Diver Dan Returns To The Sea

Well, it’s time to learn something new, time to stretch the old brain cells. It’s feeling a little dusty upstairs. So what’s it going to be?

  • Piano lessons? (Nah! I’ll get all hung up in how bad I am at first.)
  • Take up the accordion? (That can wait until I’m older. No rush.)
  • Sing in a professional choir or barbershop quartet? (Nah, I’m still bummed that I’m no longer a tenor. Sorry Teri!)
  • Learn some new programming language? (Nah! I’m craving something physical.)
  • Fencing? (Nope! Too many rules!)
  • Ah! How ’bout ballroom dancing! (Nuts!)

Inga has suggested a return to SCUBA diving, something I haven’t done for over 20 years. Wow, does that bring back memories! After skin diving in Northern Wisconsin for a number of years as a teenager, I was rather dubious about the appeal of SCUBA. I viewed all that heavy, cumbersome gear as very inelegant compared to the natural grace of snorkeling. Additionally, skin diving was a solitary refuge for me from the chronic pain and mental anxiety I suffered from. In hindsight, having a very fiery astrological natal chart with little or no water energy in it, it’s no wonder that total immersion was superb, meditative therapy for me. Plus the thought of hanging out on the beach with a bunch of people and having to agree on a dive plan amongst a mountain of clumsy equipment really turned me off.

Then my brother, Paul, brought a US Divers SCUBA equipment catalog home from school and as I looked at all the pictures of Jacques Cousteau diving in exotic locales, my mind began opening up to the possibility of SCUBA. As I watched National Geographic specials on TV, the Captain became a hero of mine and I began dreaming of becoming a diver and working on his research vessel, The Calypso. A classmate at high school finally convinced me to take the plunge so I became certified in 1976 at the local YMCA by a bunch of old, crusty Navy divers. Despite my trepidations about it, I surprised myself by becoming the star pupil. Underwater, I was free of pain, eerily calm, composed and graceful, a marked difference from my surface existence. The only drawback was that the instructors made me do every tough drill first to show my classmates that it could be done. I still remember being told to swim underwater two lengths of the pool, 150 feet, while holding my breath! Realizing that they were putting their faith in me, I made damn sure I pulled it off with style. I basked in the approval and began naturally coaching others on overcoming their anxiety about learning new skills. It felt really good to serve others and assist them in experiencing new realities. Hmmm…that sounds familiar! As I write this, I can clearly see that part of my personality emerging for the first time.

All was going well until we went to a flooded rock quarry in Racine, Wisconsin for our checkout dive. Instead of diving with in t-shirts and swim trunks in a warm, safe pool, we were donning full wet suits, heavy weight belts and buoyancy compensators and diving in a cold, dark quarry. The instructors took the students down to 25 feet or so, ran us through some skills tests and then invited us to check out the sunken automobiles at 35 feet. But two instructors motioned for me to follow them and we descended deeper. As we did, it became progressively colder and darker. When we came to a stop and stood on the gravel bottom in the gloom, I looked at my depth gauge and it read 70 feet! My thermometer read 38 degrees! The water was visibly thick, only 6 degrees from becoming ice cubes. An instructor checked with me via a hand signal to see if I was ok and I thought that was an odd question. I’m very cold, it’s very dark down here and I’m not having fun. As I couldn’t think of an effective way to indicate all this, short of flipping him off, I signed back that I was ok. They then proceeded to swim in and out of a car on the bottom and I just stood there thinking how amazingly bogus this was. This is what diving in the Midwest is like? This is fun? No thanks! I did not do any more SCUBA dives that year.

I started my first year of college that Fall and noticing a SCUBA class on the schedule, I took it thinking it would be a fun, easy way to earn an A. It was. Better yet, the instructor said we could accompany him to Florida that March and do our open water dives there in warm, clear water. We still had to wear that cumbersome wetsuit because even 70 degree water chills the body after a short while. But doing many dives, sometimes 3 per day, over a short period of time, finally made me feel comfortable and confident in all that stuff. I found that I really enjoyed the sport and my skill in the pool transferred to open water. Before the trip was over, I was accused of having gills and was nicknamed “The Fish” by my fellow divers. (Must of have been that time when holding my breath, I skin dived to the bottom of a freshwater spring and then swam deep into a cavern. I startled a bunch of SCUBA divers by tapping them on the shoulder, waving hello and smiling, before swimming back out.)

I went on to learn just about every kind of diving: cave, ice, wreck, reef, salvage, search and rescue, and night. I became a Divemaster and Assistant Instructor and started teaching year round along with leading trips in the Midwest and to Florida. This was real adventure! Now all I needed to do was to figure out how to join Jacques’ crew aboard the Calypso. In 1981, I tried real hard to get hired as a diving counselor at a kid’s camp in Florida, to no avail, and I soon learned that it was just as well. The Universe had something much more important in store for me.

Inga and I met in January of 1982 and we signed up for a SCUBA class together. I knew she’d make the perfect dive buddy and I wanted to share this magical world I had come to love so much. But when the medical doctor said that she could not dive under any circumstances due to perforated eardrums, I promptly, and without regret, decided to hang up my fins for good. I had always vowed to never have a SCUBA widow home alone while I was out with the boys every weekend. So as newlyweds, we explored new hobbies together like hiking and backpacking. Plus now that I was married to a Scorpio, I found someone every bit as magical, delightful and nurturing as the Sea itself. Many years later, Inga says that I really surprised her when I announced at 40 that I was going to take up motorcycling. She thought for sure that it would be diving. She, in turn, surprised me when she said she didn’t mind if I went off to roam the Northwest with the boys. Instead, she was grateful that she didn’t have to come with as she’s quite content to stay home while, according to her, all we boys do is sit around the campfire each night, tell lies and fart anyway. (How did she find that out???) Inga clearly doesn’t have the strong Sagittarius yearning for adventure that I have!

I walk into the local dive shop in February 2004 and start discussing how one returns to a complex sport after a 22 year hiatus. In the end, the shop owner and I agree that it is best that I just start over from scratch. I think what clinched it for me was the fact that he has a corner of his shop setup as a diving museum. In it, he has a dummy dressed up in the kind of gear I used back in the seventies! So I donated my ancient snorkeling gear to add to his collection and brought new gear. I start classes at the end of February.

The gear has changed along with the instructional materials but as I stand in the dive shop and talk about the sport, a doorway opens in my psyche and I discover that highly developed mindset is right there. This is going to be fun! I’ll keep a running log and update the website as I go. I’m ready to get wet. I can hear the water elementals calling me. */:-)

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