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Charlotte Wilson

So the time had come for me to leave the warmth and comfort of the pool, that safe oasis where any panic is quickly erased simply by just standing up. It was off to Wraysbury dive site (www. wraysbury.ws) for my baptism of fire into the open water dives.

The idea of learning to dive during the summer months was to ensure that the British waters would not be completely unbearable. However, unsurprisingly, the rain fell, the sun hid and the temperature established itself at a warmth not unfamiliar to late autumn.

Already feeling jittery with nerves, I awoke on Saturday morning with a heavy feeling in my stomach. ‘Will I freak out?’ ‘Catch hypothermia?’ ‘Do everything wrong and be sent home shamefaced and unqualified?’ Needless to say, the less than appealing weather helped to add a soap operaesque pathetic fatalism to my mood.

Arriving at Wraysbury, my buddy/boyfriend and I were the first eager divers to pull up and we were quickly accosted by an over enthusiastic car park attendant demanding the £13 entry fee before we’d even pulled into a space. I refrained from pointing out that being the only car here, outnumbered by staff, and facing either a dead end or to leave the site, it was unlikely that we would be trying to pull a fast one. Not long after, the rest of our crew arrived and we began busily unloading the Scuba Zone van (www. scuba-zone.co.uk) and quickly got kitted up.

Practically trembling with nerves by this point, I squeezed into a rather ravishing (not) two-piece semi dry wetsuit. As the intermittent rain fell it was hard not to resent the instructors getting ready to take the plunge in their cozy looking dry suits. Note to self; do a dry suit course.

We were split into two groups, group 1 were to go in first, then, as they were resurfacing, group 2 would get into the water. Naturally we were group 2 and the waiting around did little to eradicate my nervousness. Off trotted group 1 to complete their first set of skills and when one of the divers failed to descend and came trudging out of the water

with dramatic declarations of his ears failing him I was sure that the next casualty would be me.

Before long it was our turn to make the arduous journey to the platform. Struggling to stand upright when ladened down with kit, it was actually a welcome relief to plunge into weightlessness, despite the shockingly cold rush of water that enveloped my body.

Finally it was time to descend, this was it, my first taste of real diving. I took a deep breath, calmed my nerves and dutifully followed our plucky instructor Dan down the line to the 6m platform. All previous worries and concerns quickly evaporated as I found the descent perfectly easy, I did have to equalize quite regularly, but as I am the same when in the chamber this caused me little unease.

So, feeling quite surprised at myself and equally as chuffed with my achievement, I looked around to check that all of my comrades had made their first journey down safely. With everyone OK we bobbed around quite happily on the platform. Even in the silty surroundings and dire visibility of 2m we were more than happy to merely gaze appreciatively at each other, the novelty of it all not even close to wearing thin.

The jubilant mood continued and we breezed through all of our first set of skills. Even the dreaded Buddha buoy- ancy test that I’d struggled with so profusely in the pool I nailed in an instant, and soon the cold and murkiness of our surroundings that had so perfectly captured my earlier mood seemed to melt away into the background.

Upon resurfacing, needless to say we all felt very trium- phant, instead of looking around at the copious other groups of divers enjoying their Saturday excursion and feeling trepidation we now felt like one of the gang and no longer outsiders.

Flying high from overcoming my anxieties and already in- wardly planning all of the adventurous and exotic dives that I would go on in the proceeding months it was time to kit up for the second dive of the day and mark the half way part in our open water training.

In hindsight it is hard to pinpoint exactly when I started to feel that something wasn’t right, but the reassurance I’d gotten from my successful first dive must have done a lot to convince me that dive number two would not be a problem.

Standing on the platform ready to step in, I was finding it very difficult to control my breathing. Convinced it was the exertion of carrying the heavy equipment on my back I was sure that once submerged into the water all would be well again. However that was not to be the case, everything around my chest began to feel very tight and I was breathing so quickly that it felt like I was hardly taking any air from my regulator. Needless to say panic started to quickly rise and after performing some tired diver exercises on the surface as part of our training I was feeling more and more exhausted and anxious.

Not wanting to disrupt the group, and ashamedly not want- ing to admit that I might not be up to it, I still attempted the descent. Quickly it became apparent that I wasn’t going anywhere. My rapid, shallow breathing coupled with an inexplicable thrashing of my legs (for some reason I thought this may help propel me deeper), I was unable to sink any lower than a metre and had to settle for bobbing like an apple at the surface while the rest of the group continued down. The Divemaster, seeing my discomfort, was by my side in an instant and was an extremely calming presence. We discussed trying to go down again but the tightness in my chest was becoming painful and the thought of going under the water again was making my breathing impossible to regulate. I made the decision to get out of the water and not waste any more time and energy, I especially didn’t want to force myself to the bottom and then freak out, putting everyone else at risk. Having worked in the chamber for long enough and heard plenty of stories where people have not been in tune with their bodies and then ended up causing difficult situations for others, it was something I was not prepared to risk.

Sitting on the bank waiting for the others to emerge back into the open air, I felt very somber and disappointed. The second dive was the longest in terms of skills and a good one to crack and get out of the way as quickly as possible. This meant, that for me, the next two dives would be plied with even more pressure to get it right and the feeling of failure began to loom over me.

What was reassuring however was the support and reaction of the Scuba Zone instructors; each one congratulated me on making the right call and reassured me that it was a fairly common reaction and that sometimes you just can’t do it. This is especially true for newbies as everything can get very overwhelming and to be able to respond in a rational way, I was told, is the one of the most important things to be able to do. The guys also reassured me that I could fit in the skills I missed from that dive into the next two dives on Sunday and I managed to force a smile and enthusiasm that I was struggling to truly feel. Had my little episode done enough damage to scare me into not continuing? Would I be able to come back tomorrow..?

To find out if I made it to the end of my PADI Open Water course in one piece make sure you pick up the next issue of Tanked Up, available from March.

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