by Natalie Novak
My husband's first dive experience was horrible. It did not matter that he had wanted to try scuba diving for as long as he could remember. It did not matter that he had been a competitive swimmer in high school, or that he worked in water sports and rescue at the time. The big dive operation in the all-inclusive hotel where he worked had left out something that no amount of comfort in the water, or great physical conditioning could overcome: They never taught him how to equalize his ears, in English or in Spanish. They had explained how to do it only in German.
When I moved to Playa del Carmen to be with my (now) husband, he knew that I was crazy about two things: him and scuba diving. He also knew that I was working towards becoming a professional diver. He loved water, sailing, snorkeling and swimming. After a while I found it odd that someone like Ivan who really loved water did not show any interest in scuba diving, especially when he was living with a woman whose life seemed to revolve around it.
It was not until I was studying to become a scuba instructor that Ivan told me about his first dive experience. Years before we met Ivan had worked as a sailing instructor in an all-inclusive hotel with well over a thousand rooms. He convinced some of the guys in the hotel's huge dive center to let him join their introductory class. Unfortunately the class was in German, but the instructor told Ivan that the briefing was not important, and all he needed to do was copy everything the instructor did. So Ivan practiced some skills in the pool with about 12 other people, then went out on a boat and descended down a line with several other students and their instructor. A few feet down he felt pressure in his ears and signaled the instructor. The instructor touched the nose-pocket of his mask with his thumb and forefinger and Ivan did the same. Then the instructor continued the descent and the pressure turned to pain in Ivan's ears. Each time Ivan signaled the instructor he had a problem with his ears, the instructor had him touch his nose and continue his descent.
Ivan endured 40 minutes of horrible pain and pressure (at 40 feet of depth) and was lucky he experienced only ear pain and trouble hearing for the following week. After that he was not very enthusiastic about scuba diving. Once I understood the source of Ivan's lack of enthusiasm, I explained to Ivan that his instructor had not taught him to equalize his ears. While descending, one way to relieve the pressure in your ears and sinuses is to blow gently through your nose while it is plugged by your thumb and forefinger.
When I graduated from my instructor course, Ivan was one of my first two students. We descended together slowly and he had no problem equalizing his ears (now that he knew how). On the reef, the first thing we found was a six-foot barracuda, and Ivan's face lit up like a kid at Christmas. His time underwater flew by and when I signaled him that it was time to ascend, Ivan decisively shook his head to say, "NO!" From that day on, he has been addicted and is now a wonderful teaching instructor. I think that first experience helped him understand how important a sympathetic and genuinely interested teacher can be.
Ivan and I have designed our company around the idea of personally teaching and guiding small groups and individuals. If you would like to try scuba diving our way, then come dive with us.
If you have never tried scuba diving before, and are curious, here is what you need to know to get started. The Professional Association of (scuba) Diving Instructors (PADI) has three parts to its introductory course called Discover Scuba Diving. This course takes about 3 or 4 hours and includes your first open water scuba dive in up to 40 feet of water.
The first step is a 20-minute briefing that explains what to expect and what you will do, and introduces you to your equipment. The second step is to practice in shallow water (where you can stand up) with the equipment. Here we teach you to swim underwater, and how to clear water out of the regulator and out of the mask. Then we practice how to find your regulator, and how to use your instructor's extra regulator (often called alternative air source or octopus). We also practice reading your air gauge and the hand signals we use to communicate—as well as equalizing your ears!
Lastly, the third step is to go diving!
Make every dive count when you dive with Natalie and Ivan.