Your First Breaths Underwater
You’ve done it. You’ve been thinking about it for ages and have finally taken the plunge – you’re going to learn how to scuba dive. Now you’re stood chest deep in the water of a swimming pool, wearing heavy, strange-looking gear, and your instructor tells you to put your face in the water and breathe. Wait, what?
Everything about scuba diving is new and very different to everything else we do, and not knowing what to expect can definitely make us feel a little nervous. But once we get past that initial stage, it can become the most life-changing experience.
1- BREATHING THROUGH A REGULATOROne thing is obvious – humans were not made to breathe underwater. This is why some very clever people invented the scuba regulator, which allows us to use compressed air from tanks strapped to our backs (or sides) in order to breathe.
Putting a regulator in your mouth might feel a bit odd at first, however, if you’ve used a snorkel before, the feeling of the mouthpiece will feel quite familiar. You will inhale and exhale through your mouth only, and yes, you will definitely sound like Darth Vader while you’re doing it.
Don’t worry, your instructor will let you practice this at the surface first while wearing your mask so that you get used to the mouth-only breathing through the regulator. Once you’re comfortable, they will ask you to lower your face into the water while continuing to breathe; just relax and keep breathing, in and out. Breathing through your regulator underwater will feel the same as it did at the surface, and most people adjust to this within just a few breaths.
2 – FLOATING LIKE AN ASTRONAUTOne of the main joys of scuba diving is the feeling of being weightless, the amazing feeling when you hit that sweet spot of neither sinking nor floating. You will hear a lot about “neutral buoyancy”, and you will work towards achieving this throughout your course. It is definitely something that requires some practice, so don’t stress about getting this right straight away.
Your BCD jacket will help you with this, as you can add and release air when needed to achieve weightlessness. You will also learn how your lungs affect this too, and it’s a lot of fun practicing going up and down while swimming around. Make sure you relax and take your time, and just enjoy the feeling of having the shackles of gravity removed and being able to move in three dimensions. It’s just like being an astronaut in space!
Also remember that as water is denser than air, everything will happen in slow motion. Trying to move around quickly can lead to exhaustion as well as frustration, so make sure your movements are slow and controlled.
3 – THE NOT-SO-SILENT UNDERWATER WORLDIf you’ve already done a little research into what it’s like to scuba dive, you will have heard about the calmness and silence when being underwater. We live in a busy world full of environmental noise around us all the time, so it’s no wonder that so many people find the silent underwater world to be a great de-stresser.
Whilst this is certainly the case, you may initially be surprised by how loud your own breathing actually is. As previously said, you will sound like something out of Star Wars, and that’s exactly what you will hear. However, once you become used to the sound of your own breathing, you will either find yourself tuning out of the bubbling noise, or actually focus on it as a way to relax, almost like meditation.
Another thing worth mentioning is that again, water is denser than air. In terms of noise, this means that sound travels a lot more quickly, so you’ll be able to hear a certain noise almost immediately. However, this also means that it’s a lot harder to pin-point where the sound is actually coming from, which can be a little confusing at first. Don’t worry though, that’s also something you will get used to after a while.
4 – SPEAKING WITHOUT WORDS
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that you will not be able to talk underwater. That being said, communicating with your buddies or guides is an essential part of any dive, which is why we use our hands to do the talking instead. You can communicate pretty much anything important by using a variety of hand signals, and you will learn lots of those during your course.
There is quite a bit to take in at the beginning, so don’t worry if you forget some signals or find that your instructor has to take you to the surface to talk you through something. All these hand signals will become more natural to you as you practice them, and you will soon find yourself being able to communicate without the need for words.
Did you know that you can buy slates and actual notebooks with pens that allow you to write things down underwater? Once you’re a qualified diver, these can come in really handy for communicating more complex issues or for writing down notes or plans for your dive. Or if you’re anything like me, play noughts and crosses on a safety stop!
5 – UNDERWATER VISION
As we have to wear a mask when scuba diving, one thing to consider is that the frame of the mask will restrict your peripheral vision. This is one of the reasons why some people may feel a little claustrophobic at first, but it’s actually something most divers get used to really quickly. You will adjust to this, as you will get used to turning your head and just looking around a little bit more, which you will end up doing almost on autopilot.
Another thing that’s different underwater is the light. Due to an interesting phenomenon called refraction, objects will actually appear closer than they really are, so you may want to practice this if you can, by touching things like the pool floor or wall and get a sense for the distances. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your brain adapts to this as well, so you soon won’t notice a difference anymore.
There is no doubt that scuba diving takes some time getting used to and everything might feel a little strange at first. Everyone is different and being in and under water comes more natural to some people than others. The most important thing is to be patient with yourself and to not rush things, enjoy the experience and the learning curve. Scuba diving is one of the most amazing and life-changing hobbies you can have, and it’s definitely worth the effort. We’re very excited to see where your diving will take you!