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Diary of a Dive Novice


Charlotte Wilson

After starting work at the London Diving Chamber it was only a matter of time before I would be dipping my toe into the underwater world and submerging myself fully into the world of diving.

Surrounded by colleagues and patients who live, eat and breathe diving – and of course the big fat pot that greats me everyday I go to work – it made sense that I plunge myself into the fun as soon as possible.

Local to LDC are the über-friendly guys at Scuba Zone (scuba-zone.co.uk, located on the Finchley Road). So for ease and the convenience of fitting learning to dive around work commitments, myself and a few other newbie members of the chamber team set about getting our PADI Open Water qualification.

Much like the first day at school we all clutched our waterproof packs full of glossy reading materials and complex looking tables, grinning with excitement
as the novelty of receiving something shiny and new burned bright. However, after briefly flicking through the course materials other unwelcome memories of school, like endless hours of revising for exams, came flooding back.

Luckily my PADI Open Water manual wasn’t quite so tiresome to make my way through and obviously having a dive doc and chamber staff on hand everyday
didn’t do anything to harm my capacity for understanding the principal diving rules and issues – although apparently it was ‘good sport’ to throw me some curve balls.

I didn’t begin the process with a purely positive outlook. Perhaps a side effect of working in an environment that is concerned with the things that can go wrong whilst diving, I was – in layman’s terms – sh*tting myself. Not helped by a certain Kiwi chamber technician at our Midlands chamber in Rugby, who decided the best way to prepare me was to tell me of every single underwater horror story he had ever encountered or even tenuously heard of – I was ready to bail.

But no, I would not bail now. I had made my way through the book quite successfully, much to the annoyance of my boyfriend who up until now had been quietly smug about my apparent lack of physics, maths and general common sense skills. I had also been assured by Dr Oli that despite still having the remnants of a chesty cough for my first pool session that I could not only cough away into my regulator – but could also actually vomit into it should the occasion arise. Good to know. So I was ready for my first taste of real life scuba diving – and off to the pool we went...

The minute we tentatively walked through the doors for our first pool session the sense of camaraderie and welcoming was overwhelming. Experienced staff and divers were so obviously eager to engage and encourage, with no hint of superiority or a ‘you’ll be as experienced as me one day’ attitude, it was very much ‘welcome to the community and get involved!’

So we got kitted up and dived in. As we dipped our heads under for the first time my panic started to come back and my
first thought was “f**k, am I doing this in the sea!” but after a shaky start and a slight blunder which involved me attempting to clear my regulator but dramatically re- surfacing as I swallowed water. I quickly picked up confidence and – shockingly – really enjoyed myself.

The first pool session flew by and we whizzed through our basic skills, even getting a special commendation for managing to clear our masks with ease on the first attempt (gold star please sir). Then we were off into the night, wet through but bouncing with excitement from our first taste of diving.

The next challenge on the horizon was 
the actual exam, going back to my study days once again I poured over the tables, completed all practice questions and hurriedly made notes where I could. Yes,
I know it is not quantum physics but once a geek always a geek. Not surprisingly, and embarrassingly similar to our school days together, my boyfriend (yes, the smug know it all from earlier) who was taking the exam with me, casually flicked through the book the morning before and assumed a blasé confidence about the whole affair. Needless to say I took enormous satisfaction when
I scored 100% on the pre-test and then 
had to patiently sit while his mistakes were explained to him, even contributing my own, now expert, opinion on where he went wrong. Just under an hour later and we both left with a final exam score of 96% (I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions as to how he managed to get exactly the same score as me) and moved on to the next part of the adventure – pool session number two.

Kitting up felt like old hat second session round and we all strode into the pool
 with conviction – everything was going swimmingly (sorry had to) until the majestic ‘hover’ skill reared its buoyant-tastic head. Familiar to all divers who have gone before me, students are required to sit in a Buddha- esque position while competently using your BCD and breathing to move up and down in the water without touching the bottom or surfacing and without using your arms to help you. While the rest of us struggled, either bobbing like apples or toppling over onto the bottom, arms and legs akimbo, I see a very smug looking Buddha serenely floating past me, moving up and down with ease and wearing a very satisfied smile on his face. B*****ks.

Leaving pool session number two, my morale was slightly lower, compared to
 the previous week, me and smug Buddha trudged back to Marylebone in the heavy rain. On the journey home my left arm and shoulder started to ache. As we’d only gone to 1.5m in the pool I was pretty confident I wasn’t the first person in the world to
get bent in a pool, and I spent the rest of
the night trying to relieve a trapped nerve. Thankfully the joy of working in a hospital meant that come morning one of the team managed to ease my little issue out and after some investigation it was deduced
that my wetsuit was slightly too tight. Coupled with using muscles I don’t usually use, which, then getting cold from the
water, my nerve had decided to take a trip around my collarbone. Most likely obvious to the majority of divers, but a slightly snug wetsuit was not something I had given a second thought about causing me an issue compression-wise – they’re supposed
to be tight right? Yes, but apparently not Catwoman tight, they don’t keep the water out silly. So I called Scuba Zone to make sure I had a slightly bigger one for next time. Next step – open water. Wetsuit sorted, now I just need to make sure I don’t get too cold. Where are we heading this coming weekend in 13 degree, torrential rain June? Wraysbury. Great stuff.

See how I get on braving the murky British waters for my open water dives in the next issue of Tanked Up.

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