand, you can book a flight to a favorite dive destination such as the Great Barrier Reefs of Australia, one of the Caribbean's many islands or perhaps the ever popular Hawaiian Islands.

You won't need prior instruction if you take a resort course on location. The cost is $70-$250 depending on location and time of year. After brief instruction in and out of the pool you'll be able to dive with an instructor in the waters of your destination. This is one way to test the waters before investing in your own equipment.

However, the drawback to this is that you are generally limited to depths of 25-40 feet, only be able to dive with an instructor and the travel expense may limit your options.

For those of you who can't afford a costly trip at this time, you can sign up for scuba instruction at a local diving school. I personally recommend the Buckeye Diving School in Bedford. You don't have to wait for warmer weather to begin your classroom and indoor pool instruction as new classes begin all year long. The cost for certification training averages $250-$300, including training manuals and your certification lasts a lifetime.

However, if you're not ready to seek certification, 'Discover Scuba' classes are an option which can also be scheduled for private groups or parties. Cost is only $35 per person and includes all gear except swimsuits and towels. 'Discover Scuba' classes take place at a variety of pools in Northeast Ohio. Call the Buckeye Diving School for more information: 440-439-3677.

If you're adverse to boat rides or unable to travel to a distant dive destination, you need to know that there are a number of quarries in and around Northeast Ohio, which are popular dive sites frequented by certified divers from the Northeastern United States and Canada. No boats to ride and no big waves to contend with. Just jump right in.

Speaking of shore dives, it has come to my attention that the island of Bonaire has a multitude of locations for shore dives. Divers are able to rent a jeep and easily drive from dive site to dive site. There are also several drive-thrus on the island, which provide convenient air tank refills. Personally, I'm seriously thinking of making Bonaire one of my next dive destinations.

Currently, there are approximately 8.5 million licensed divers in the United States who enjoy what millenniums of people never could… exploring the depths of God's creation.

King Solomon once made a test of pleasure and found it all to be vanity. However, life on this earth lived in a relationship with Jesus is definitely more abundant. "In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land." (Psalm 95:4&5)