I’m not sure I ever put this in writing for the world to read, but one of my goals for 2015 was to get scuba certified.
When the words first fell out of my mouth earlier this year, I was like, “Whoa, that came out of nowhere.” But then I realized that it actually didn’t. In Cozumel, my friend Courtney who is an avid diver, went scuba diving with Bill, as he was the only other person in our group who was certified. When they got back, we looked at the pictures together and I was just in awe. It was just so beautiful down there. I mean, here I was swimming at the surface, diving down every five seconds to get a closer look at all the amazing sea life below me. I must have said (in my head) “OOOHHHH FISHIES!” a gazillion times over the few days we were in Cozumel. I love the water, and I grew up by the beach. So why the heck wasn’t I certified to dive?
Since moving to Tampa, I’ve noticed a plethora of dive shops- heck, I live less than a mile from 3!! I don’t recall ever seeing one when I lived in Jersey or DC (though I guess I wasn’t exactly looking for one either), but here they are hard to miss! I did a little bit of research and learned I could do the coursework online and then make arrangements with the shop to do my pool and open water dives. That sounds easy enough…but it would sure be more fun if I had friends doing it too. A few weeks after I had made my purchase, I got a text from my friend George, who told me that he and a few of his friends were working with an independent instructor to get certified. He extended the offer to me, and I was happy to join their group for pool work and dives!
Fast forward to the first weekend of August. My classmates and I drove up to Blue Grotto dive resort to get in our first open water dive in the fresh water. We drove through some miserable rain (as had been the standard weather for the last several days) but finally the sky cleared up, making for a beautiful afternoon. We signed our waivers, watched the safety video and then headed over to get our gear prepped.
When you look at Blue Grotto from the deck, it just looks like a big, natural swimming pool. The opening is not that big. Thankfully, since the weather hadn’t been that great and it was getting late on a Sunday afternoon, there weren’t many others there diving. I can’t imagine enjoying the dive there with many more people then just a few small groups.
We got in, did some prep on the surface before submerging. There is nothing like the first time you’re under water in open water. What a surreal feeling- there you are, 30 feet under water, breathing, and off in the distance there are little fishes just swimming around. You’re weightless, neutrally buoyant, just taking in the underwater world around you. Words can’t describe how cool this is.
We did some skills on the platform, came up for a surface interval before going back down again for our second, deeper dive. I have to give a huge shout out to Blue Grotto because we were there later than closing time (we got a late start), and they let us stay to get in our dives, no questions asked. It was MUCH appreciated, so that we didn’t feel rushed or require yet another trip up there to finish up our skills.
We came up from our second dive close to 6pm, and we were one step closer to being certified! Next up: Open Water in the Gulf!
I was away in Madison the weekend the rest of my classmates went diving, so it was just me and my instructor John this past weekend for my final check out dive. I met up with him at Blue Water Explorers in Bradenton. We boarded a boat with another group of students, their instructor who was also the dive master, and the captain of the ship (who was the owner of the company that runs these dives every day of the year – with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas). Everyone was very friendly and the dive master and captain were super knowledgable.
It was a perfect day- the sun was shining, the water was 89, the seas were <1 foot (in other words, flat as a pancake!), and visibility was about 20 feet. We anchored at a man-made reef, and John and I went down for our first dive. We did a skill and then spent the rest of the 40 minutes underwater exploring. Man, it was SO AMAZING down there! I really wish I had an underwater camera (the above underwater shots were from one of my classmates. doh)- but we saw snapper, spades, angel fish, hog fish, lizard fish, sea biscuit, sea urchin, sea cucumber, star fish, and a decent sized sting ray. The most interesting creature to me was this spidery looking crab that John placed in my hand. It looked like a daddy long legs with two teeny tiny claws on its front two legs. I’d never seen anything like it before.
On our first dive, I was definitely a little nervous. Turns out, 20 feet visibility wasn’t as great as I expected. There was lots of “Sarasota snow” as they like to call it- particulate- floating in the water, which made things a bit challenging to see. It didn’t help that I have a really bad habit of exhaling through my nose and fogging up my lens. I stayed close to John and we went around the “reef” several times. It was getting close to time for us to surface, and I could tell that John was looking for the anchor. Unfortunately, neither of us could find it, so we free ascended. Thankfully, we weren’t that far from the boat when we surfaced.
We took a 30 minute surface interval before heading back down again. This time, we used our compasses to navigate from the anchor point to a spot we marked with some shells. I was also way more comfortable on this dive, now that I knew what to expect. As we were down there I was just struck by how vast the ocean is and how tiny we are in this one little spot exploring. It’s an entirely different world down there- so many different species carrying on with their “normal.” How incredible is it that I can be down there to catch a glimpse?
After about 30 minutes under, we found our way back to our marker, and then back to the anchor line. (Phew.) We ascended and when we popped up, John said, “Hey, Guess What? You’re a diver!” Hooray!
I got off the boat with a huge smile on my face; I am officially PADI Certified! Thank you so much to John for being such a fantastic instructor!
Now, time to figure out when my next dive will be!