Ready for Open Water

Classroom instruction complete. Written test passed. Pool sessions complete. Now it’s time for open water.

I had reservations leading up to the open water certification course. Despite being a swimmer my whole life, SCUBA was something that gave me some anxiety. The idea of relying on external equipment for survival was difficult for me, but in order to understand the full astronaut experience, this was a necessity. Little did I know how much I would enjoy it.

Online, Classroom, and Pool Instruction

Since my husband and I were both interested in diving, we took the course together. When we showed up at El Mar Diving Center for the first day of class, we were approached by the lead instructor and two additional instructors-in-training. They looked at us and said “Okay, were ready to go.” In that moment we realized we were the only two people there and would have private instruction for the entire course.

The certification was through Scuba Schools International (SSI) which involved an extensive online training component. We learned about the different elements of diving from safety to gear, and even to the types of sea-life we could find around the world. This learning and further review continued in the classroom portion of the course. It was extremely useful that our instructors were experienced divers and had tons of real life stories to help illustrate the teachings.

We also completed the pool portion of the course getting comfortable with the equipment, proper ways to descend and ascend safely, along with other preparatory and underwater skills practice. The pool is what really opened by eyes to what the scuba experience was like. Once I was in the water and felt like I was in a safe environment, I felt unexpectedly relaxed and comfortable.

Calm and Introspective

My experience could be compared to and activity like yoga or meditation. With only the sound of my breath and my thoughts, I felt like I was in another world. Even though I was in continues communication with other divers, I had time to feel alone in my head. Keep in mind, I haven’t completed the open water portion of the course yet, however in the pool I already began to understand the sensation. On the first day, it took me some time to calm my breath and keep my heart rate down. Once I sorted that out, I was thinking more about applying the skills and less about breathing. The fear I had going into this course about relying on external equipment for air completely went away. I now understood what everyone was ranting and raving about.

There was one specific moment that stood out as exceptionally relaxing. We were at the bottom of the pool working on buoyancy and I was floating down there waiting on the other divers to complete an exercise. I was calmly breathing and had time to look around. In that moment, I thought about where I was, how all previous fears had gone away, and that I was totally capable of doing it. I felt I had unlocked a gate to a new world and a new experience I never would have otherwise had. I realized I could recognize the transformative process happening in real time.

Community and support are extremely important to me in any activity I participate in and El Mar Diving Center is clearly that. They were beyond welcoming, supportive, and encouraging throughout the course and it is clear they have built a fun and caring community. That sense of support helped build my trust in the instructors and build my self-confidence underwater. I am thankful to have found this community, and I look forward to many trips with them in the future.

Open Water Weekend

Next month we will be participating in the final aspect of the course: Open water diving at Lake Pleasant in Arizona. The course runs the entirety of a weekend and we are expected to get in a minimum of 4 dives. The water looks to be quite chilly, therefore we will be renting 7mm wetsuits for the dives. The weather has been warming up over the last week, so hopefully by then the water temperature will rise a bit.

I have been getting lots of questions about if I have any diving trips planned yet and the honest answer is no. My main goal of getting the class in now was to learn about scuba, understand how it feels, and begin to understand its application within spaceflight training. With Everest Base Camp coming up in November, I have a few other things to take care of before getting a diving trip on the books, however I am anxious to begin exploring the new underwater worlds.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
~ Jacques Yves Cousteau

Featured image is at the El Mar Diving Center in Tempe, AZ.
Photo Credit: Erin Bonilla

About the author

Erin Bonilla

Erin Bonilla is pursuing a master's degree in Adventure Education with a concentration in the psychosocial components of human spaceflight selection and training. She believes that through the development of a baseline approach to behavioral health within the astronaut selection process we can minimize long term psychosocial challenges and increase participant enjoyment.

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By Erin Bonilla

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