It was day one of my Open Water Diver course at Havelock Islands. A cyclone and relentless rain welcomed me on the islands. I managed to make it to the dive shop, although fully drenched, to start my pool training for the Open Water Diver. I started off with a load of paperwork, followed by equipment sizing and equipment assembly. Through all of this, there was an element of anxiety about my ability to actually be able to even get past the basics. At that point, my biggest fear was not being able to complete the swim test which required me to swim 200m. Little did I know, there were far more difficult tasks ahead of me.
This would be the right time to tell you all that I was definitely not comfortable in water. Don’t get me wrong, I love the water. I love going to the beach, getting smashed by the waves and spending time in a pool. But I was never confident with my swimming, which meant I’d venture into the deeper ends. I wouldn’t jump into a lake for a swim or take a plunge into a waterfall.
I completed the 200m swim and was relieved that the worst was behind me. There were 24 pool skills I had to learn and perform using the scuba equipment. The first three were fairly easy and I performed them without too much difficulty. The pool water was freezing with no sign of the sun and the rain continued to pat down on us as we went ahead with our pool training. It was time for skill number 4 which was ‘partial mask clearance’. This skill involved clearing my mask of water that would trickle into it due to various reasons during a dive. Since I was not actually out on a dive and had to learn the skill regardless, I had to flood my own mask partially with water and then clear it out while remaining underwater. It seemed all fine when my instructor was demonstrating the skill to me but when it was my turn to perform, I failed. Multiple times. We tried it over and over again with no luck. We were both starting to shiver in the pool water and decided to take a break, come back and start again.
Credits: Govinda Hivrale
My mind kept going over what I am doing wrong, why this is happening, whether my scuba journey would end even before it started. At that moment I wished so badly to have been more comfortable in water. I kept telling myself that this wouldn’t be happening if I was better at swimming or if I did not panic.
We got back into the pool and started again. We went over the skill again and again but I was not able to move forward. It was almost as if I froze. Fact was, I was petrified of having water in my mask, which inevitably meant water in my nose. As my instructor would say, my “pupils would expand” every time my mask was flooded and I would go into full panic mode. I began to feel that this was probably it and I shouldn’t push myself towards doing something I’m clearly not able to. My instructor called it a day and said we’ll try the mask clearing skill again the following day.
Credits: Govinda Hivrale
I went back to my room with a heavy heart, ashamed more than sad that I was not able to complete the skill. I always thought in spite of my fear, I would be able to get through with perseverance. But there was a lot more that scuba diving demanded from me than I thought I would have to put in.
However, help came in the most unexpected of ways. A friend who suggested the dive shop in Havelock to me was also an instructor and told me a couple of tricks to try that would help me feel more comfortable. I was also told that a majority of students find mask clearance challenging and do not ace it at the first go. It was definitely a relief to hear that I was not the only one and I need not beat myself up over not being able to do it (yet!). A new friend I made in Havelock, who was also a diver, casually mentioned that if using fingers on both my hands to hold the mask in place while clearing the water is not working for me, I should just try using one of my palms. I kept that in mind.
The weather finally cleared up and I was ready for round two. It was a lot more comfortable being in the pool with the sun above me that kept me warm. We start over again and nothing had changed. I tried it once, twice, thrice and the outcome did not change. I then asked my instructor if I could use my palm instead of my fingers. He said I can use whatever works best for me. I start the skill and this time I use my palm to hold the mask in place while clearing out the water and voila! That was all I needed to do! Use my palm and get comfortable with having water in my nose. My instructor was probably more happy to see me complete the skill than I was at that point. The next 20 skills went by without much difficulty and I could finally heave a sigh of relief!
Credits: Govinda Hivrale
As much relief as I felt, I also knew I had to perform these skills out in the ocean the next two days. It was not easy, but I did it. It was surreal to be down there, hovering over massive corals and a variety of marine life all around me. It only pushed me further and gave me the motivation to complete the skills and also my course! I went ahead and also did my Advanced Open Water Diver course and many more fun dives after that. I came a long way since then and still have a long way to go before becoming a confident and efficient diver, so it’s still a work in progress!